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Does your work define you (and does it matter)?

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Does your work define you (and does it matter)?

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With the rise of various technologies that allow individuals to work effectively regardless of their location, there was a hope that this would herald a dawn of flexible working that would shatter the 9-5 rat race that sees us welded to our desks, at least until the boss has called it quits for the night.

It’s hard to escape the impression that this dream is turning into more of a nightmare, as employers still insist on us putting in plenty of face time at the office, but now also call upon employees outside of work hours via the fantastic new tools at their disposal.  At least that is the finding of a new paper about to be published by Cass Business School here in London.

The paper focuses on the concept of biopower that was developed by Frenchman Michel Foucalt.  Foucalt suggested that we had more control exerted over our lives in modern, liberal societies than was the case in good old fashioned hierarchies.

The theory translates into our professional work in the sense that before mobile technologies emerged to allow us to work from wherever, there was a clear demarcation between work and home in that you literally had to be at work to do work.  The research suggests that with the rise in mobile computing, we are now increasingly resembling the biopowered world of Foucalt, with work creeping into all elements of our lives, regulating, monitoring and monetizing everything we are and do – and we are seldom aware of it.

It goes on to suggest that the rise in knowledge work has seen bureaucracy replaced by what they term a biocracy.  This sees the individual aspects of each employee encouraged, with managers increasingly aiming to foster better performances by allowing employees to bring their personalities to work with them.  Life skills, communication and organisation skills, and emotional intelligence are now key.

“The Birth of Biopolitics lectures are astoundingly prescient in the way they concentrate on the then nascent neoliberal project as a sign of things to come,” the researcher says. “Our jobs are no longer defined as something we do among other things, but what we are… Ominously, we are now permanently poised for work.”

Which is a double edged sword isn’t it?  I wrote recently about the importance of loving what you do, for only when you have that passion will you invest the time and energy required to stay on top of what is an increasingly shifting landscape.  In that sense, the boundaries between your work self and home self are increasingly blurred.

As we head into the weekend, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.  Do you define yourself increasingly by the work you do?  Do you mind if that’s the case?

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