The Business Poet – Chapter 2

The Business Poet – Chapter 2

On Work

A loyal employee representative from the trade union, who had never been afraid to speak his mind, was the first to take up the challenge and, continuing in the style of The Prophet, said, Speak to us of Work.

Everyone’s attention turned to their former leader whom they held in such high esteem, curious and expectant, to see how he would respond. He smiled as he recalled jotting down his thoughts on the meaning of work, and in his mind he knew exactly in which notebook and on which page he would find the passage. He thumbed the pages and soon had his forefinger marking the appropriate place. He looked up, cleared his throat, and with a strange feeling of hearing the echo of his own thoughts, began to read:

“Conventional wisdom says that some live to work, while others work to live, but both extremes are undesirable.

“Those that lose themselves in their jobs, or titles, or careers, are lost indeed, for they filter life’s rainbow through the prism of work and declare the world one colour, with themselves the master of a single hue.

“Those who find themselves chained to employment, whether from desperation or fear, are prisoners of the darkness who see life’s bright rays, at best, through the bars of impotence and boredom.

“Both types are victims of insecurity and false identity, for work does not define us, but gives us the opportunity to define ourselves.

“Career choices do not dictate our worth, but allow us to celebrate our worth.

“Job titles say more about our sense of self-importance than our ability to do important work.

“Employment does not equate to the contribution we are making to society, nor the potential we have to make a positive difference in the lives of others.

“It is a strange irony that the most valuable work is least valued in our material world, while the most selfish pursuits are glorified and richly rewarded.

“We live in an age of inverted values.

“As with Nature, so too with work: the smallest, humblest and least visible are the most pervasive, productive and critical – the very foundation on which the balance of life depends.

“The modern economy is an attempt to create a neatly manicured garden, sterile and devoid of the disorderly profusion of wild growth.

“Unshapely jobs are severely pruned every season and non-conforming workers are weeded out and discarded on the refuse pile of the unemployed.

“Surviving staff are fertilised with financial incentives, trellis-bound through management-by-objectives, and sprayed with market mantras to increase resistance to the buzzing, biting pests of social and environmental activism.

“For society to blossom, diversity must be allowed to flourish: budding talents must be nurtured and the acorn latent inside the oak tree must be cherished.

“Only when survival is not dependent on growing in the limited garden of formal employment will we witness the true bounty of human nature.

“Only when we create an environment in which the tender tendrils of youth can climb towards the warmth of their inner calling will we reap a full harvest of what is possible.

“True work is service in action, creativity in motion, meaning in the making.”

Merlin looked up from his entranced soliloquy, somewhat anxious, unsure how his words had been received. But he needn’t have worried. The human collage of nodding heads, smiling faces and appreciative whispers was a picture of support and encouragement. So, they continued.

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Meaning, Work and Social Responsibility

Meaning, Work and Social Responsibility

Article by Wayne Visser

Surprisingly little has been written about the search for meaning in a workplace or business context, and nothing, in my knowledge, has made the explicit link to corporate social responsibility (CSR). It is surprising, partly because meaning has been a serious topic of research and application for at least fifty years now, following the seminal work of Viktor Frankl and others, as have the fields of industrial psychology and CSR. But it is more surprising still, simply because work is where we spend about a third of lives. If meaning cannot be found in the workplace, our ability to lead a fulfilling life is seriously impaired.

The importance of understanding how work can contribute to meaning in life seems more critical now than ever before. Anecdotal evidence is mounting that people in the West are increasingly feeling a sense of existential crisis in their working lives. On the one hand, they are expecting more from their work experience, including that it will nurture personal development and self actualisation. On the other hand, they are finding the capitalist, corporate model of work to be lacking in a meaningful higher purpose, or to put it another way, the modern workplace and economy is devoid of a sense of soul.

Some may argue that this growing frustration in the Western workplace is a vindication of Karl Marx’s (1975) concept of the alienation of labour through capitalism, whereby work “does not belong to his essential being; that he therefore does not confirm himself in his work, but denies himself, feels miserable and not happy, does not develop free mental and physical energy, but mortifies his flesh and ruins his mind”.

Modern social commentators like Charles Handy are less extreme, arguing for reformation rather than revolution. In his book, The Hungry Spirit, which is subtitled “Beyond Capitalism – A Quest for Purpose in the Modern World”, Handy calls for capitalism to embrace the notion of social capital (and I would add ecological capital as well) in addition to the more traditional economic capital. He also emphasises the need for citizen companies, which demonstrate greater accountability and a restored balance between the rights and responsibilities of business.

The question remains, however, whether these ideas have any grounding in the theory of meaning on the one hand, and management theory on the other hand. According to Frankl’s logopsychology and logophilosophy, work – doing, or as he referred to it, realising creative values – constitutes one of three paths to meaning. “As long as creative values are in the forefront of the life task,” he noted, “their actualisation generally coincides with a person’s work”. In fact, his other two paths to meaning may be equally applicable in the work situation, even if less common, namely being, or the experience of values (e.g. love, truth, beauty), and perceiving, or the adoption of constructive attitudes (especially in the face of suffering).

Frankl’s notions of work as ideally being an expression of a life task are not dissimilar to iconic industrial psychologist Abraham Maslow’s conclusions about self-actualising individuals. Writing …

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Cite this article

Visser, W. (2003) Meaning, Work and Social Responsibility. Positive Living E-Zine, International Network on Personal Meaning, September.

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