Is it Time to Rethink the Meaning of Work?

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In recent years, there has been a great deal of information written about the development of automation, tech and artificial intelligence, and although many people have different opinions – the general census is that this development is something to fear. There are reports of predicted mass unemployment and declining wages. In fact, a recent study from Oxford University estimated that that 47% of all American jobs and 54% of jobs in Europe are at a very high risk of being replaced by machines over the next twenty years. So is it time to rethink what we thought we knew about working?


Work: The Definition

If you were asked to define the meaning of work, what would you say? For some, it’s a moneymaking enterprise that they’re not too bothered about whereas for others, it’s a place of paradise where they are truly happy. What’s most surprising is that the number of people who enjoy their job is slowly decreasing as technological developments grow.

In 2013, a survey by Harvard Business Review surveyed 12,000 professionals and found that 50% of participants felt that their job had no ‘meaning and significance.’ Another poll carried out later among 230,000 employees in 142 countries showed that merely 13% of workers actually enjoy their job. The most shocking statistic is probably the fact that a recent poll found that 37% of British citizens think their job is actually useless.

In Britain specifically, our education system is used as a way to train individuals so that they are suitable for employment later into their life. So it’s surprising that these people who are deemed successful and knowledgeable after preparing to join the workforce, have said their job is actually useless. Is this just another sign that we need to rethink the meaning of what it means to join the workforce?

The World Economic Forum believes that the meaning of work depends on what you define the meaning of life as, which for most, is probably true. If life is about making money to you, the job you have should probably reflect that; whereas, if your life is about freedom and flexibility, you’ll probably find yourself working less hours and earning less money.

The WCF argue that for too long, people have been working jobs they don’t enjoy to buy things they don’t need, and that maybe the time has come to ‘stop sidestepping the debate’ and answer the question ‘what would our economy look like if we were to radically redefine the meaning of ‘work’?’ In fact, Rutger Bregman, an author who writes about modern day utopia states:

‘I believe in a future where the value of your work is not determined by the size of your paycheck, but by the amount of happiness you spread and the amount of meaning you give. I believe in a future where the point of education is not to prepare you for another useless job, but for a life well lived. I believe in a future where jobs are for robots and life is for people.’

The fear of tech and artificial intelligence has certainly shaken the concept of what we believe work to be, and as we look into redefining the meaning of work, what do you think that means for higher education and the way we prepare future generations to join the workforce? Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut answer, but it’s clear that attitudes and opinions will change over the next few years as technology continues to develop. What do you think?


Jessica Greaney
Digital Marketer
0121 244 5004