1 February 2022
It appears as though the things that previously worked as part of an economic community no longer do post-Covid. The US has been talking about the notion of the Great Resignation. People have discovered that they can consume less and live on less. This allows them to find alternative paths to the careers they’ve relied on up until now. Careers that had become an overpowering identity over the past 50 years, almost like a religion. It’s a movement of opinions that’s sweeping across the world.
It’s nothing to worry about. But it is something to reflect on. There are so many things we can do to improve our ways of working, and the crisis has only highlighted the gaps that have grown in our companies over recent decades. Covid gave us hope for a change that we’re scared we won’t see happening. We’re going back to the office and back to our old routines, to the traffic jams and the need to see people “when we’re needed“.
Are we falling back into a trap? It’s so easy to objectify ourselves, to see ourselves as cogs in a big system that we all rely on. Or maybe that’s just what we think? It offers an interesting viewpoint on some of the big challenges to human sustainability in the world of work today. Journalist Arthur Brooks wrote about it in his weekly column “How to build a life” in Atlantic, starting with this pearl from Karl Marx.
In 1844, Marx talked about the capitalist system in “Estranged Labor”:
“The spontaneous activity of the human imagination, of the human brain and the human heart, operates on the individual independently of him. It belongs to another; it is the loss of his self”.
Workers are objectified in his view, made into miserable shells. The term objectification is often used when we talk about sexual discrimination:
Sexual objectification considers the other person an object that can satisfy sexual desires.
But Brooks uses the term as a way of describing people as production tools: a knock-on effect of the religious effect that we mentioned earlier, where work is something that people are part of, and not viceversa.
We were so deep in the trenches, as is so often the case, that we didn’t see it anymore. We were shocked out of it and suddenly could see things in a new light. So what can we do now? First of all, it’s important that we talk about it. It’s one of the most effective ways to break down the stereotypes that have been brought to light. And it’s very difficult to turn back. It’s hard to unsee something after it’s been revealed to us. It’s also useful to consider that resolving objectification would also resolve some of the pressing issues that companies are facing when it comes to human capital.
1) When objectification is determined by the environment, it’s the environment that’s seeing a partial and weaker view of the person. It’s more likely that they will be discriminated against: sexual objectification is just an example, but there are so many other instances that present obstacles for every form of diversity that’s trying to be seen, accepted and valued today.
2) When objectification is born out of a management style we see the “toxic boss” come into play. They use and measure people for their productivity levels, lowering motivation, wellbeing and effectiveness. There’s still an index that measures the damages and consequences of this.
3) There’s also self-objectification, which is probably the one that trips us up most. Sometimes, we can feel as though we have to show a reduced version of ourselves, identifying solely with our working identity. But what effect does that have on us? The things that we no longer saw pre-covid are now clear as day in front of us. We’d lose the identity dimensions that enrich and recharge us, losing resources and abilities that mono-dimensionality steals from us. We move from self-esteem to a sense of purpose, which has an impact between our ability to feel efficient and active agents in the worlds that we live in.
Religion is something that we believe in, but work is always a choice that we can discuss and debate each day. It makes us ask who we are, how many things we are and how much we should give to each one. Each of us can become “full” when we’re entering into working, family and passion dimensions. There are so many options that it’s scary, but it makes us more able to live through the complexity that the world offers us each day.
This article was originally written by Riccarda Zezza and published on the Il Sole 24 Ore blog, Alley Oop. To read the original article (in Italian), please click here.