Rethinking Work

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The industrial age is over, so why are we still punching in?

Welcome to the 21st century, where women are an
official fixture of the working world. One catch: the laundry never went away.
Or the dishes. Or the kids. Sure, men have gotten more involved at home–but
with everyone working, finding balance between work and home has become a
challenge. Something’s gotta give, and it might mean rethinking the way we work.

Work
as we know it just isn’t working
,” writes Amy Brown for Solutions Online. “Our labor laws and
practices still focus on an antiquated Industrial Model of Work that uses time
spent in the office or at the work site as a measure of productivity. We still
cling to some kind of 1950s middle-class nostalgic belief that an ideal worker
does not have time constraints because someone at home manages child care,
elder care, and household responsibilities. This is no longer true.”

First of all, as anyone who works near an internet
connection will tell you, time spent at work is not synonymous with time spent
working. And the interweb isn’t the only difference between now and the 1950s. Seventy
percent of children are currently raised in homes where all adults work, and as
baby boomers reach retirement we’re about to see a large increase in the number
of elderly who will need home care.

Work schedules that don’t leave time for balancing these care-giving
responsibilities leave employees stressed, tired, and vulnerable to illness,
says Brown. And recent research suggests companies that don’t support work-life
balance are likely to see higher rates of turnover. When you consider that replacing
an employee typically costs a company at least half of that employee’s salary, employee
dissatisfaction starts to look bad for the bottom line, too.

Work arrangements like telecommuting and flexible scheduling
help, says Brown, but there might be a better option: the “Accountability Model
of Work.” Here, workers are given a set of responsibilities and complete
control of their time, creating incentive to use every minute wisely. The
result is high quality work done quickly, and employees are happier too.

It’s normal, says Brown, for companies’ first reaction to be
that the accountability model would never work for them. But when Gap Inc. finally
made the switch, both management and employees reported increased levels of
engagement and higher quality work. The company also measured a 17 percent
increase in productivity.

Paired with changes in social policy, suggests Brown, the
accountability model could easily take the place of today’s industrial model. “Work
is not a place you go, it is something you do,” she writes. And a different take
on how it’s done could make both workers and their bosses more satisfied.

Photo: “Power house mechanic working on steam pump,” by Lewis Hine, public domain.

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