Redefining work and our workplaces

Hugh MacKay’s recent book ‘The Good Life:  What Makes a Life Worth Living’ sheds some light on the traditional workplace structure versus a more modern, collaborative approach.  Hugh finds that amidst all this striving for excellence, perfection and self-esteem it’s easy to overlook a fundamental fact about our species.  We are social creatures “and the process of socialisation, learning how to live harmoniously in social groups, is actually designed to restrain our self-interest and curb excessive competitiveness.”  We need to work together to achieve the greater good.  Too much focus on Brand Me, which is on self-esteem and not self-control (our moral muscle) can result in poor decision-making and the inability to restrain our impulses towards self-indulgence in ways necessary for the effective management of our lives.

Adhocracy and innovation

The contemporary sustainability movement has been rightfully preoccupied with risk mitigation for some time.  Yet as we experience the ramifications of climate change through extreme bushfires, cyclones, floods, drought etc, and the global financial crisis a shift is now occurring towards resilience.  According to Toffler in ‘Future Shock’ this focus requires a transformation of institutional structures towards adhocracy – characterised by informal team roles, limited focus on standard operating procedures, deep improvisation, rapid cycles, selective decentralisation, the empowerment of specialist teams and a general intolerance of bureaucracy.

Taking staff off line and creating special project teams where the rules do not apply is one way of achieving resilience – I should know as this happened to me once.

Adhocracies can also form when small companies and sole proprietors share office space – its called co-working.  There are 4400 dedicated spaces worldwide to co-working.

The 24/7 society

We now live in a 24/7 society, largely thanks to technological advancements.  We also live in a multicultural society with a melting pot of values and spiritual beliefs, a highly mobile society and a society of educated women streaming in record numbers into our workplaces.  But we still labour under the traditional workplace rules which clearly aren’t working anymore given these societal changes.  What people need and want are the ability to choose when, how and where they work to fit in with their individual circumstances including spiritual beliefs, caring for family members, or actively participating in community-based activities.  In short they want what capitalism so boldly promises, and that is ‘choice.’  They also want what John Maynard Keynes always said the technological revolution could deliver, and that is time for relationships and time for work.  With fewer people having children now, a greater spread of religious and spiritual beliefs across the country, technological advancements and peak hour traffic congestion, maybe it’s time we started to question the relevance of the Monday – Friday work week, and 9 to 5pm workday.

As Ross Gittins says “life is about trade-offs and the winners are people who’ve found the trade-offs that most suits them.  The choice we face is not between a mindless company man and a hippy dropout in Nimbin.  There are plenty of intermediate stops.  Life is about opportunity cost.  We can’t have it all; we do have to choose.”

About Cilla DeLacy

Cilla DeLacy

Cilla has 20 years’ experience in public policy and corporate strategy across the water, land use planning and environmental management sectors. She’s a creative thinker with an uncanny ability to understand people and situations. Putting pen to paper on the big issues impacting Australia and indeed the globe is important to her as is actively bringing about the change she wishes to see in the world. An avid supporter of gender equality and sustainability she and her husband have built and promoted a sustainable home and role modelled the benefits of two parents ‘sharing the work’ and ‘sharing the caring.’ Cilla laments the lack of Vision and collaboration in political life in Australia and hopes to help change things. Cilla blogs at

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