On a Revised Division of Labor

“Celui-là tissera des toiles, l’autre dans la forêt par l’éclair de sa hache couchera l’arbre. L’autre, encore, forgera des clous, et il en sera quelque part qui observeront les étoiles afin d’apprendre à gouverner. Et tous cependant ne seront qu’un.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

photo by Andrew Neel

In the above quote, de Saint-Exupery relays that to build a ship, each laborer has a component which he will focus on. Later in the text (“Citadelle”), the author speaks regarding the community of oneness and the common goal of entering the sea. Specialization of labor is not a new topic, but it is surely one that we need to re-address and this time, without the common fall-back of “well this is the way it’s always been.” In actuality, the labor pool is grossly underutilized. And by that, I mean that some laborers (in any position) are mismatched with their positions: overvalued, undervalued. In addition to that, some fields create so many arbitrary barriers to entry (such as years of experience required) that they are missing out on crucial talent. In reality, we see a lot of the same patterns playing out in business management: some individuals use their time to falsify a belief in their indispensability, others create continuous boundaries to the development of individual strengths, and more use manipulation tools to appeal to a worker’s emotions and weaknesses.

photo by Anton Repponen

Key to the obstruction of growth are the following aspects of our current division of labor, and labor acquisition:

We fit people into pre-defined job descriptions, rather than give them liberties to tailor the jobs to their strengths. In most jobs, conformity (to job “culture” and to the position itself) is the absolute. This meaning, one person, or a small group of people, dictate the exact features of the job position and take an overbearing approach on emphasizing “the way we do it”.

Say that five people are hired by a company to perform the same job. All five people have different strengths and weaknesses. Yet, all five people are asked to perform the job in the same way and obtain the same results. On a logical level, a company cannot feasibly go about erasing a person’s predispositions and personal history so that each and every hire works in the very same fashion. Rather, a more intelligent approach is provide the new hires with the job description, but mainly focusing on the goal of the job position at hand. With some gentle guidance at first, the individual can then go on and tailor the position to his strengths and forgo and forget all of his weaknesses.

Pre-defined job descriptions could well emphasize an individual’s less cultivated traits. Rather than do so, why not take the newly-hired individual as a product of his experiences, and allow him the freedom to weave his strengths into the fabric of his job position? In addition to creating a strengths-first approach to a person, the liberties an employer provides will encourage pride in the worker. It is naive and counter-intuitive to attempt to dramatically change the worker’s personality to better suit a position, to address weaknesses exponentially more than strengths, and to undervalue the individual intellectual assets that a worker brings into a company. Variance of talent does not do disservice to a company, unless the company’s primary focus is stasis and even regression.

photo by Marta Pawlik

Overvalued laborers play office. The trend I’ve been aware of is that overvalued laborers, especially in management positions have a few primary concerns: perpetuating the idea of their indispensability, inculcating an undercurrent of fear and manipulation in the ones they manage, and effectively filtering all ideas so as to render them impotent.

For the overvalued laborer in a managerial position, play is a large facet of their position. When I say this, I mean that the work setting becomes an environment in which they can easily alter components to draw about scenes invested in emotion. Equally so, they can set forth ideas of conformity through tactics of resoundingly antithetical parsing. In this, the overvalued laborer arbitrates definitive reactions about an individual’s “potential” and calls forth distinctive barriers to a worker’s livelihood at a company.

Play also comes in where overvalued laborers consciously alter company information (regarding hiring, firing, etc.) to suit their interests, which often remain illusive through the process of alteration. On the other end, the play may have been poorly thought out and the overvalued laborer may well serve to alienate management from the workers by altering information in such an obviously false way as to indicate to the workers that alteration is in usage.

A final instance of play that I will address here, though there are many more, is the play of grandeur. It is easy to fall prey to this instillation in the workplace, and oftentimes, will work for the introductory period of an individual’s employment. Common rhetoric in this phase includes “you’re so lucky to have the opportunity to work here” and “I’m going to work here until I die.” This sort of phrasing cultivates a trigger sensor in the newly hired worker, which signifies to them that keeping this job is of vital and utter importance. The trigger sensor can also mask some more outlandish requests on part of the manager that would have otherwise caused the worker to re-evaluate the intentions of the employer beyond the agreed-on exchange of labor for monetary compensation.

photo by Yasin Aribuga

A revised division of labor serves to properly adapt job descriptions to the hired worker, rather than strip the worker of his strengths in light of “the way things have always been done.” It also serves to administer clear and ethical business practices, that allow the worker autonomy, and thereby, the cultivation of pride in his individual work. It is not enough for the growth of civilization to continue down the path of overvaluing some laborers while undervaluing and even undermining others. To work from a strengths approach will serve the best probable outcome for a company seeking to develop past the current regressive model.