10 Ideas for Collective Action to Change the World of Work

In all kinds of ways, every day, we are encouraged to take control of our lives and careers at an individual level. Some of that is encouraging and confidence-building. There is a lot of power and potential in taking responsibility for your life and being the protagonist in your own story.

But sometimes we take this individualistic approach too far. I am often disturbed by the extremes of the various “life is what you make of it” platitudes and self-help guides. We live our lives in relationship and in social and political context. Power dynamics are at play, acknowledged or not, and many of them do limit the change we can realize as individuals.

I work with clients who want some kind of change in their own work lives, usually a new job or a new career. Very often what’s making them feel restless at work has larger dimensions. Below I share 10 points for exploring that bigger picture. First, 5 reasons why it’s worth doing and then 5 causes for collective action for changing the world of work.

5 reasons for exploring the bigger picture:

1. It’s more realistic to look at both what we can change ourselves and what requires collective action for a cultural shift at the employer level or industry level or at social and political levels.

Do we limit ourselves by underestimating what we are capable of doing? Absolutely. You and me both, we do it all the time. But does that mean we should then believe we can change or overcome anything if we just try harder? I don’t think so.

I believe it is more realistic to test the limits of our individual influence on the circumstances of our lives while also doing our best to understand the various factors – social, cultural, economic, etc. – that shape the labour market and the world of work in many ways. And that learning may lead to new understandings, new connections, and more effective action.

2. It makes us more compassionate, to ourselves and others. If we believe the extreme that everything is within our own control, then we are likely to blame ourselves when things aren’t going well and we’re likely to blame others for hardships they face.

Yes, we can shift our attitudes in some circumstances and perhaps be more accepting and satisfied, but shifting your attitude to accept behaviours or a workplace culture that are disrespectful or dehumanizing, for example, isn’t likely to be sustainable and usually comes at a painful personal cost.

Understanding the bigger picture of what influences our experience at work can make us kinder about the limits to our individual capacity to affect change.

3. It can make us more effective at influencing change. Most often, the only way to create change at systemic levels is to work together. The more ingrained the culture or more complex the system, the more voices and pressure required for change. If you see an issue in your work life that is unjust and damaging, there are likely others who feel the same way in their workplaces. Some may already be organizing and advocating. You don’t know until you look around beyond your own situation.

4. It leads to innovation and new solutions. Looking at the bigger picture beyond your own experience, you may see how the same issue plays out differently in different workplaces. Bringing many different people together with their varied experiences, needs, and perspectives increases the potential for more inclusive solutions to what may be common workplace trends or complex industry or economic problems.

5. It’s meaningful to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. So often we are drawn to “paying it forward” or to helping to ensure that others don’t have to face the hurdles and hardships we’ve had to face. Have you felt this way about challenges in your work life? In addition to the small and powerful ways to make things better for others with individual actions in our daily lives, there are also powerful ways to join with others for change that create better circumstances for everyone in the longer-term. Taking meaningful action with others who are likeminded builds community and contributes to hopefulness and happiness.

5 example causes for collective action to change the world of work:

This is just a sampling of topics and links. Likely, not all of them will interest you for further exploration and you know other topics and organizations from your experience. Please add your ideas and comments.

(Note: I live in Ontario, Canada so many of the links below are Ontario-based groups or campaigns. If a topic piques your interest, use the keywords to research for your area.)

1. Campaign for Decent Work

The concept of decent work is summarized as involving “opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.”

Global activities, including World Decent Work Day:
United Nations and International Labour Organization Decent Work Campaigns

Canadian/Ontario examples:

2. Diversity in the Workplace

Like decent work, diversity is also a broad topic! There are many dimensions to increasing diversity in the workplace. It “extends beyond race or ethnicity, religion, culture or newcomer status to include factors such as geography, language, politics, gender, beliefs, sexual orientation, economic status, abilities, skills and interests” and beyond staff and management to volunteers, boards, and partners. (HR Council)

What are your interests in this area? Here are a few advocacy and action examples:

3. Wages, Income Security & Precarious Work

There are lots of angles to the topic of wages and income. The links below relate to advocacy for minimum wage, living wage, income security, gender pay equity, and the trends creating more contract and temporary work.

4. Health

Our work impacts our health in so many ways from physical injuries to mental and emotional health as well. The links below are starting points on issues of workplace injuries, harassment, and mental health.

5. Green Jobs and Green Economy

It seems to me that our society and economy are slow to address the reality of climate change, including changes in industry and the labour market to shift away from fossil fuels and towards greener energy sources. There are many environmental, labour, and business groups advocating for this shift.

What else would you add? Please share in the comments!

2017-18 marks 10 years since I took the leap into entrepreneurship and started working with career counselling clients as a private practice business! To celebrate, I am sharing some “top 10 lists” and other 10-themed resources. (You can find links to all the 10-year resource posts here.)

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Hi Anne, I appreciate your perspective and resonate with your insights about balancing the influence of the individual by clarifying the influence of social, political, environmental, and economic contexts. I’m also so with you on finding ways to take positive action in moments when we may feel disheartened or despairing. Thank you for this thoughtful, resource-full, and supportive blog.