Tuesday, December 10, 2013

As Life and Work Become One and the Same

Flexible workplaces may seem attractive when considering work-life balance but new research being published shows it's not unusual for firms to cash-in, profiting from our "free" time and non-professional aptitudes, experts warn.

Peter Fleming, Professor of Business and Society at Cass Business School, City University, London, UK, weighs the evidence for this shift in work culture in "When 'life itself' goes to work: Reviewing shifts in organizational life through the lens of biopower" in the current issue of the journal Human Relations, published by SAGE.

Liberation Management ~ Giving Employers Something for Nothing
In the past it was very clear where work stopped and play started -- managers at offices and factories encouraged a formal environment. Personal lives were left at the door as employees clocked in.

Today, jobs increasingly allow us to work flexible hours, yet we are expected to be responsive around the clock. Dubbed Liberation Management, the latest trend encourages us all to 'be ourselves' at work, dropping the formal, professional attitudes of the past. And workers looking for ideas or opinions free of charge can crowd-source them from the Internet.

Businesses are getting something for nothing, experts say.
Examining the dark side to today's apparent freedom and autonomy for workers, Fleming uses a concept known as biopower developed by French scholar, historian, and social theorist Michel Foucault, an expert in the workings of discipline and control. Foucault spoke about biopower in a series of 1970s lectures at the College de France, which have only recently been translated into English.

As long as a project deadline is met, firms don't care when, how and where the work is done -- be it in your underwear in the middle of the night or in a cafe on Monday morning, Fleming says. Today, managers often rely on aspects of life that were previously inappropriate at work.

This is a 'lifestyle approach' to management, where companies hope to get a better performance from employees by encouraging their everyday selves on the job. Largely seen in Western economies, this trend is linked to a decline in jobs focused on concrete or industrial tasks. Life skills, communication and organization skills, and emotional intelligence are now key.

If the onset of flu is coupled with relief that you can finally take a day for yourself, and you feel that your work is your life, blame this trend of always being at work, even when you aren't. The widely reported death of banking intern Moritz Erhadt following three days of non-stop work is perhaps an extreme example of what this trend can do to us: When work and life become blended to such an extent, even rest and sleep are considered a 'waste of time'.

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Moritz Erhardt at home on the day of his father Hans-Georg's 50th birthday in 2011.
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"The Foucault lectures are astoundingly prescient in the way they concentrate on biopower as a sign of things to come," says Fleming. "Our jobs are no longer defined as something we do among other things, but what we are… Ominously, we are now permanently poised for work."
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Suggest reading ~

Story Source:  Peter Fleming. When 'life itself' goes to work: Reviewing shifts in organisational life through the lens of biopower. Human Relations, November 2013

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