In the 21st century, the workforce of the western world is supposed to be forged around knowledge. You can see this trend very clearly, with the slow, strangled death of manufacturing (despite being propped up by handouts from the government) and the rise and rise of digital work. Who knew coding apps would have been a job five years ago? Ditto social media, and the multitudes of jobs that has been spawned around this hive of industry?
The “supply and demand” of knowledge has had a major effect on our workplaces, particularly ones I have found myself in. I think it’s fair to say that a major side effect of knowledge “production” is that workplaces have increased in complexity. We are forced to work together in increasingly complex environments on quite complex tasks. There are grey areas about who does what, which project management principles, Six Sigma, TQM and the like attempt to sort out. But in many respects, we don’t actually “produce” anything. Nothing overtly tangible anyway.
I have never worked in manufacturing, but I imagine that each person who works on building something, or producing something, has an overwhelming sense of achievement. Call me a romantic, but there is something honest about being able to say “I built that” or “I contributed to the building or making of that”. In my own working day, I might write a plan, a brief, some copy. I may do something semi-tangible like update a website, create a Prezi, or produce a booklet or a pamphlet, but these things are ephemeral, and the sense of achievement is only fleeting.
For the average knowledge worker, this also means that despite workplaces being underwritten with employer branding messages, workplace safety legislation, competency frameworks, continuous improvement, management training, team building initiatives, value statements, and performance management and development plans, the horse-trading of information, power games and office politicking are daily activities that have to be navigated with care. Being a knowledge worker is not unlike being back in court in 16th Century England. There are factions, sabotage and behind-the-scenes power plays that would chill even the Tudors. Manoeuvering through this quagmire is akin to walking through a swamp filled with landmines. A foot wrong, and the whole thing is likely to blow up in your face. And take your career with it.
Or maybe it’s just many of the workplaces I’ve been “lucky” enough to work in that are like this?