It used to be that work was a place where, if a person worked hard and was loyal, and if the business was successful, there was an implicit guarantee of security and of lifetime employment. In the past few years, however, a handful of factors have combined to produce a transformation in the very nature and meaning of work. Manufacturing and service industries are moving off shore. Technology is replacing people. Companies are outsourcing much of their work.
What all this leads to is that successful companies are now laying off people. American Express recently announced a substantial profit, while at the same time laying off thousands of people. This kind of action strikes at the very heart of our collective assumption about what work is - that when a company is successful, it keeps the employees it has, or hires new ones, but it never lays off people. Clearly that’s no longer true.
People go to work to earn their daily bread - to have a roof over there head, food in their stomachs and maybe some luxury items. Our collective belief is that we work in order to survive.
But we long for more than just our bodies to be alive. We want our souls to be fully alive too. We want our hearts to be touched and engaged. We want our spirits to soar
I believe that the real underlying purpose of this profound transformation in the workplace is precisely to fulfill these needs. I believe that work is moving from being something which supports only our survival to something which nourishes and encourages our livelihood.
What is Livelihood?
The Three Stages
1. You’re alive
2. Your aliveness
3. Their aliveness
Livelihood has three components; the first of these is survival. Obviously, we still need to eat, we still need to have shelter and we still need to clothe ourselves. Our survival needs don’t just vanish. They must still be tended to. To put it another way, stage 1 of livelihood is: you’re alive.
The second component is that we want our souls to be nourished and our hearts to be touched. Our work should provide us with the creative expression of ourselves. Our gift, our contribution/purpose, our (as Barbara Marx Hubbard calls it) vocation of destiny needs to be both experienced and expressed. In addition to our being alive, we also want our aliveness to flourish. Stage two of livelihood is, therefore, our aliveness.
We then take our aliveness and contribute it, through our product or service, through ourselves, out to others, out into the world. And so stage three of livelihood is their aliveness.
Imagine work truly being a place of livelihood for each and every one. Imagine the condition of work, that which we assume work to be, as a place for livelihood to be expressed. Imagine people demanding that livelihood be a condition of work.
If we look at today or at the past, this is not what work is. But if we look at what we truly want, this is the workplace of tomorrow - and I don’t mean the tomorrow of pipe-dreams. I mean the tomorrow of our deepest desires, the tomorrow of our commitment, the tomorrow of possibility. I invite your active participation in having work genuinely be livelihood.
Martin Rutte is a management consultant in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He speaks and consults on work and spirituality. He can be reached by phone at (505) 466-1510, email firstname.lastname@example.org and www.martinrutte.com on the web.