Opinions Labor

Jobs Should Be Beautiful

, by Rossella Cappetta
We are witnessing an historical transformation in the role of work and we have the responsibility to manage it. Management can design jobs that are beautiful for people and productive for businesses and communities

We talk badly about work. Regardless of what the data shows, we recklessly feed the myth of people escaping from work ('great resignation', 'quiet quitting', 'southworking', to name a few recently coined terms). Managers often feed the reactionary and self-absolving myth of flight from work by superficially claiming that people are leaving their jobs because they want a life made of sitting on couches and lounging on South American beaches. This way, we let ourselves off the hook about the quality of the jobs we have provided so far and we avoid the effort of redesigning better jobs. Conversely, work is a matter of human identity. We are, therefore, certainly responsible for ensuring decent jobs for all. But we should also design jobs that people can fall in love with, life-saving jobs à la Levi, work that people can identify with and that contributes to their growth.

We act on work with insufficient tools. The tools we continue to use are the same as they ever were: economic incentives and labor law provisions. These, certainly useful and relevant, are no longer enough. We are not going to solve the issue by continuing to consider work as an indistinct set of activities that a person repeats to fill 40 or 35 hours a week of their lives and obtain a salary. This undifferentiated job position can provide protection but not foster reskilling.

To redevelop jobs, we need the tools offered by management. And alongside public policies and regulations we need company policies. And we need companies, which are the places where work happens every day. And where jobs can and must be redeveloped.
Dealing with the quality of work means acting on its characterizing but forgotten elements that have now taken an urgent dimension: the characteristics of work tasks (discretion, variety, interdependence with other jobs, integrability and measurability of results); the place and time of carrying out the activities; the required skills and continuous job training; access to information and participation in decisions; corporate welfare support.

Quality jobs must generate meaningful results; they must be characterized by variety and richness of the activities to be carried out, by discretion regarding the methods of achieving results, by availability of the information necessary to make decisions; they must also contribute to people's sociability needs. And this applies to in-person work at the office or shop floor, but it should apply even more to remote work, which is (and we must always remember this) at greater risk of trivialization and variability. Quality jobs require a broad and solid wealth of skills and, therefore, cannot do without mass training courses deriving from the synergy between company policies and active government employment policies. Quality work must be carried out in conditions that guarantee physical safety and well-being for the person. And, therefore, they must be supported by a broad set of corporate welfare policies that respond to different needs throughout a person's life (from parental leave to nursery school, health care, etc.).

However, the need to move from monolithic and generic work to multidimensional and specific jobs opens up new and even more complex questions. In the past we had asked for formalized HR systems precisely to overcome the discretion in the way bosses treated employees in a company. Today the desire to consider the diversity of jobs and individual life stories and expectations challenges the need for unity and standardization of systems. HR systems have been complemented by D&I practices. And this means that while we design quality jobs, we must pay attention to the specific conditions of the people who will carry them out. But we must also ensure that the differentiated response to people's expectations does not call into question conditions of equity (we have already had examples in the past of solutions designed to consider the specific needs of jobs and people, which have then turned into quasi-segregation, viz. the prevalence of part-time work for women and possibly similar effects for remote working).

In short, the transformations of recent years ruthlessly highlight the fragility of work without quality and challenge us managers. Now is the time to respond by using economic, juridical and organizational tools together to protect jobs and design their beauty, and do so in a fair and sustainable way. Because, as Wenders reminds us in his latest movie, now is now. And next time, it will be much too late.


Bocconi University