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Reflecting on 2 of the 5 Key Themes Reshaping Work Identified by this Study



I read this Bain/Dynata study report after reading this post about the report written by Charlotte Edmond.


Studies and reports like these introduce a framing of situations, circumstances, and experiences that influences how we look at them, what we see, what we think, and as a result, our decisions and actions.

As I read the report I found myself thinking - where do I fit in the themes and categories described by the study? I think this sounds like me? Or that sounds like me? and so on, but then I stopped and started thinking about personal applications.


I also started thinking about how decisions makers in organizations might use their understanding of the framing presented by this study to adjust related practices.


As I read the study, these and a few other things jumped out at me which I noted down and ultimately led to me writing this post.


About the Study

“This report is based on a Bain/Dynata survey of 20,000 workers, as well as in-depth interviews with more than 100 people from varying walks of life. We looked at 10 countries—the United States, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, and Nigeria—that represent around 65% of global GDP and offer a broad perspective from different cultures around the world. Our research builds on hundreds of conversations we’ve had with executives since the beginning of the pandemic through our CEO Forums. It also incorporates input from a wide array of topic experts and a diverse range of literature, across economics, sociology, anthropology, psychology, and history.” (Pg 3)

Five Key Themes That Are Reshaping Work Identified in the Report

  1. Motivations for work are changing. Gains in living standards over the past 150 years are allowing us to spend less of our time working, but are raising expectations about what a job should provide.

  2. Beliefs about what makes a “good job” are diverging. As attitudes toward work fragment, the average worker is no longer a useful approximation. We’ve identified six worker archetypes, each with a different set of priorities.

  3. Automation is helping to rehumanize work. Distinctly human advantages—around problem-solving, interpersonal connection, and creativity—are growing in importance as automation eliminates routine work.

  4. Technological change is blurring the boundaries of the firm. Remote and gig work are on the rise, but they are challenging firm cohesion.

  5. Younger generations are increasingly overwhelmed. Young people, especially in advanced economies, are under mounting psychological strain that spills over into their work lives.


All the five themes are directly related to aspects of the lived experience of employees and professionals that are of interest to me, however, two of the five were of particular interest to me


  1. Motivations for work are changing

  2. Beliefs about what makes a “good job” are diverging - specifically this idea of six worker archetypes with different priorities


Motivations for work are changing

The report talks about a progressive shift from survival (working for the salary) towards meaning (trying to make a difference or do something that matters).


“But it’s evident that a coin-operated view of workers, where firm leaders see employment as a purely financial transaction, underestimates the deeper human motivations for work. And dissatisfied workers rank compensation higher than satisfied workers, suggesting that money is more often a source of demotivation for workers who feel underpaid than it is a source of inspiration for others (emphasis mine).” (Pg12)

Also

“As the world has become richer, workers have increasingly shifted their focus from survival to meaning, with profound implications for how we think about work. Importantly, individuals can find a sense of purpose in many places, whether in a sense of achievement and upward mobility, mastery of a skill set, directly helping others, or simply being fully present in family life” (Pg12)

Beliefs about what makes a “good job” are diverging

On this theme, what really drew my attention were the six worker archetypes. I find any attempt to construct archetypes or personas or categorise people interesting just because it presents another frame for viewing people and behaviour.


The study identified six worker archetypes

  • Operators find meaning and self-worth primarily outside of their jobs. When it comes down to it, they see work as a means to an end. They’re not particularly motivated by status or autonomy, and generally don’t seek to stand out in their workplace. They tend to prefer stability and predictability. Thus, they have less interest in investing to change their future compared with other archetypes. At the same time, Operators are one of the more team-minded archetypes, and often see many of their colleagues as friends. At their best, they are the team players that form the backbone of the organization. At their worst, they are disengaged and lack proactivity.

  • Givers find meaning in work that directly improves the lives of others. They are the archetype least motivated by money. They often gravitate toward caring professions such as medicine or teaching, but can also thrive in other lines of work where they can directly interact with and help others. Their empathetic nature typically translates into a strong team spirit and deep personal relationships at work. At the same time, their more cautious nature means they tend to be forward planners, who are relatively hesitant to jump on new opportunities as they arise. At their best, they are selfless, helping to build the trust every organization needs to function. At their worst, they may be impractical or naive.

  • Artisans seek out work that fascinates or inspires them. They are motivated by the pursuit of mastery. They enjoy being valued for their expertise, although they are less concerned with status in the broader sense. Artisans typically desire a high degree of autonomy to practice their craft and place the least importance on camaraderie of all the archetypes. While many find a higher purpose in work, this is more about passion than altruism. At their best, they are able to solve even the most complex of challenges. At their worst, they can be aloof and lose sight of bigger objectives.

  • Explorers value freedom and experiences. They tend to live in the present and seek out careers that provide a high degree of variety and excitement. Explorers place a higher-than-average importance on autonomy. They are also more willing than others to trade security for flexibility. They typically don’t rely on their job for a sense of identity, often exploring multiple occupations during their lifetime. Explorers tend to adopt a pragmatic approach to professional development, obtaining only the level of expertise needed. At their best, they will enthusiastically throw themselves at whatever task is required of them. At their worst, they are directionless and lack conviction.

  • Strivers have a strong desire to make something of themselves. They are motivated by professional success, and value status and compensation. They are forward planners who can be relatively risk averse, as they opt for well-trodden paths to success. Strivers are willing to tolerate less variety so long as it is in service of their longer-term goals. They tend to define success in relative terms, and thus can be more competitive and transactional in their relationships than most other archetypes. At their best, they are disciplined and transparent. At their worst, their competitiveness degrades trust and camaraderie within the organization.

  • Pioneers are on a mission to change the world. They form strong views on the way things should be and seek out the control necessary to achieve that vision. They are the most risk-tolerant and future-oriented of all the archetypes. Pioneers identify profoundly with their work. Their vision matters more than anything, and they are willing to make great personal sacrifices accordingly. Their work relationships tend to be more transactional in nature. Their vision is often at least partly altruistic, but it is distinctly their own. At their best, they mobilize their infectious energy to bring about lasting change. At their worst, they are uncompromising and imperious.

(Pg20)


Thoughts triggered when reading these themes

Both of these themes are related to topics I’ve explored and written about. They also directly speak to areas I've been exploring for a while now through the solutions I co-create with individuals and decision-makers in organizations.

There is a tendency for insights like these to fuel profiling for role suitability as a predictor of success in the role, but I’ve always thought differently about this. I’ve always wondered how best to address and enable success in a role for new hires and people already in roles. My position on this at the moment is this - given how many variables impact the experience of the role, the one variable an employee has some level of control over is how they show up; how they sense, interpret and respond to the expectations (theirs and others) of the role and the dynamic conditions of meeting those expectations.


If we adopt the above perspective, do we then focus on the type of person who can succeed in the role, this idea of the type of person we want? - if yes, then who is this “we” who knows and decides the type of person required? What have we based the definition of the type of person on? How do we know this type of person will succeed? How do we know the instruments we are using to make this selection will actually give us this type of person? So I wonder if this approach is even worth it…

Alternatively, I wonder if we should shift our focus to embracing the idea that the individual is continuously developing self-awareness, identity, and self-management skills. Shift our focus to helping them connect that development journey to the opportunities we are offering so that they are intentional about how they sense, interpret and respond to the expectations of success; bringing their whole self. Helping them realize that each experience changes them as much as their actions change the context and create new possibilities, a dialectic tension that is at the heart of the employee experience in organizations. If more employees are actually empowered, developed, and encouraged to embrace and continuously seek to resolve this dialectic tension, it can be extremely powerful and self-actualizing for organizations as an entity and employees as individuals.

Consider that by focusing on “what type of person we need for this role” we inadvertently diminish the importance of the human capacity to adapt and evolve. We end up treating the constantly evolving artificial constructs of roles as though they are enduring and fixed, thus requiring the incumbent to conform or fail to conform.


However, by focusing on the outputs we need the role to deliver, the results we need the role to achieve and the applicable boundaries like conduct, compliance, risk, and organizational cultural values (behaviors we won’t accept), we make it possible to allow anyone and everyone with interest in achieving those types of results performing those types of activities to bring their whole self to bear on the expectations. They might perform the activities differently (but within the set boundaries), and still deliver the expected outputs and achieve the results. They might even reveal new insights about the work, alternative paths to success, and new definitions of success.


This type of role or job framing might create the conditions that will encourage all employees to discover and develop their innate agility and adaptivity, which in turn empowers the organization’s change agility and innovation capacity. There will likely also be a clear positive impact on key employee engagement indices.


Final Thoughts

From an individual perspective, I find myself thinking about identity, who am I? Is it a fixed and unchanging "who" or an evolving "who"? In the context of this topic, work experiences, like other life experiences, serve to help me further my understanding of self and explore evolving answers to the question, "who am I?" Thus making it imperative that I do not seek to conform but rather seek to discover and evolve in sync with my environment.


From an organizational perspective, instead of saying we are looking for a person like this to do this job and designing all our tools to find people like that, we could instead say how will a person like this or that do this job and design all our tools to ensure they can succeed in devising personalized paths to success in the role.


Also, for non-individual contributors who are often the hiring managers, knowing how their own lived experience in the role affects the way they select and hire into their team, and how they manage the team, is important? For example, are they seeking to conform or symbiotically evolve with their current environment? Or how have they personally experienced diversity, equity, and inclusion?


If we change what we are looking for in a person we will change how we look for it and how we support the person who has it.


Also, if we change how we look for it, the people who show up will change what they show up with and we stand to find people we never would have considered, increase the level of meaning discoverable in the work, discover new ways of doing what we do, and push the possibilities of what can be achieved.


 

Edmond, C. (2022). There are 6 types of worker, this study says. Which one are you? Retrieved from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/02/worker-average-motivation-employee


Schwedel, A., Root, J., Allen, J., Hazan, J., Almquist, E., & Devlin, T. (2022). The Working Future: More Human, Not Less. Retrieved from https://www.bain.com/insights/the-working-future-more-human-not-less-future-of-work-report/

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