On My Mind
I’ve been thinking about belonging this week. As we move inexorably to hybrid working as a norm for many, and as we see demonstrations of relationships reflecting a range from the callous (P&O) to the inspirational (Ukraine) to the merely insensitive (NHS parking charges for staff) it begs the questions of where we feel at home.
Home, writes Stephen Jenkinson, ‘means more than having memories associated with a given place. It means learning again how you and those you love and admire – in every physical, metabolic, chemical, mythical and spiritual sense it can be meant – are made of the things that make the place you belong to. That is the alchemy of belonging.’ Being at home is not a feeling; being at home is a skill, maintains Jenkinson, who came to these conclusions after many years supporting people at the brink of death, having learned much from indigenous peoples about rootedness and a connection to ancestors and land.Taken from Citizens, Jon Alexander
The last seventy years of hyper consumerism has fragmented our relationships with work as community. Supply chains have globalised, business ownership concentrated and offshored, work relationships commoditised far faster than we have often realised.
I think it feels like being burgled in the night by skilled thieves; waking up in the morning to find ourselves confused as to where the stuff of our daily lives has gone, only to realise we had gone to sleep leaving all the doors open.
The Great Disaffection
The signs are though that we are looking for new work homes. An article in HBR reframes “The Great Resignation” as “The Great Rethink.” Conversations I have been having suggest they have a point. Those quiet insults to dignity and autonomy, from poor leadership and management to business models that regards employees like single use plastic containers to be discarded when empty have been brought into focus not just by the pandemic, but by its workplace aftermath.
I noticed two articles that helped me separate the rhetoric from the reality. First, in “The Conversation” an analysis of who is resigning and why – not so much heading for the hills as a change of scenery, although over 55’s are more likely to look at early retirement on the one hand, and returning to the office on the other and finding it an easy decision.
The other was an article in the Guardian that looked at the same issues from a different perspective and highlighted the mismatch in expectations between GenZ and employer cultures. It looks like much of the movement may just be those in search of greener grass, more driven by wanting to leave their current employer than being inspired by their new one. If that is the case, the volatility we are seeing has a way to run.
A Different Beat
I’ve really enjoyed Jon Alexander’s “Citizens” and found it a compelling read. It has complemented other reading last month, including The Quiet Before and Cascades and suggests to me a new dance with the workplace. Alexander’s categorisation of organisations describes three categories:
- Those who regard their stakeholders as “subjects” to be governed and directed by a “Sovereign” CEO
- Those who regard stakeholders as consumers, to be provided for at maximum profit, and
- “Citizens” – those who inhabit, govern and operate something to which they feel they belong and are recognised – which for me ties in well with the Stephen Jenkinson quotation above.
And I think he’s right. Creating a home for a community of citizens is a skill, not just a feeling or a cultural aspiration. It can be done. It is evident in the companies cited by Alexander in his book, and by Alan Moore in “Do Build” and one that I see in many places – small businesses with an intent beyond profit that makes me smile.
It reconnected me to Ori Brafman’s “The Starfish and the Spider“, one of my favourite re-reads on decentralised power and leaderless organisations, and the conversations we are having at New Artisans around the idea of 21st Century Guilds that bridge, rather divide crafts and professions and places genuine individual commitment to quality above the vagaries of corporate promise.
Industrial dogma has it that if our employer helps us find purpose in our work, all will be well. I struggle with that, in that it presupposes the employers’ interests take priority.… Artisans see it differently I think – they express their purpose through their work. Their work is an expression of who they are. It’s a difference in autonomy. People defining their work, rather than their work defining them.New Artisans Blog 30th March
I think what is emerging will not be designed, but it can be encouraged. To do so requires employers to rethink their roles, to become platforms that allow and encourage a more generative relationship between personal and organisational purpose; something altogether more generative and less extractive. Somewhere that marries capabilities and resources and trusts good people to do their best work because, in the end, that is what the vast majority of us want to do.
And it requires us to step into our capabilities, away from the illusory shelter of employers, and develop into what we can be. No rush, one step at a time.
Not least because, whatever else we do, we are neither going to consume ourselves out of a problem we have consumed ourselves into, command complex systems to bend to our will, and nor can we just hope somebody else will do it. At this point, the biggest risk we can take is to look away.
Whatever we do next will be a dance, not a march, and we’ll bring our own music.
Having been introduced to Stephen Jenkinson’s work, I enjoyed this on Eldership, because I think this is a time for Wisdom and Elders far more than Experts and Efficiency.
Alan Watts remains a constant source of inspiration. We cannot force the changes that are coming – they will happen in their own time. Here he talks about the timeless principle of “Wu Wei” – not forcing.
A thoughtful article on the road back from consuming as the meaning of life. from Psyche Magazine.
An upcoming conversation with Alison Hawthorne Deming and Kathleen Dean Moore hosted by Yale on April 26th. Have a look.
This from Sue Heatherigton’s wonderful selection of posts that I take, like vitamins, every day.