Let me ask you a question. You’re working in a space where the 9-5 hour is your limit, but, there is hardly any interaction taking place between you and your superiors. What your boss tells you is the golden rule, and all the work assigned to you is strictly bound by time, making you more conscientious. As compared to this, let’s look at an environment where hierarchy is just a label, and people work collaboratively, based on their innate abilities to complete a task. Let’s also take into consideration a scenario that blends these two notions together. Each one of us has our own preferences, but the way these manifest often lies at the intersection of the old and new work culture.
When we compare the new order and old orders of work culture, we do see a difference in the way hierarchical standards are perceived. Looking at the old order, we do definitely see a clear, step-wise hierarchy, where subordinates work under their superiors. In an established magazine, for example, there would be a clear chain of operation when it comes to the hierarchy followed at work. The interns and writers would work under an editor, whereas the editor, in turn, would work under the managing director or CEO of the company. One may think that this makes the notions of a role to be played too rigid, but it also might contribute to streamlining things and defining them in a more concrete manner.
In the new order, there has been a clear change in this notion of working ‘under’ someone. Everyone that functions within a space of work works for a common cause, or towards a common goal to be achieved, irrespective of their level of competency or their ‘position’ in the hierarchical structure that makes up an employment force. a subordinate would be considered to work ‘with’ their boss on generating content or optimizing a process rather than ‘for’ them or ‘under’ their wing.
The delegation of work is something that needs to be efficiently carried out in order to ensure a smooth workflow. When we compare the notion of a new and old work culture in order to see how delegation works, there are some clear differences. In the old order, it is clear that the work assigned to subordinates by a superior is based on what ‘needs to be done’. This delegation of work is considered to be final and binding, and there has never been a ‘choice’ as such whether to complete it or not, even if the work assigned lies outside one’s area of competency.
Flashing forward to looking at contemporary workspaces, it is pretty clear that a lot of employees have flexible options in terms of how they go about doing their work. This may include flexible work hours and the option to work from home as well. Even in the case of those doing full-time work, the notion of taking up work that lies outside one’s area of competency depends on choice. If one feels that they aren’t competent enough to handle something, or that they won’t be able to do it due to an external concern, they have a lot more freedom in the contemporary context to address their grievances or doubts about it!
Approachability and Interaction
The approachability of a leading figure in the order of old work culture is quite limited in the traditional sense. ‘Addressing a grievance’ to your boss was probably considered a faux pas, as it was him who would call his subordinates to discuss a problem. The role of an employee in this classical sense would be to take the work delegated, and complete it diligently. The classical structure of an office in earlier times would consist of an area for employees, progressing inwards into a space delegated for management, and then progressing into the big boss’ cavern of operations. The leader wouldn’t ever leave his cave. It would always be the employees that were summoned to interact with him or her.
In the new order of things, the clarification of a doubt is a two way street. Employees needing clarification or an escalation of matters are always free to approach their superiors. Another marked difference in the structure of the modern workspace is the presence and prevalence of glass doors to enclose cubicles, so that a sense of transparency and openness is maintained, not rendering an air of exclusivity to the individual considered as a ‘boss’. This might allow for transparency in both the literal and figurative sense, but it might also lead to looser boundaries, causing a slight confusion when it comes to controlling interaction and behavior within a workspace where everyone is observed as an equal.
Work culture is something that sums up the nature of interaction within a space of productivity, in essence. The aforementioned comparisons clearly show that there is a marked difference between the old and new orders of work culture, but what is the guiding notion that gives life to these two different philosophies?
The informal nature of the new work order, wherein the rights and wrongs at any level within what is classically considered as a hierarchy are more transparent. When we look at the notion of an old work order, it is clear that there is a clear employer to employee dynamic, where the subordinates in this paradigm are considered to be the employees of a superior, working under him or her just as the worker bees collect honey for their monarch.
In the new order, it is pretty clear that this notion is dissolved. All those who are employed within a startup, or at a company with even larger workforces, are largely considered as ‘professionals’ in their own right, since they possess competencies in particular fields. Let’s take our office as an example.
Now, let’s move on from discussing these differences to looking at how these notions reflect in our daily lives. When we look at of delegation, as well as hierarchy, it is clear that we might begin to work on fear rather than a passion for our work. While this might be quite unhealthy on the emotional spectrum, it might lead us to be extremely conscientious about the work that we do, and may also spill over into the other realms of our lived experiences. There is thus a clear balance of pros and cons when it comes to certain aspects involved in these differences.
Earlier on, ‘work’, at least in the Indian context, meant taking up a more technical or clerical job. Streams like psychology and the creative arts were considered obsolete. Parents would often shun their children for having aspirations in these fields, leading to a sense of self-doubt about one’s preferences, and one’s capability to succeed at the endeavors that evoke passion. This notion has changed today drastically. The realization that roles exist for varied competencies at several levels in the job market has only recently emerged with the proliferation of the arts as a means of cultural expression, thus giving way for a high sense of confidence in one’s passion.