Growing information intensity in business requires a new way of thinking about work and managing it. When tasks contents define work instead of job roles and processes, new types of possibilities for personal and economic development and happiness are revealed.
In Finland more people retire because of health reasons than of age every year. The leading cause for disability retirement is chronic musculoskeletal pain and after that mental illness, mostly depression. With big age groups about to retire, we will soon lack important human resources in many fields of business.
One way to respond to the growing need of human resources is to try to attract migrant workers. Another way is to just make people work longer by not allowing pension before a certain age. However, work can in itself incorporate things that hinder personal wellbeing and produce disability. Lack of control, misfit between work tasks and personal goals as well as discordance between personal values and the values of others in the work environment can create a continuum of stress, burnout and depression. How can we keep people in job roles if they do not have personal interest to stay there or if work is making them sick? And how can burnt-out people working in over-defined roles and work processes produce creative solutions, new ideas and stay productive in the midst of ever increasing demands?
Work can find the best possible, motivated, self-realizing doer when people themselves choose to do the kinds of tasks they are interested in. When people only do things that feel meaningful, only functions that seem good from the human perspective will prevail in companies. It seems like a hippie statement to say that freedom of choice and personal happiness of employees is important for the success of companies. Wellbeing and fulfillment are hard to price. However if a company wishes to produce innovation and do things increasingly better, it is essential that the brain power behind the company’s services is at its best.
Happiness at work requires recognition of personal goals and the capacity to realize them at least to some degree through work. This seems simple, but requires a lot from the individual because the self is a hard thing to observe. Luckily, psychology has produced loads of conceptualizations of different aspects of the self, techniques that increase perceptive ability, self knowledge and ways to measure and quantify sides of the personality and bring them into consciousness and discussion. An important quality in a successful knowledge worker is being self aware and using any way available to deepen awareness.
In addition to personal awareness, happiness requires the freedom to choose. Defining work through task content and not work roles, work places and working hours liberates the employees as well as the company into creating meaningful cooperation that always produces something valuable. Tasks can be as small as the human intelligence tasks that can be resourced through crowdsourcing or bigger entities of complex action organized around specific goals. Work could even be organized in an ad hoc fashion to serve specific transient or more permanent customer needs and allowed to take its form according to the best solution that people come up with as the needs arise.
The constitution of work defined through task contents can easily be altered to suit very different cognitive settings and life situations. People whose capacity to work is temporarily compromised due to sickness or other reasons or who just wish to do other stuff instead can alter their work load easily. Truly embracing task-based work independent of time and place will free people to do the kind of work when and where they want and most importantly, with the people that best support their development and wellbeing.
All in all work defined by tasks could at its best be meaningful interaction that increases knowhow and self-knowledge, that helps fulfill values, life goals and that molds itself according to changing life situations and personal development. Who wouldn’t want to experience that for as long as they can?