Work Futures Weekly | Rising and Falling

| Gig Workers | Meaning at Work | The Rise and Fall of Emergent Leadership | Uber Layoffs | Joy Harjo | This Week’s New Posts |

source: Raph Howald

Beacon NY — 2019–07–27 | The title for this edition is taken from the contribution from The Corporate Rebels, below.


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The Debate Over How to Classify Gig Workers Is Missing the Bigger Picture| Orly Lobel unscrambles the lack of protections in the gig economy, and answers the question raised in the title of his piece [emphasis mine]:

The larger issue is how to modernize employment and labor protections to fit with the realities of work today. In employment and labor law, we should strive to get regulation just right: not so little as to leave workers unprotected, but not so much as to distort the market and create employment disincentives.

Local and state legislators should not only clarify and simplify the notoriously malleable classification tests, but also create categories of protection that are not based on employee status.

First, some rights should be expanded to all workers providing their services in the market, regardless of how they’re classified. For example, all workers who experience discrimination, are harassed, or witness corruption should be protected by law and have recourse when they take action.

Second, we need to create rules that are specific to platform gig workers. Because not all wage and hour laws can be applied seamlessly to platform work, Uber and Lyft drivers and others providing their services through digital platforms should receive minimum hourly rates that parallel minimum wage laws.


Third, we should provide access to welfare rights such as health care, unemployment insurance, and retirement funds for gig workers who aren’t linked to a single platform.


Fourth, before instituting rules that apply to everyone, we need to consider the different motivations behind why people go gig.

Yes, I buy into the model of an inflexible floor — wage, benefits, and labor rights protections — and a flexible ceiling — ranging from almost no gigging to full-time gigsters — with varying contractual relationships with the client companies. But the basis of justice in this area, as I discussed in The Starting Point and The Bottom Line for The Gig Economy, comes from a statement made by Bastian Lehman, the CEO of Postmates:

No competitive advantage should come at the expense of workers.

[from Work Futures Daily | To Govern Ourselves]


What Makes Work Meaningful — Or Meaningless | Catherine Bailey and Adrian Madden researched the factors that make or break meaning at work. Most of their preconceptions were overturned:

We interviewed 135 people working in 10 very different occupations and asked them to tell us stories about incidents or times when they found their work to be meaningful and, conversely, times when they asked themselves, “What’s the point of doing this job?” We expected to find that meaningfulness would be similar to other work-related attitudes, such as engagement or commitment, in that it would arise purely in response to situations within the work environment. However, we found that, unlike these other attitudes, meaningfulness tended to be intensely personal and individual; it was often revealed to employees as they reflected on their work and its wider contribution to society in ways that mattered to them as individuals. People tended to speak of their work as meaningful in relation to thoughts or memories of significant family members such as parents or children, bridging the gap between work and the personal realm. We also expected meaningfulness to be a relatively enduring state of mind experienced by individuals toward their work; instead, our interviewees talked of unplanned or unexpected moments during which they found their work deeply meaningful.

We were anticipating that our data would show that the meaningfulness experienced by employees in relation to their work was clearly associated with actions taken by managers, such that, for example, transformational leaders would have followers who found their work meaningful, whereas transactional leaders would not. Instead, our research showed that quality of leadership received virtually no mention when people described meaningful moments at work, but poor management was the top destroyer of meaningfulness.

We also expected to find a clear link between the factors that drove up levels of meaningfulness and those that eroded them. Instead, we found that meaningfulness appeared to be driven up and decreased by different factors. Whereas our interviewees tended to find meaningfulness for themselves rather than it being mandated by their managers, we discovered that if employers want to destroy that sense of meaningfulness, that was far more easily achieved. The feeling of “Why am I bothering to do this?” strikes people the instant a meaningless moment arises, and it strikes people hard. If meaningfulness is a delicate flower that requires careful nurturing, think of someone trampling over that flower in a pair of steel-toed boots. Avoiding the destruction of meaning while nurturing an ecosystem generative of feelings of meaningfulness emerged as the key leadership challenge.

Reading this I was reminded of Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory, which I wrote about in What Drives Us?:

I found myself impressed by immensely practical insight of Frederick Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory, which is based on the notion that job satisfaction and dissatisfaction are not two ends of one dimension, but actually two independent factors. Job satisfaction is a function of the work that someone does, and that has the capacity to fulfill needs, like achievement, competency, status, personal worth, and self-realization. Job dissatisfaction is linked to unfavorable perceptions of working conditions, relationships with others (especially supervisors), company policies, and salary. Herzberg’s breakthrough is that these two factors must be measured and managed independently, and in parallel.

Here the link between Herzberg’s job satisfaction and people’s perception of the meaningfulness of their work seems fairly direct: in both cases, it is a deeply personal feeling. However, job dissatisfaction is a shared condition caused by bad management, as is the sense of work being meaningless.

No surprise that later in their analysis, Bailey and Madden make the same connection with Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory:

In the 1960s, Frederick Herzberg showed that the factors that give rise to a sense of job satisfaction are not the same as those that lead to feelings of dissatisfaction. It seems that something similar is true for meaningfulness. Our research shows that meaningfulness is largely something that individuals find for themselves in their work, but meaninglessness is something that organizations and leaders can actively cause. Clearly, the first challenge to building a satisfied workforce is to avoid the seven deadly sins that drive up levels of meaninglessness.

The seven deadly sins:

  1. Disconnect people from their values.

  2. Take your employees for granted.

  3. Give people pointless work to do.

  4. Treat people unfairly.

  5. Override people’s better judgment.

  6. Disconnect people from supportive relationships.

  7. Put people at risk of physical or emotional harm.

The researchers provide a model for an ‘meaningfulness ecosystem’, which I don’t think is really an ecosystem but more like a model for thinking about avoiding meaninglessness work.

Go read the whole thing.

[from Work Futures Daily | Safety and Meaning]


When Pioneering Companies Fail | The Corporate Rebels created a list of companies that pioneered innovative organizational models but ultimately returned to conventional management. A common theme is the departure of a CEO who animated the innovation. This is a topic I touched upon recently in What We Can Learn From Bill Gore about Emergent Leadership. James O’Toole looked into a great many of these companies and found the experiments seldom last very long:

Yet these virtuous practices seldom survived through one, or at most two, successions of company leadership. At some point — often just after a socially pioneering CEO retired, died, or was forced out of office, or the company was acquired — the CEO’s successors abandoned the very practices that had made the company both financially successful and publicly admired. In particular, investors at publicly traded companies have looked askance at such practices whenever earnings have dipped.

[from Work Futures Daily | Without Mistakes, No Poetry]


Uber Lays Off 400 as Profitability Doubts Linger After I.P.O. | Kate Conger reports on a huge downsizing at Uber, particularly in marketing:

Uber said it laid off a third of its marketing team on Monday, or about 400 people, as the ride-hailing company tries to cut costs and streamline its operations after its initial public offering in May.

The cuts, which were also announced internally on Monday, are taking place in multiple Uber offices around the world, the company said. The marketing team had more than 1,200 people before the layoffs. Uber employs almost 25,000 people globally, nearly half of whom are based in the United States, according to recent regulatory filings.

Uber declined to comment further.

This is really the reason I am posting this story:

In an email on Monday to Uber’s marketing staff, which was reviewed by The New York Times, Ms. Hazelbaker said the 400 layoffs were taking place because the team had grown bloated and decision-making was unclear. The marketing team’s organizational charts ran to more than 388 pages, she said.

The org chart was 388 pages?

Somehow I doubt Uber is operating around self-organized, small teams, each dedicated to a single well-defined task. Cutting 400 won’t fix what’s wrong across a dysfunctional company of 25,000.

[from Work Futures Daily | Freedom Over Fear]

Quote of the Week

There is no poetry where there are no mistakes.

| Joy Harjo


Some older posts I have resurrected this week.

The polarization around remote work comes as no surprise | How you feel about remote work depends on who you are | Stowe Boyd


How to make groups more productive? | Add women. | Stowe Boyd


Some Feedback About Feedback | New research digs into the fallacies about ‘open feedback’ | Stowe Boyd


Nudge Units | The science of behavioral change | Stowe Boyd

originally published as Work Futures Weekly | Rising and Falling.