Are we our own god(s)? Is the workplace our church?

This post is a bit more philosophical than the others on this blog…literally. Back in June of this year, the online New York Times published a piece called “The Gospel According to ‘Me'”. The authors of the article are a professor of philosophy (Simon Critchley) and a psychoanalyst (Jamieson Webster). In the article they talk about how authenticity in the New Age movement has replaced traditional religion, and the ramifications for that when it comes to the world of waged work.

The Take Aways
Traditional morality structures require sacrifice and conformity (ostensibly for the good of the community). More recently, what authentic for the self takes precedence: a concept with no exterior moral touchstone. The gospel “truths” of a deity, demanding sacrifice and obedience, has been replaced by a gospel of “me” where ones own well being becomes the centre of one’s life:

“Whereas the American dream used to be tied to external reality — say, America as the place where one can openly practice any religion, America as a safe haven from political oppression or America as the land of opportunity where one need not struggle as hard as one’s parents — now, the dream is one of pure psychological transformation.”

What does that mean for the workplace?

The workplace is now colonised by non-work experiences and expectations, such as the requirement of employers to engage their employees on a spiritual, psychological and intellectual level. From the perspective of the individual, one’s profession defines oneself more than ever before. What one does for a living is equated with one’s authentic self. One is what one does. “Work is no longer a series of obligations fulfilled for the sake of one’s sustenance…every aspect of one’s existence is meant to foster some fantasy of growth.”

Existential Authenticity
Existential authenticity in the 360da framework is about the perceived genuineness of interactions between the producer and others in the value network. As discussed in a previous post on Southwest Airlines, brands will be considered authentic if their interactions are sensed by the receiver as being authentic. So, if you want your employees to come across as happy (without your employees being perceived as robots, scripted, medicated or fake) then have happy employees, and a culture that supports that as a priority.

Sounds straightforward, right? But if you take Chritchley and Jamieson’s view, you cannot just hire happy people and pay them to work for you. As an employer you have to make them happy. As anyone can tell you, making someone happy personally is challenging. Making people happy on an organisational level is a massive ask. The literature on providing personal fulfillment in the workplace is legion, because, especially for the up and coming generation, finding personal fulfillment through one’s work (rather than, lets say, one’s religion) is more common than not. This nexus between management and marketing is ripe for even more exploration from an authenticity angle. However the burden of personal happiness in a professional context poses an interesting (rhetorical) question: is the workplace where we should seek this kind of fulfillment? And, in these challenging economic times, what happens to people who struggle to find a workplace at all?

 

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