strategy and business


IN the last few years, business leaders have turned their search for creative, innovative talent into something of an arms race. They understand the competitive advantage of being a highly rated place to work, and they are striving to show just how much they value their employees. The recreation rooms and wellness centers springing up at many companies have helped in recruiting, but they can also be seen as superficial. To attract the best and brightest people, young and old, companies must take a stand on profound questions being raised today about the value of human activity in the workplace. These questions concern not just Instagrammable workplaces and perks; they concern the context and the content of organizational activity. People want to do “good work,” in two ways: They want intrinsically rewarding experiences, and they also want to make a contribution that fits with their values.

Part of this new focus on the nature of work has to do with technology. Robots and artificial intelligence (AI) are threatening to replace some human tasks, and it isn’t yet clear what jobs will be left or how jobs will be reconfigured. But what humans will most likely focus on are the more participative, collaborative, and transparent aspects of business. As companies seek their employees’ commitment, not just their clocked-in time, people will naturally think less transactionally and more strategically about their jobs; the emphasis will be on the roles people play in how tasks get done, or the input, and the value of that work, or the output.

Typically, institutions lag behind when technological revolutions occur. It took almost a century to relieve the appalling working conditions that were initiated during the Industrial Revolution. Laws designed to regulate work in the age of AI are not yet in place. We believe companies can and should act now to find their own 21st-century definition of good work and develop strategies to deliver it, not only for the sake of employees but because it will keep them competitive.

What is good work in today’s world? We believe it should, at the very least, involve a decent workplace context: fair pay, tolerable levels of change, autonomy and control over one’s work, and a chance for fulfillment. Employees who give customers what they want because they are inspired by their job will create a powerful feedback loop that increases business. For some, good work might include

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