It will likely come as no surprise that the highlight for me of the past month was the celebration of the Center’s 20th Anniversary. As I mentioned in last month’s letter, celebrations like this provide an excellent opportunity to contemplate the breadth of work we (our corporate partners, academic fellows and colleagues, and the Center staff) have done as a community to advance the field. It was gratifying to reflect on and celebrate that body of work at our Gala. The evening festivities exceeded my expectations in every way and the staff received so many nice comments and messages from attendees about the quality and tone of the event.
Our one-day conference that marked the 20th Anniversary was also a special event. So many wonderful colleagues joined us, including current and former members, founders of the field, and a few new and important voices. The themes for the day, Millennials, Men and Meaning seemed to resonate with the participants. Each is an important dimension for us to consider as we ponder the future direction of our work.
Millennials bring with them a new set of values, skills and expectations that will change the way we think about work, the workplace, careers, gender roles, and families. Our session sought to dispel some of the polarized views that some use to depict this cohort and instead to focus on the reality and the possibilities that this very large, very educated, and very socially conscious generation bring to the workplace. One of our speakers, Courtney Martin, herself a Millennial, strongly connected with our audience when she sounded the clarion call for her generation in her summary, “Our charge is not to ‘save the world’ after all; it is to live in it, flawed and fierce, loving and humble … We must struggle to make our friendships, our families, our neighborhoods, our cities, and our nation more dignified, knowing that it might not work and struggling anyway.”
Men are facing unprecedented change in work-life and so many trends which we discussed in The New Dad: Exploring Fatherhood within a Career Context continue to reinforce the changing nature of their work and non-work roles. These trends have also led to high levels of work-life conflict that have arisen from men’s experience as they operate in organizational cultures that continue to see them simply as breadwinners and not as the caregivers they both need and want to be.
Perhaps the topic that solicited the most curiosity and interest was meaning. Although the term may seem abstract, we have explored meaning in many different ways over the past year. Last fall, Dr. Saki Santorelli, Director of the Center for Mindfulness (U Mass Medical School) helped us understand the critical skill of being fully present and conscious in each interaction and decision in our lives. Prof. Peter Senge led a discussion on seeing the critical connection between our work as individuals and organizations to the environment. He also stressed the importance of creating sustainable businesses that develop- not deteriorate- the planet. Last spring, Prof. Jane Dutton of the University of Michigan helped us look through the lens of positive organizational scholarship to understand that we can learn from “positive organizational deviance” how to create better, more effective, and more humane organizations.
At this month’s Roundtable meeting, I presented a half-day program on the value of helping individuals define for themselves what constitutes doing work and living lives of meaning. Walking individuals through a rigorous journey of self-exploration and increased self awareness will lead to developing employees who are able to give more of their best selves to work that they find personally meaningful. Finally, Prof. Steven Poelmans led us through a fascinating exploration of work-life enrichment. He made clear the importance of reframing the work-life agenda from a conflict paradigm to one which embraces the richness that results from a life focused on both meaningful work and fulfilling relationships. As Freud famously responded when asked to define what constitutes a healthy individual, “The ability to work and to love.”
So with our three themes as focal points, we now look to the future. Many other trends – the persistent recession, the aging workforce, globalization, the pervasiveness of technology, and did I mention the recession (?), will also impact the future of organizations, businesses, and society. Twenty years and counting, there is still much work to be done. But unlike Sisyphus who continued his eternal labor with a sense of hopelessness, I couldn’t feel more inspired by the work that lies ahead.
Brad Harrington, Executive Director, Boston College Center for Work & Family