What Defines Work and Career?

There’s been significant upheaval in the way individuals think about work and the role it plays in one’s life.

This upheaval has largely been attributed to the pandemic, which resulted in the shuttering of businesses, massive lay-offs, and inequity among those privileged to work remotely and those required to be onsite risking sickness. It changed the relationship of spouses and children with its concomitant emotional and psychological problems. With the easing of the pandemic, corporations tried to recoup what was lost, but many people did not want to reconstruct their previous work lives and careers. This created a level of dissonance that exacerbated the level of upheaval and intensified the search for a new and more acceptable way of earning a living. Added to this are the changes in technology, as well as the recent lay-offs in the technology industry that previously seemed to have unlimited opportunities, a growing concern for the environment, divided politics in this country, the advent of Artificial Intelligence and robotics (and its threat to even the most sophisticated jobs), new wars, and growing competition between the United States and China and its internal economic ramifications.

At this moment we are living under conditions of inflation that are eating away at our desired way of life, a threat of an economic depression if we fail to control inflation, but the lowest unemployment rate in decades. We are also aware of the disparity in wealth, influence, and power in our country. Yet despite all these problems and dissatisfaction, I believe the American people can mobilize our energy and creativity and develop a model for a better way of living that our democracy will implement through the ballot box.

As we seek to develop our new model it is important that we do not overlook or neglect the wisdom that is part of our heritage.

For example, we should look to the United Nations for guidance; in 1948 the UN published the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Articles 23, 24, and 25 declares certain human rights to workers which should be a part of our model for the new normal, including:

  • Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
  • Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work
  • Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
  • Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of their interests.
  • Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.
  • Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood. “

The human rights of workers were the basis of the International Labor Organization’s  (ILO) concept of “decent work.”

The ILO, which is now a component of the United Nations, was established in 1919 as part of the treaty which ended WWI .Thus, over a 100 years ago the concern for the wellbeing of workers was a world issue. Decent work was defined  by the ILO as “ productive work for women and men in conditions of equity, security and human dignity.” In general, work is considered as decent when it:

  • Pays a fair income
  • Guarantees a secure form of employment and safe working conditions
  • Ensures equal opportunities and treatment for all
  • Includes social protection for workers and their families
  • Offers prospects for personal development and encourages social integration
  • Allows workers freedom to express their concerns and to organize.”

The concept of decent work has been incorporated into the Sustainable Goals (SDG) established by the United Nations.

The hope is to achieve these aims by 2030 as a means of improving the lives of people all over the world. If people are to have a decent life in our new normal then the new world of work will have to ensure decent work as the baseline of working conditions regardless of place of work, conditions of work, concerns for technology or the physical and political environment. If these conditions are not met then we will have a world of insecurity, precarious work, gig economy, increased poverty and all the negatives that go along with impoverishment.

As workers and entrepreneurs strive to establish a new normal, they must be sure to institute decent work and human rights for workers.

Established businesses, if they are to remain successful must provide decent work as defined by the ILO. In creating the new normal we believe organizations should start by monitoring the conditions within their own organizations to be sure they have created an environment of decent work. They can use well-designed employee surveys as one way of monitoring their work environment. Once they are sure they have established the baseline for the new normal they can try new and creative methods in collaboration with their employees to improve both the well-being of employees and the success of their business. They can use accounting methods in concert with employee surveys to find the right ingredients for developing the new normal. Taking the surveys seriously as the voice of their employees, management and employees can jointly work out the new normal for work and careers.

OrgVitality is proud to co-sponsor Psychology Day at the United Nations on April 27th. This year’s theme: Psychological Contributions to Global Peace, Conflict Resolution, and Equity. Registration details will be sent out within a few weeks.


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