The Evolution of Work by Craig Carter Edwards – September 5, 2012

All in all, I’m thankful for having worked for you. You made me realize that as a young person, I had to get out fast or else I would settle for mediocrity like a majority of the working American public.


The first canary in the coal mine that I noticed was Kai Nagata. Frustrated with the inadequacies, inefficiencies and deep-rooted institutional stigmas of TV journalism, Nagata decided he’d had enough; whatever became of his post-CTV career, it would be on his terms and in line with his own ethical sensibilities. Nagata was praised and criticized as brave, brazen, whiny or disturbed.  The institution, after all, is established; he had just made of himself an outsider.  Few saw him as the beginning of a social trend.


Yet there was a trend emerging. Others followed Nagata out the door and into an uncharted realm of moral independence.  Respected media pundits started being  publicly critical about the unspoken taboos tacitly seen as unshakable undercurrents in our society. You could even say biting the hand that feeds is becoming trendy. What’s particularly noteworthy is that, looking to define and capitalize on these emerging trends, more researchers and reporters are digging down into broader social opinions about work, motivation and our overall feelings concerning our lot in life.


So, what are they finding?


Despite a greater number of us Westerners having more of everything than any generation previous, we’re a far from satisfied lot – and a good deal of our malaise is connected with work. You could say the key word there was “generational” and suggest that Gen Y is less dedicated to the traditional work hard, earn more and be happy model – and you’d be right. At the same time, the social world of today doesn’t look the way it did even ten years ago, much less immediately Post-WWII or Turn-of-the-Century when the industrial machine was humming along nicely. The results now being sought by employers, the tools used by employees, the structure of work environments and the length of work days have changed dramatically.

We’re not even defining success the way we used to. In times of yore, success was about profit, position of authority and the ability to download responsibility. Social consequence was barely considered. As an example, there’s a great story about a rather wealthy individual who drew motivation from seeing his father mistreated by employers. Seeing the impact that treatment had on both the father and his family, this guy decided he was going be the one who stepped rather than the one who got stepped on. In the process, he not only became the same kind of employer that abandoned his father; his fixation on success came at the expense of his own family’s emotional health.


Few of us want to be that guy any more – the abrasive ladder-climber whose greatest asset is their ruthlessness. Today, profit and access to stuff are essentially taken for granted; the world seems less dog-eat-dog when everyone’s basic needs are met. The corner office is a nice perk, but it’s personal brand recognition and legacy that we’re interested in now. Blame social media for the expanded demand for validation, but also for the declining importance of position. You don’tneed to be part of the establishment, or part of any establishment to have your voice heard and your opinions matter these days. As a result, you don’t need to accept brow-beating by a micro-managing employer to find social success any more, either.


More than 35% of American employees would fire their bosses, if they could. Kai Nagata did. So did Greg Smith. They were unhappy and took their fates into their own hands, which is exactly what Ryan Eggenberger (see opening quote) is encouraging. Also worth noting, though:


62% of employees would rather improve their workspace than their commute

51% of employees aren’t excited about the prospect of going in to work and my favourite:

Half thought that internal politics (51%) was more critical to advancement than hard work (27%), while only 4% saw creativity as relevant to success.


You can define creativity rather broadly; for my selfish purposes, I’m going to suggest it implies the development of new products, services and processes, i.e. innovation. In our increasingly rapid product evolution cycle, there is a large demand being placed on generating new everything. Equally, the cash crunch of our contracting economy is necessitating more streamlined, efficient processes in all sectors – processes that, dare I say it, breach the unspoken conventions on which work has traditionally been based, such as monetary incentive being the greatest motivator for every kind of work.


So, we have an increasing number of dissatisfied employees who are meh about their boss and the work they do, would like their work environments changed yet still feel money is the prime motivator. These frustrated folk, wrapped up in the pressures of modern work life, aren’t considering innovation as important to their/their company’s success. Then, you have an increasing number of outliers throwing off the shackles of established work and building new careers on a foundation of meaning and ethics, daring to do work differently. Simultaneously, Generation Y is talking about independence, control of their own time and the drive to do the things they believe in. From experience, I can tell you there is a huge reservoir of bold, revolutionary and effective products and services bubbling up from these emerging social entrepreneurs.


The nature of work has changed; it’s only natural that the labour landscape should change with it. This time, though, the would-be labour revolutionaries have inside help.  Smart Human Resource providers are encouraging CEOs to look at labour through a new lens; put the labour first and success will follow.  These HR professionals and forward-thinking executives have a growing number of private-sector service providers to call on in reshaping labour motivation and, as employees have asked for, workspaces themselves


Meanwhile, a growing number of Gen Yers, unable to find work and feeling less than ecstatic about the opportunities they do have are going to strike out on their own.  The successful ones will inevitably gravitate more towards traditional management styles when it’s their own money on the line, but their experience, the demands of their future employees and the realities of motivating innovation will irrevocably change the rules of the game.  This is good news for employees, but it comes with a caveat; the more meaningful work becomes and the more accommodated your labour is, the greater will be the bleed of work life into personal life.  It’s the difference between holding down a job and having a career.


Looking down the road at these expected labour pains, there’s just one piece of advice I can offer; if you’re going to dedicate your life to something, don’t do it just for money – money isn’t enough.  Do it because you believe in it.

Craig Carter Edwards

Born and raised in Cornwall, Craig has lived in or travelled to nearly 30 countries and currently resides in North York with his wife and son.  A political veteran, Craig brings a wealth of government, private and not-for-profit sectors experience to his current role as strategy consultant for the social entrepreneurship sector.

(Comments and opinions of Editorials, Letters to the Editor, and comments from readers are purely their own and don’t necessarily reflect those of the owners of this site, their staff, or sponsors.)

I am the way


  1. This is as baffling as it is boring and reads more like a high school homework assignment destined for those teachers who hand out passing grades to the few students who simply hand things in on time. Far too much of that went on for Gen Y. Might be why they can’t construct an argument after attending university either.

  2. Just for conversation, would we have more jobs in Ontario if
    – less government red tape
    – fewer unions
    – lower cost of living
    – lower electricity rates
    – education standards that meant more
    – better return on healthcare funding

  3. One of the biggest problems that industry/business has is bridging the gap between Boomers and Gen Y. Boomers were brought up with a work ethic that believed that if you put in an honest day’s work your employer would pay you an honest wage and look after you once you retire. However that unspoken employment contract was broken when the MBA’s termed the phrase “Human Inventory” and looked at workers like stock items that can be disposed of if it makes the bottom line more appealing to the stock holders. Unfortunately we still believe in the old work ethic even though we know it’s one sided.

    Gen Y show up at work on their first day and say “So, I’m here, what can you do for me now!” They understand that companies have no loyalty to their employees and should not expect loyalty from their employees. Gen Y can move from job to job without any apprehension or regret. If nothing works out they can always move back home with mom and dad.

    As a boomer I resent Gen Y’s mobility and yet respect it. It is harder to victimize or bully an employee if they don’t care about your job enough to take what you dish out.

  4. Eric,

    I think it’s important to make a distinction on what kind of jobs you’re talking about. If it’s traditional industrial jobs, you’d have to cull a couple other things to compete with the Chinas and Brazils of the world, such as safety standards. I’d rather them come up to our standards than us go back to where we were on that front. Having said that, yeah, there are lots of reforms that are needed.

    If you want jobs that revolve around the information economy, technology and innovation, you need to go in a different direction. You need to motivate employees in the right way to get that kind of product from them.

    Reg – you’re absolutely right. The world has changed, work has changed, expectations have changed. I deal with a lot of Gen Y social entrepreneurs who are as stigmatic in their approach to older generations as older generations are to them, which is nothing new. Loyalty is a tribal thing, especially in the absence of unifying leadership.

    The stuff we’re trying to accomplish today, however, requires greater specialization and as such, more collaboration. We need a balance of accumulated wisdom and new ideas to keep moving forward.

  5. Welcome to the revolution being driven by that non-rival commodity being “information”. Knowledge is power. The power of knowledge is revolutionizing “work”. We do more work for free than we do for a fee. We create our own “work” just to consume our time. Corporations are taking advantage of our willingness to perform “unpaid” work. Our wealth is ourselves. Welcome to the Revolution of Wealth.

    Welcome to Revolutionary Wealth!

  6. The trouble started when our glourious goverment leaders were left astray, by allowing free trade to the world. Majority of the big companies in canada moved their company HQ outside of canada and setup,because they can get a cheaper workforce and make outstanding profits while paying peanuts to the local foreign people. What the these big companies did not understand was the ruinous of their own people and nation.
    Now it like watching the USA & Canada following in the same footprints as the Roman Empire did.
    Unless we can reverse the trend,we are subject to the same episode.
    Canada would have been the riches country in the world, if diefenbaker had left things be, in allowing his jealousy interfere with an a supersonic aircraft that is still,today, that NO aircraft has still NOT been built to surpass it.
    We all talk about on how it was yesterdays workforce, Forget it, we are doomed to the slavery of the so – called idiots in high places with money coming out of their mouths who only care about what percentage or profit that they are getting.They couldn’t care wether you live or die. YOU ARE REPLACEABLE.
    Have a nice day.

  7. Guys, the jobs haven’t disappeared for any of the reasons cited. And as for Gen Y – for goodness sake – they mean squat (except that I fear for them and wish it could be different). It’s called global economics, the real reason behind the columnists’s “evolution of work” thesis which he failed to explore thoughtfully or comprehensively. The industrial revolution which gave rise to North America’s middle class is over. Kaput. Pointe finale. We’re in our Pax Romana and can only hope to die prematurely of cancer or some other thing before we’re euthanized en masse because our citizens can’t afford us.

  8. Craig, your words: “The stuff we’re trying to accomplish today, however, requires greater specialization and as such, more collaboration. We need a balance of accumulated wisdom and new ideas to keep moving forward.”

    What language are you speaking? Do you not think that humans – since we were hunter gatherers – depend on collaboration, experience or new ideas and technologies.

    You’ve been reading too many internal memos and have forgotten (or never learned) to communicate simply and effectively. Drop the non-speak. It’s puffed up nonsense.

  9. Soc,

    For someone who doesn’t like bafflegab, you sure do post a lot. Thanks for that! :o)

    FYI, what I’m actually reading these days is Guns, Germs and Steel. A bit puffed up, but I’m sure you’d have an opinion none the less.

  10. Soc you’re right about the jobs disappearing and post-Industrial revolution. Unfortunately, gone are the good paying Industrial jobs that gave rise to a large proportion of the middle-class in this country. Now, most of us have to seek out government jobs in order to reach a middle-class level. And we all know what garnering a gov’t full time job entails………however this article isn’t about language.

    Craig, the problem with this technological, information and innovation based economy is that there is very little product created! Other than computers and cell phones, (which other than RIM that I can think of) are all made overseas with some call centre supports in North America. Those jobs in the call centres that haven’t yet been moved overseas will in all likelihood be moved soon as more and more of India and Chinese learn the international business language of English…

    There is another negative offshoot of this as well. Take into account that with the proper passwords, pins and such, most cell phone and computer users will no longer require the use of call centre employees for things like settling bill discrepancies, minutes/time left on account for the month, setting up of new accounts, etc. For the most part, I’m surprised there are any call centre employees left! More and more you will find troubleshooting for the technology done by the consumers themselves! Why, because it saves money having the customer doing it themselves. Of course you will always have a skeleton crew available for some people that aren’t tech savvy and for those IT guys.

    Yes a scary Brave New World indeed. I think we as a society have to take a step back and consider what is important to us. I think Globalization has destroyed us.

  11. Guns, germs and steel is a favourite book of mine. It’s not puffed up at all.

  12. Well,Soc, you said a mouthful didn’t you! Seems to me that you have a very high paying job and you are not looking for one.
    Look around you, bud, are there any jobs in Cornwall that pay $24.oo to $26.00 to start?
    That’s what you need to survive now,after taxes,hydro,fuel, etc. there’s not too much lefted if any.
    Anyways I’m tired of listening and reading these senseless articles.
    Have a nice day.

  13. Cory, I appreciate your answer! There’s more to innovation than just cell phones; we can look at better healthcare systems and tools, new educational tools, new fuel sources (and I know how popular that one is), etc. The two work trends I see more and more frequently; on one end, broader service aggregates and on the other, boutique specialized services.

    Not everything being produced today will last the test of time, but there’s a surprising lot of new out there.

    The thing that I’m most interested in, as I’m sure you have guessed, is the intersection between civic life, work life and family life as social media, the nature of work and individual priorities bleed the lines between each.

  14. Good points Craig I hadn’t thought of those items,



  15. @BigFellow

    My criticisms are about the author’s confusing ramblings. His title concerns the evolution of work but what he talks about is something he sees as an emerging trend: that the young and well-employed are quitting their jobs…”biting the hand that feeds is becoming trendy,” Carter-Edwards says in his opening.
    Maybe that should be his title. But where are the data to support his thesis that there is such a trend and what might it mean for the future?

  16. More at Big Fellow

    I understand what you’re saying about the lack of jobs. But Carter-Edwards says his generation isn’t interested in working hard to earn bigger bucks. He says his generation is looking for personal brand recognition and legacy.

  17. Carter-Edwards does not comprehend what is happening to the situation. I’m sure he has a nice comfy executive position or is sitting pretty in retirement.
    Take a look where our canadian money is going ie. billions of our taxes to countries who already are more than developed and are making a financial success and we are still sending money there to help.
    Our manufacturing companies have moved to these countries, call centres have moved out also, which will disappear soon, because electronic means will do the job requirement of correction.
    Job losses and employment in Canada & States side are waining even deeper.
    Will the countries that we Canadian help assist will assist us in time of need?
    I doubt it.
    Like I said above, are we following the same route as the roman Empire did?
    I did not want write this,but I felt compelled too.
    Have a nice day.

  18. Bigfella teaches new history about how the Roman Empire’s charity to their neighbours lead to their collapse. Look forward to the supporting evidence.

    Word of advice to you and Soc; did you read the linked letter? Give it a look over, then come back. it suggests Gen Y (which I don’t consider myself part of) is willing to work harder, but not willing to fill a chair from 9 to 5 because that’s tradition. They’re gonna do what they believe in, their way, either within established offices or as entrepreneurs.

  19. Work is probably the most important issue of the day, without work life has little meaning nor can we support ourselves financially. There is definitely a shift from the expectation that we will be taken care of to one where we take care of ourselves and further, if we have any kind of vision for a sustainable future- where we take care of ourselves, each other, and our world.

    There a millions and millions of activist non-profits now, led by individuals, who are concerned with making a change for the better in their part of the world. Read Blessed Unrest by Paul Hawken- How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw it Coming. This is an incredible movement, led by individual inspiration, in search of a way to contribute to the greater good of society and the world.

    I think the times we are witnessing parallel the fall of the Roman Empire, we are seeing long-standing social structures collapse under the weight of their own oppressive mentality, and I say Bravo! Good bye to the materialistic model and welcome to a new mind where the whole is considered, not just the tiny little parts.
    We should be asking ourselves why we are propping up that old mentality?

    More and more we are going to see small groups of like-minded individuals leading the way to social change that is inclusive, transparent, compassionate and just and healthy. That is going to be one of the pre-eminent traits of those going in a forward-thinking direction, health and wellness. Thanks Craig and CFN for opening up the topic and creating a public discussion.

  20. To Craig Carter-Edwards , yes I have read it, the linked message. Thare are too many books/movies on this subject,but they all confirm that this is the way this planet will run or is it another planet inhibit by human beings?
    We are now, more than ever at the crossroads of depression of which will be worse than the 30’s.
    Even if you save money today,it will be gone before tomorrow.
    You cannot change evolution. It’s here before you realize it.
    Have a nice day.

  21. Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha vs. Charles Foster Kane

  22. Simon – just saw your VS. Love it!

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