A tale of two cities: the workplace poverty index

There is a seemingly growing and somewhat Dickensian divergence between the haves – the flexible, empowered and super-equipped knowledge worker, gliding around the urban landscape, dropping in an out of their workplace, free and in control – and the have-nots, rooted to the spot and confined to pre-set processes on pre-determined technology, lacking any control, monitored and observed in Tayloresque ignominy. A tale, very much, of two cities.

In considering this, I wondered what simple questions we might ask to determine the relative “poverty” of the modern workplace. Positioning the subject as poverty may be considered negative, but something of a shock tactic might be required to shake out some consciousness of the problem, blinded as we often are by the dreamy depiction of the haves and their chocolate-box world. Added to this, it means what it says.

So, ask yourself the following about your workplace, and tot up your score:

  • Is your workplace physically located so as to allow ease of access for you when required?
    YES : 5 points / NO : 0 points
  • Is the physical quality of your working environment acceptable for your purposes?
    YES : 5 points / NO : 0 points
  • Do you have access to space you need to complete the tasks required?
    YES : 5 points / SOME: 3 points / NO : 0 points
  • Do you have control over your immediate working environment (lighting, temperature, furniture, personalisation)?
    YES : 5 points / SOME: 3 points / NO : 0 points
  • Do you have the ability and freedom to determine when work is performed?
    YES : 5 points / SOMETIMES: 3 points / NO : 0 points
  • Do you have the ability and freedom to determine where work is performed?
    YES : 5 points / SOMETIMES: 3 points / NO : 0 points
  • Do you have the ability and freedom to determine how your work is performed?
    YES : 5 points / SOMETIMES: 3 points / NO : 0 points
  • Are you managed by objectives or observation?
    OBJECTIVE : 5 points / MIXED : 3 points / OBSERVATION : 0 points
  • Do you have a choice of suitable technology to complete the work required?
    YES : 3 points / NO : 0 points
  • Do you have the ability to use your own technology, if required to complete your tasks?
    YES : 3 points / NO : 0 points
  • Do you have access to social technologies that enable you to connect and interact internally and externally?
    YES : 5 points / SOME: 3 points / NO : 0 points
  • Is your IT usage blocked, tracked, and/or monitored (as far as you know)?
    NO: 5 points / SUSPECTED : 3 points / YES : 0 points
  • Do you have access to nutritious, reasonably priced refreshments and food in the workplace?
    YES : 5 points / LIMITED : 3 points / NO : 0 points

Where is our threshold? And are there strata? A zero for any individual question may well be considered a cause of some concern on its own, even a dealbreaker in some instances – but at least it may be offset by others. The maximum score is 61. My initial hunch is that a score below 25 would constitute a Poor Workplace, but we could set the bar anywhere that works .

If you get a total score of zero, you may wish to ask quite what you are doing there at all. What did your workplace score – and how do you feel about it now?

2 thoughts on “A tale of two cities: the workplace poverty index

  1. Neil, it would be worthwhile putting this out as an on-line survey – but I recognise you are not a great fan of surveys. Anyhow let me know if you want to assist.

  2. Great post Neil. This is something that’s bothered me for a while. There are a multitude of job types (manufacturing production line springs to mind) that simply do not allow for the kind of choice and flexibility that our funky knowledge worker has. The dictionary gives this second definition of poverty: “deficiency of necessary or desirable ingredients, qualities, etc.: poverty of the soil. Synonyms: thinness, poorness, insufficiency” so your choice of words is spot on. Someone of your stature in our industry highlighting this issue might just help turn some of the knowledge worker brainpower on to raising the bar. Recent work on improving hospitals and schools is a good example/starting point.

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