Posted: February 9, 2016 in Uncategorized

Freedom At Work

Can you out-happy Henry Stewart?

At a round table dinner the other evening the topic of discussion was digital and the shifts we’re seeing (good and bad) through the introduction of more advanced digital technology.  The debate naturally moved into the realms of people and the way we work.  I uttered this phrase without really knowing where it came from but it stopped me in my tracks and was a real epiphany for me

Maybe we’ve hit peak work.

There’s ONLY so many hours in the day.  We ONLY have a certain number of kilojoules to put into our working lot.  We are sentient beings with capacity for much but we can become overwhelmed.  And we’re seemingly hitting that point of saturation.   Overwhelmed by the pace of things.  Tensed by the range of things we seem to cram into our lives.

So I think we have hit peak work.  Now Simon Heath has been on at this “work less” thing for a long time now and I’ve even challenged his view.  Based on what I love doing: my work.  I can’t get enough of it.  I read, research, watch.  Do, devour, discuss.  Think, trial and talk.   And to many it’s all work.  However, just because I have a high tolerance for it doesn’t mean we all should and even I’m getting to the point now where it’s beyond any capacity issue I’ve ever known.

It’s like we’ve been merrily tapping our feet to the classic concertos; then a little quicker with some improv jazz and now we’re on 160 beats per minute of drum ‘n’ bass.  And everyone’s trying to get on the dancefloor.  And we’re getting weary and our steps are out of time and we’re losing the excitement we had for the music that lifted us.

So what do we do?

Well if we all stop working then we’ll probably all create a whole new swathe of work for HR in disciplinaries and record numbers of sackings.

SO we have to look at the machinery that is doing this to us.  And digital technology is both our cure and our cause.

That’s not necessarily something we can and will wait for with baited breath if recent patterns are anything to go by.

What we can do now is shift our models, approaches and attitudes.

And the one thing that’s calling out is a move away from – as Professor Gary Hamel calls it – controlism; and into freedom.

Which is why I’m so behind what WorldBlu is all about.  Freedom at Work – organisational democracy.

I am fortunate enough to call Traci Fenton, Miranda Ash and others in #TeamBlu friends and compadres in the game of workplace change.  Add into the mix Peter Cheese from the CIPD and different business leaders like Rich Sheridan, Jos de Blok and Henry Stewart and you have people passionate and professional about the changes we need to see in much of what we call work today.  And some of that might mean less of it.

I’m not about to go travelling or sit in meditation for a few days at a time but what I am, is resolute in learning, reading, talking and sharing.  As well as working.  The future of work could be a very different proposition – and if you’re already over all the talk about the future of work then fine.  You might be in a good place personally and professionally.  Yet many aren’t so fortunate.

So if we don’t talk about a future better, then I fear we still bop along to an ever increasingly sped up soundtrack.  You might not like talk of the future of work as some Google-esque; hipster office in a converted lamp factory in Trendsville but it’s not THAT future I’m talking about.  It’s better in the coffee bars wherever they are.  The service stations en route to somewhere.  The engineering complex in a vast petro-chemical plant.  The tunnels keeping our sanitation going.  The eco-farming venture in rural anywhere.

Freedom at work isn’t some socialist ideology or as Traci Fenton calls it “all Kum By Yah”.

Freedom at work is the removal of oppressive bureaucracy and distrust; the un-domestication of people; the space to be human, autonomous, clear, inventive, passionate and committed.  And it might just mean freedom to work less.

I helped facilitate a discussion about women in leadership the other week.  And we ticked all the usual boxes of why there’s such a disparity and lack of opportunity and patronising rhetoric and more.  Yet something thing struck me and again it was one of those thoughts.

We no longer need a 5+2 week and should move to a 4+3 or similar.

This might court all sorts of controversy but in all seriousness, we’re not on as many production lines as we used to be.  We have enough people to spread the labour over a new way of working and schooling.  We have fixed on 5+2 but I can’t think of a really good reason why this is the case in a 24-7 always available world.  It’s not even 5+2 really.  We’ve simply slipped into 6.5 + 0.5 in many ways.

IF we moved to a 4+3 we’d have more freedom anyway.  We might see gender balances/biases and parenting shift to a better shared proposition.  We could see us able to give 4 days a lovely push and 3 a super recharge (or 3 and 4 the other way).

I’m one lone voice in a sea of stuck orthodoxies but believing in Freedom at Work is more than a simple tagline to something interesting, cool or viable.

It’s what we need.  And maybe, just maybe, WorldBlu’s philosophy is for now.  Maybe peak work is what we need to consign to a history lesson and talk of how daft we were working 70 hour weeks.  And how much more time we now have to learn, play, care, put back and be our own individual versions of a human triple-bottom-line.

We need a house sure.  But always a bigger one?  We need a car perhaps.  But always a faster or more stylish one?  We need clothes sure.  But always a new outfit for every event?

Are we in post-materialistic ways?  Not yet but I wonder if we’re starting to realise the acquisition of stuff is not really defining success.

Freedom at work isn’t because we are oppressed workers in satanic mills (though we still have too much child and forced labour in parts of the world).

Freedom at work is because we’re human, sentient, compassionate people who’ve been inadvertently rewired as gung-ho career jocks with little to show but a LinkedIn profile.

Freedom at work means happiness.

Peter Cheese quoted Aristotle at the recent WorldBlu event on freedom at work and it seems apt to finish this post with that very same post.


“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”

  1. foxhuman says:

    Will ‘work’ as as a concept we know now even exist in the future as the lines between work and social continue to blur and digital evolution means that one moment we can be deep in a management report, the next bidding on eBay? 4+4, 5+2 or a mutually agreeable/flexible 7/7? Is the currently evolving concept of ‘work’ the barrier itself to productivity in another form or fashion? You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…remember the Golgafrinchams from Hitchhikers Guide? Not so far off hey and not such an off the wall concept ….perhaps.

    • perrytimms says:

      Thanks for commenting Jason and I think you’re so right – the shifts are challenging all we now as on / off switches and more.

      So let’s see what comes out BUT no matter what the shift; EVERYTHING revolves around 5+2.

      I think that it’s time we changed that as an orthodoxy. It will take an act of parliament and rub some people up the wrong way but I live on in the hope that 4 days of work becomes a norm where people have a start/end/start again.

  2. mylesrun says:

    I really like the dancing metaphor Perry. It does feel intense and poorly choreographed at times. Maybe, though, it used to be more of a dreary uniform march and it’s/more of a challenge now? Maybe…

  3. Grant says:

    Somewhere an Agile coach is crying

  4. hvanameyde says:

    Really interesting blog – thank you. The hours at work and commute for many people, the crazy rush on holiday all at the same time. The Friday night drunkenness, the absenteeism on monday morning are all a consequence of 5+2!

  5. angelaatkins says:

    Hey Perry – it’s sunday morning here and I’m ‘working’ (if you call reading HR articles work!!)
    Great article as always. I think the biggest shift is going to come in the next 5 years from millions of baby boomers wanting to retire, but perhaps not fully retire.
    Suddenly with millions less employees – we’ll have to shift how we do ‘work’ and suddenly I think there will be a huge demand for flexible hours and redefining what work is, and using technology.
    But while the boomers are still in charge, moving from the 5+2 must just seem like too big a mind shift and too much further complexity to manage (especially if we are at work peak).
    We’re in the midst of a spate of 4 day weeks here (lots of public holidays in NZ fall in Jan/Feb/March) and no-one seems to be complaining – it just makes the other 4 days busy!

    • perrytimms says:

      Thanks Angela. Sorry it’s taken me a while to reply but I’m with you in much of what you say. The shifting of boomers over to less leading roles may well naturally cause a change in working expectations.

      Let’s hope the busy future is one of our making : a mix of learning, volunteering, supporting, caring and working.

      Thanks again for popping your thoughts on here.

  6. helenfulton101 says:

    I totally agree with your points here! Clearly, the system of which we are working with at the moment is counter-productive. Some industries thrive on a 5-2, but I think some industries, like the creative, shouldn’t be restricted by such regimented working times.

    I would be more than happy to work flat out for 4 days and rest for three, I feel I would get a lot more done!

    • perrytimms says:

      Thanks for commenting Helen and it’s that difference I think we’d all like to see as a system which would positively influence our behaviours and our behaviours fine tune that system.

      Cheers and maybe you could even try your own 4+3..?

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