The Changing Nature of Work

October 22, 2023 5 mins to read

One million workers have been mandated to work from home effective yesterday. Only essential staff are exempted. An MIT study described the changing nature of work which is now even more aggravated by the pandemic crisis.  The study focussed on the new business models and practices that are transforming jobs, tasks, and skills. With the rising unemployment, there is an urgent need to prepare the workforce for changing nature of work. I interviewed four candidates today, virtually. And, all of them were jobless.

The structural barriers for low wage workers need to be addressed alongside skills-based options with increased funding for technical and vocational education. Transitions and pathways need to be created for the middle class. We also discussed the changing nature of work  in an earlier post Saying Goodbye to 9 to 5 work. For instance, the concept of work is changing dramatically, with practices such as Work from Home, Remote Work, Telecommuting and so on.

The Body and the Mind

I walked into our campus this morning, only to become visibly depressed and disturbed. A campus built for ten thousand people — and there we were, just ten people. The changes around me are clearly affecting the body and mind, a sign of psychosomatic challenges. As a result, I have been losing weight, with worry possibly adding to the effect of a vegetarian diet and daily exercises. For the first time, I am beginning to feel my age. Is this pandemic crisis nature’s attempt at introducing the Malthusian check?

Malthusian Check

My Sociology Professor Dr Paul Webe used to talk about the Malthusian principle. Rev Thomas Robert Malthus’ theory that population grows at a faster rate than its means of subsistence stuck with me for a long time. From one billion in 1800, the world population has grown to about 8.6 billion in 2020. Developed nations have low populations with high standards of living while developing countries have large populations with very low standards of living. The rise in population can be controlled by preventive checks such as moral restraints and legislation, or by means of positive checks, like the Malthusian catastrophes which refers to pandemic crises, wars, and natural disasters. Malthusian checks lead to corrective action. Malthusian catastrophes will ultimately stop unsustainable growth, unchecked abuses of any kind, and social injustices. What does this do to the nature of work?

The Work Atmosphere

The subdued atmosphere at work slowed me down. It gripped the few of us on site with worry, stress and anxiety. I remember the saying, ‘Man proposes, God disposes.’   Peter Drucker predicted in the mid 1950’s that universities would become relics if they did not adapt and change. Did he not ask managers to be prepared for the future of work? I was flooded with a deluge of emotions and questions. When will the uncertainty end? When will we get back to normal? What is the new normal? Maybe the new normal will be about total uncertainty. The new normal, which includes students learning online, academics teaching online, colleagues working from home, coordinating work, and ensuring safe working, is all new to most of us. How do we get the teams to be enthusiastic?

Enthusiasm at Work

I sat down with two colleagues this morning, holding our masks, complying to social distancing rules at the Oasis fountain of the University of Cyberjaya. Our Chief Financial Officer Leong and Administrator Ikke were trying to assure me that all will be well, borrowing the lines from the Aamir Khan Bollywood movie Three Idiots. They tried to cheer me up and said, ‘Tough times never last, but tough people do.’ They were being positive and seeking to raise me to my usual levels of enthusiasm. My colleagues are much younger than me, yet they were being brave and enthusiastic.

Frank Bettger’s rule number one is to challenge people to act enthusiastic every single day for 30 days. To be enthusiastic, one needs to act more enthusiastic. Enthusiasm is an important differentiator between success and failure. It is time to remember the gratitude journal.

The Gratitude Journal

I learned about the gratitude journal and the random challenges from a book I bought at a Typo bookshop. It was a defining moment for me. The book provided me a template. I recorded the things I should be grateful for.  I attempted random challenges such as:

  • Going off social media for a complete day
  • Sending flowers to colleagues
  • Buying a book at a physical bookstore
  • Wishing three strangers good morning
  • Listening to a new pod cast
  • Watching an unorthodox movie
  • Dead Poets Society

I watched the unorthodox movie Dead Poets Society in which Robin Williams played the role of new English teacher who surprises his students with his unorthodox teaching methods. He encourages his students to “make your lives extraordinary,” a sentiment he summarizes with the Latin expression carpe diem, meaning “seize the day.” He urges his students to look at life in a different way—a valuable lesson for all of us.

I guess it is time to look at things differently. It is important not to aim at solving the entire world’s problems, but to look at what you can and cannot do. And I guess the goal is to stay enthusiastic, surrounded by enthusiastic people to ensure your work is productive and satisfying.

The gift one can give others in today’s uncertain context is enthusiasm.

Stay Safe. Continue to Love Your Work. Stay Positive.