Friday, April 10, 2009

Conrad and the concept of work

I had not read Joseph Conrad at all. Though references to his works have been plenty in a lot of what i read. So the other day i was glad to pick up a copy of his acclaimed short story Heart of Darkness in my regular bookstore. Of course, before reading it i had a good idea of what the story would be about-the abject pretence of high moral rectitude by perpetrators of the folly of colonialism, told through the eyes of an insider. The actual story was just that- and more. It had an interesting insight into why people indulge in the act classified as "work". An act that my profession happens to be terribly interested in.

To my mind, being an "HR guy" today largely means dealing with:

a) People issues- motivation, maintenance, grievances, development etc
b) The classification of work - understanding roles, differential pay, fitment etc.

Sometimes it can also mean grappling with people issues arising from the classification of work- organization structuring for example. However, it is about the definition of work itself that Conrad had an interesting insight on. His protagonist, the cynical-colonial sailor, when faced with a particular bit of unsavoury task says:

"No - i don't like the work. I'd rather laze around and think of all the fine things that can be done. I don't like work- no man does- but i like what is in the work, - the chance to find yourself. Your own reality, for yourself and not for others- what no other man can ever know. They can only see the mere show, and never can really tell what it really means."

If this be true, it does throw up some interesting questions for my profession. Excluding the part of lazing around mentioned in the definition, if the only objective of people working is to be guided towards self discovery, to uncovering self reality- does HR realize it? Or does it choose to look at work only in its economic equivalent and and structure all its policies accordingly.

The concept of self realization, which perhaps comes closest to what Conrad was talking about, has been placed at the topmost hierarchy of needs as being practiced currently. What this means is, as a legitimate aspiration, this need will only be catered to by my profession for the senior most professionals in the organization. But Conrad's protagonist was a mere steamboat sailor! And his aspiration to traverse the heart of Congo for self realization was very natural. Maybe a parallel to the millions of today's skilled migrant worker. What, are we as a profession doing to address this basic need of work at this level?

1 comment:

donscave said...

Maslow uncle called this self-actualization right?