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New Work: Free people from economic constraints

Lars-Thorsten Sudmann
Jan 11, 2020 6:41:44 PM

What developed in the 1980s in a small town of the US, has developed into a global idea: New Work. As the pioneer of the concept, Frithjof Bergmann nowadays still globally campaigns for his idea. Who is this man – and how does he asses New Work in times of the digitization? 

  • The idea of New Work is not new. Frithjof Bergmann had already laid conceptual foundations at the beginning of the 1980s.
  • New Work is concerned with what people „really, really want“ and how they can implement these wishes.
  • New Work today: more than just finding the intrinsic motivation.

New Work is a now established term that has found its way into the common parlance of a broad population. Seen from this Anglicism, many people will probably imagine a hipster at the beach, the laptop on his or her lap. The history of the New Work-concept, however, begins with awakening events.

The development of New Work

Try imagine a small town called Flint in the US state Michigan: A happily and highly mixed group of unionists, a priest, managers and the Mayor of the time gets together to counteract the mass dismissals in the automobile industry. Computers sitting on both sides of the assembly lines would replace workers and simultaneously let the town become unemployed overnight.  The proposal reacting to the wave of joblessness is ought to build the foundation of the New Work idea:  work should be evenly distributed within the population - obtained by each and every one working in the factories for six months of the year while the others spend their time in other ways. 

Under the leadership of Prof. Frithjof Bergmann, the first so-called „centre for new work” was founded.

With its population of 100.000 people, Flint was previously considered to be the epitome of a functioning industry with General Motors (GM) being resident and a growing and vibrant company with work opportunities for people of the city.

Frinthjof Bergmann describes the situation back then in an interview with the Austrian standard.at: “In the course of a growing automation and robotization at the end of the 70s, lots of factory workers of the automobile industry were dismissed. The city fell into a depression. “ Bergmann himself had already worked in over 20 professions and brought an extensive experience in how work can be constructed in flexible ways and in terms of people. „I thought: How can we make the most out of this situation? That is why I advised people to use their time in a constructive way to think of what they really, really want in life”, he states in the interview.

Bergmann’s ideas were followed by actions. However, for the time being, not all of the workers were impressed by the concept - scepticism was spread amongst the parties concerned. Questions were being raised: What should they finally do in the six months of the year in which they do not work in the factory? The uncertainty was, however, followed by a wave of acceptance and productivity. Some of the assembly-line workers of the placid town called Flint became gardeners, others opened cafes. Bergmann’s favourite example is the worker smeared all over with oil who longed for a clean and white workplace and eventually built up a yoga studio after his completion of training.

Wishes regardless of economical restraints

Being a part of the described situation, Frithjof Bergmann did not feel like half of the year in permanent employment has been pioneering. Instead, he was much more interested in the other six months available beyond their gainful employment.  In his “centre for new work”, he got to the bottom of the issue and raised the question of people‘s wishes being independent of economical restraints and the availability living in their hearts.

New talents, abilities and values shall be investigated in this manner.  In the second step only, people and their activities became the main focus: How could they do what they “really, really want” and simultaneously generate an income in order to secure their livelihoods?

In his book “New Work New Culture: Work we want and a culture that strengthens us”, Frithjof Bergmann gives a precise description of the essence of New Work:

“New Work is an effort that has now gone on for over 20 years to reserve this: we should not be serving work, but work should serve us. The work we do should not drain and exhaust us, it should give us more strength and more energy, it should develop us into fuller human beings.”

New Work in the digital present

Does history recur in the digital age? Do employed persons in advanced national economies make the same experiences as people in the microcosm of a US small town? Bergmann himself is confident: experiences of the past are repetitive, but with other signs. Technologies such as 3d-printers, assistantships and other smart technologies change a consumer into a producer, or his own words into a fabricator. Accounts of self-production performed by inhabitants of Flint in their six months apart from the factories, nowadays certainly blend much more into an extensive do-it-yourself culture. A human is no longer a self-sufficient person in order to secure a survival, as once people in the agricultural society did, but rather someone transferring his values and wishes into work and culture. In his book, Bergmann writes about the goal of New Work not being a concept of releasing people from work, but rather a concept of changing work in a way that it creates free and self-determined people.

 

 

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