I recently read The Female Persuasion, a novel with compelling themes of power, friendship, ambition and mentorship. The novel follows characters and their searches for meaningful jobs upon graduation. At its heart, the story is about the desire to be pulled into the light, and to make an impact.
This got me thinking, as this brings us to a larger conversation - with technology transforming so many aspects of the workplace, how can one find meaning and purpose in a landscape fraught with change? Will technology help or harm that pursuit?
In today’s technologically advanced society, discussions are rampant as to whether technology is going to replace workers by outsourcing the dull, dirty, repetitive and dangerous jobs to machines, so much so that some are claiming this will be the Fourth Industrial Revolution. People are left wondering: will my job be performed by a robot?
Technology could free workers to do things they are passionate about - tasks that are fulfilling. “The real shift that has to happen for us is focusing not just on the efficiency that technology brings us,” noted futurist and CEO of futurethink Lisa Bodell. “It’s more about letting us be efficient so we can be valuable.”
Many struggle for a sense of meaning in the workplace. A recent survey discovered that the average worker would give up $21,000 a year in exchange for a role in the workplace that offered them meaning, which may equate to a clear sense of purpose or growth opportunities.
It is interesting that the concept of a job itself is changing. I like the description offered by Doris Viljoen, Senior Futurist at the Institute for Futures Research and the University of Stellenbosch, USB Executive Development (USB-ED): “The concept of a job as we know it could be altered significantly; we may have to find new words to describe what we do,” she said. “Maybe instead of a job we’ll call it something like economic activity. This is due to the fact that a person will probably be economically active in different ways, doing different things for different people simultaneously.”
What skills are necessary for the workplaces of the future? Viljoen highlighted the importance of forming connections - learning to connect people with other people, people with things, and things with things, as well as focusing on creating experiences for customers and employees.
Important skills to develop include digital fluency, communication, ethical awareness and curiosity, to “not be intimidated by new information or ways of doing things.”
So perhaps the key to navigating the future of work is a mindset shift - as Bodell advised, “you just have to be open to the possible changes that come with it.”
And so, the characters in The Female Persuasion go through various job changes on this quest to make an impact, in jobs ranging from working for a prominent feminist foundation, writing a best-selling novel, designing video games and cleaning houses. “...but you could also just say that it was work, and that work was admirable, even if it was hard or unappealing or undersung,” mused one character engaged in house cleaning work. And they all find their way, in the end.