Top 10 Posts of 2023: 6-10
Starting a new habit: the top ten posts of the past year, according to readers.
I have opened the paywalled sections (when present), so this may be the first opportunity for free subscribers to see these posts in their entirety or at all.
6 of 10
Salesforce has shuttered the forward-leaning Future Forum, a research consortium that was supported by Slack, Boston Consulting Group, MillerKnoll, and Management Leadership for Tomorrow.
Considering the angle that Future Forum pursued — advocating for ‘flexible’ work, meaning hybrid/remote — it’s not surprising that CEO Marc Benioff has sunsetted what was increasingly an annoyance to him, since he’s taken the tack of pushing for getting workers back in the office.
In a strategy-planning document circulated in February 2023, after numerous rounds of layoffs, Benioff stated (in Powerpointese):
Wellness culture overpowered high performance culture during pandemic. Fear of escalations for people-related issues (burnout, psychological safety, equality, etc.) can make managers reticent to performance manage their teams.
Leaving aside the jargony verb construction of ‘performance manage’, Benioff’s message was not appreciated within Salesforce.
After employees complained on Slack—“Most disturbing and tone deaf is this sad excuse,” one post said—the line was changed.
The line was changed, but the spirit remains.
7 of 10
In Blurry Visions, I reviewed an essay by Jerome Roos:
Jerome Roos lays out an argument about how people think about the future, these days, starting with the claim that both pessimists and optimists are wrong:
We are presented with two familiar but very different visions of the future: a doomsday narrative, which sees apocalypse everywhere, and a progress narrative, which maintains that this is the best of all possible worlds. Both views are equally forceful in their claims — and equally misleading in their analysis. The truth is that none of us can really know where things are headed. The crisis of our times has blown the future right open.
Roos, like Rebecca Solnit, see that pessimists and optimists are alike: they are certain in their conclusions.
8 of 10
The longest section in this issue was a discussion of the term ‘workism’ and its provenance:
The Andy Beckett piece mentioned in The UK has forgotten its own history, above, is a magisterial and expansive article exploring the concepts of what Beckett calls ‘workism’:
Work is the master of the modern world. For most people, it is impossible to imagine society without it. It dominates and pervades everyday life – especially in Britain and the US – more completely than at any time in recent history. An obsession with employability runs through education. Even severely disabled welfare claimants are required to be work-seekers. Corporate superstars show off their epic work schedules. “Hard-working families” are idealised by politicians. Friends pitch each other business ideas. Tech companies persuade their employees that round-the-clock work is play. Gig economy companies claim that round-the-clock work is freedom. Workers commute further, strike less, retire later. Digital technology lets work invade leisure.
He attributes this term to a group of researchers — David Graeber, Helen Hester, Nick Srnicek, Benjamin Hunnicutt, and Peter Fleming — but I can’t find an initial source. [Update: I researched the term workism back in 2019, and found the original use from 2014 by Nick Barlow.]
Work Futures is a reader-supported publication. Act now: monthly subscription rising to $7/mo in February.
9 of 10
I read a (quite long) piece called You Call This ‘Flexible Work’? by Fred Turner, a cultural historian, which provides a good retrospective on the rise of industrial time, and how it has shaped our culture generally, and specifically how it has forged contemporary ideas of work.
In the end, he describes the power imbalance between employers and employees and how it is amplified by the pervasiveness of industrial time now administered by computers instead of a foreman with a watch in his vest pocket [emphasis mine]:
Computers aren’t going anywhere. As they spread the clock-time logic of the factory to places formerly beyond its reach, digital technologies clearly amplify the power of employers, but they also make it possible for many of us to labor and rest in the same rooms, at home, among our friends and relatives, and so reintegrate parts of our lives split apart by the Industrial Revolution. The question is: How can we structure time in ways that balance employers’ desires for control and workers’ desires for autonomy? And how can we do it in ways that benefit everyone?
When workers fought for the eight-hour day, they weren’t just seeking to work less. They wanted to create conditions under which families had time to be together, citizens had time to rally and vote and everyone had time to read, write and flourish. When workers took their watches into the factory, they were seeking to ensure the fair measurement of labor and equal pay for equal work. At bottom, industrial-era fights over how to structure the day and the week were fights over how to give workers more control over their lives and more resources with which to care for one another.
10 of 10
The actions of major corporations demonstrate, once again, that their attestations that ‘our people are our greatest asset’ and their fake earnesty about caring about their staff is baloney. Consider the mass layoffs in recent months, supposedly anticipating a slowdown in the economy or an outright recession which have failed to materialize, but boosted profits. And now, they are acting in a cartel-like synchronized fashion to clawback another day per week of working from home.
There has been a closing in the gap between workers’ desire to work from home three days a week and employers demanding at least two, as shown in this chart:
The layoffs continue, now, in Januuary 2024. We should demand that employee rights guarantee the right to work at home some portion of the week, based in the industry, and those who cannot work remotely should get hazard pay. However, this would require industrywide unionization and collective bargaining, exactly the solidarity that layoffs are designed to undermine.