Silent Killer #6: Modern Indentured Servitude
Today’s world is one of sharp contrasts. As a society, we have more choices, opportunities, wealth, and prosperity than at any other point in human history. Yet, we are also more depressed, dissatisfied, and despondent than ever before.
In fact, more than 21 million Americans are depressed, according to Mental Health America, costing U.S. companies more than $31 billion each year in lost productive time.
A key contributor to this malaise is our contemporary view of work – that it is an endless series of ‘things to do,’ things which have commercial value for the enterprise but produce little or no sense of value for ‘me.’
As a result of the five wastes previously discussed, we have inadvertently created a kind of ‘modern indentured servitude.’ We sell ourselves into service in exchange for a paycheck and have only fleeting ‘real’ lives after or outside of work. In this modern malaise, many people feel like victims, trapped by their need to make a living, prepare for retirement, support families, and deal with modern life. We ignore, diminish, or distort the possible ways that work can bring meaning to people’s lives.
To have our work be seen as nothing more than modern feudal toil saps all our strength and turns people’s working lives from a source of inspiration and contribution into a futile search for meaning. Those in senior-management roles may have trouble seeing or identifying with this phenomenon and may mistakenly assume it only happens in other organizations. The executive floors are largely immune from this and, at the same time, unconsciously responsible for it. They are the ones who design or tolerate the practices, processes, structures, moods, and measures that create it.
One of the symptoms of this mess is the new degenerative mood of ‘overwhelm.’ Resignation, resentment, arrogance, distrust, and cynicism have been with us forever, but overwhelm is a creation of our times. The narrative for emotion sounds like this: There is too much to do, too little time, and too many things pulling at me. I don’t have enough energy for this, and it is never going to stop.
Overwhelm and the resignation and panic it generates are great wastes and very effective killers of productivity and profitability. No enterprise can survive for long with an organizational culture that produces modern indentured servitude.
Shift Your Understanding
When leaders are willing to make the shift away from bureaucratic work styles and structures, develop listening as a key management competence, generate cultures that welcome innovation, and build systems and processes that support this new way of working, their people will once again experience meaning and purpose in their working lives. Their interpretation of themselves at work will shift from feeling as though they’re renting out their bodies or brains to feeling like partners with their organizations – in which their contributions to the financial strength, practical knowledge, and reputation of the company are also a route to developing their own financial success, competence, and identities in the world. From this vantage point, work ceases to be toil and becomes a source of meaning and inspiration.
We at the Human Potential Project are not naïve dreamers who think the transition to this new way of working will happen on its own or overnight. It won’t come as the result of good intention, a series of memos, or a new set of offerings at the corporate university. Nor will everyone welcome the changes that are being called for if we are going to reinvent ourselves and our companies to be competitive in this new business world. But leaders who embrace this new way of working will become the stewards of their organization – creating the necessary changes, eliminating the ‘modern wastes,’ and ushering their companies into a future where they’re strong, lean, and poised for success.
Eliminate these modern wastes – silent killers of productivity and profitability – and transform your organization!
About the Author
Chris Majer, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of The Human Potential Project, is the author of The Power to Transform: Passion, Power, and Purpose in Daily Life (Rodale), which teaches the strategies corporate, military, and sports leaders have used to positively transform themselves and their organizations in a way readers can adept to their own lives and professions. He may be reached at www.humanpotentialproject.com.
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