Organization Man

Organization man is dead.

Over the weekend I read an article stating freelance work had increased 12% in the last four years.

Now, 12% over four years really isn't much, and the story didn't say how it was measured, etc. A single stat of dubious provenance is not valuable.

Yet it did get me thinking about the nature of how work has changed.

What's true is this:

There is no standard definition of work today

The lore both chronicled and created by William H. Whyte's seminal work The Organization Man never quite came true. For a brief period following the end of WWII American manufacturing, sales and construction boomed within the structured and strictured organization. We created a mythology that held adoption of the corporate ethic would provide for if not thrive.

And for just over 20 years or so, basically one generation, we bought into this fable enabled by a surfeit of benefits, plans and procedures designed to support the organization and make employees fit the mold. Hell, we made customers fit the mold too.

Banks closed at three, options were few, and customer service wasn't even a notion much less a practice.

But this illusion didn't last

As Whyte himself noted Organization Man was not a paean to modern business structure as much as it was lament of the loss of individuality and creativity in workers. The traits one had to have to create value in an emerging society were being quashed by the supposed need for conformity.

Yet the times changed and today employment in “traditional” roles continues to decline.

Women, whose presence in the workforce had been increasing year over year for decades, have recently begun voting with their feet determining that opportunity for them exists not in working for someone else, but in working for themselves as women-owned businesses open at twice the rate of businesses in total in the US.

The road to academia, traditionally held to culminate with a bachelor's degree and end at 21, has radically shifted with a significant number of students deciding the baccalaureate has no value, while others are returning in their 30s and beyong for a second (or thrird) degree, or finally in pursuit of that advanced honor.

Part-time work, once considred the mark of the dilletante, has now become reality for many as they cobble together a living through three or even four part-time roles realizing the dream of full-time employment is just that.

There is no standard anymore

As we seek talent today we use multiple solutions. Employees, yes, but also contractors, temporary workers, outsourcing, freelancing and so on. In assessing this talent we can't use a single standard anymore: resumes, CVs and work histories are going to look different. People entering the workforce today have never heard of Whyte much less have any desire to fit into a pre-ordained mold.

As HR professionals we have to expand our defitiniton of what work is in order to hire people to get it done today. We only hurt our firms if our understanding of what work means and is fails to keep up with the multiple definitions used by workers today.

Definitions the organization taught them.



4 thoughts on “Organization Man

  1. Great post Christopher! I wonder if we’re going to start to see more directories and processes to help companies find freelancers and vice versa. Right now it really is very much a person to person referral process but as more and more companies rely on contractors/consultants/freelancers there is going to have to be a more structured process for connecting the talent with the needs. What do you think?

    • I believe freelancing is here to stay and we will build systems and tools to support matching people and opportunities. It is the emerging way of work I think.

  2. Another great post Christopher. Increasingly, I’m also seeing crowdsourcing being added into the mix. Depending on the type of work you’re doing, the crowd is becoming what I’ve read described as “a fixed institution, available on demand”. I’m certain it’s going to take up a much more significant role in our organisations

    • Yes, I think so as well Alex. Mind you, I believe crowd sourcing can be good and should be used. The question is how do functions add real value in light of things like crowd-sourcing. There has to be a value-add, or we can’t really justify our existence in the long-run…

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