On definitions: personal perspective at work
My PhD is a constant struggle with definitions and terms. This time it's about personal perspective at work.
For me (knowledge) work practices are shaped by at least three different contexts: personal (me as a human being), social (my networks and communities) and organisational (a company I work for).
However, when I start talking about personal there are all kinds of misunderstandings, since it could mean both individual and private and I don’t like both terms in relation to my research:
- Individual means 'not social', while I’d like to focus on 'me' which has both sides.
- Private (when you talk about it in a work context) is usually perceived as 'not work-related', while I’m interested in 'me' as a whole (the one who goes to work and then goes home :).
I have stressed many times that I'm interested in knowledge work from personal, actor-centric perspective (it's just a matter of focus), however this doesn't mean that I want to exclude social and organizational sides of it. Even more, I'm interested how things in the middle are shaped by the interactions between two (or all three) perspectives.
Of course, the area in the middle is full of problems as well. For example, I was asked recently to separate in my analysis of work practices organizational and personal concerns. With some things it could be done easily: there are things that are imposed on you by the organization (e.g. working hours) and those that come from your being a person with specific preferences (e.g. preferred modes of communication).
However, the most interesting things at work can't be separated so easily:
- If you do your work faster or better – is it for yourself or for your company?
- If you come up with a good idea – is it to make more money for the business or because it makes you feeling empowered or just fun?
- If you manage to sustain a good relationship with a customer after your product breaks – is it in order not to lose the contract or because you actually like the challenge and can't stand making people unhappy?
I think in those cases it's a sliding scale between 'me' and 'my company', where the specific ratio between those two is defined by many factors (e.g. situational choices or longer-term work-life balance practices of an employee). I don't see an easy way to describe all instances of balance of organizational vs. personal interests in relation to that scale and, to be fair, given my focus I don't believe it adds much value. What I'm trying to do instead is to describe the extremes and types of decisions that are made in the middle zone.
But all this thinking doesn't make my PhD life much easier: I'm still trying to figure out how to talk about personal perspective without getting into 'individual' and 'private' and how to talk about all those sliding scales between three perspectives that define how work is actually getting done.