Is the way we work working? – Review of Griffith Review 45

9781922182425_large_coverA review of Griffith Review 45, edited by Julianne Schultz.

The way we work has changed profoundly with the two biggest game-changers being technology and globalisation. Rather than making life easier, and creating more leisure, technology has just made us more available. In fact, Australians have amongst the longest working days in developed countries.

This new collection of essays, photos, poems and stories on the theme of ‘work’ by Griffith Review is a stimulating look at the modern workplace and its impact on our lives.

It asks questions like: How does work shape our values, citizens, culture and communities? What is the affect of the latest work trends on the gender gap, on young Australians, on older Australians?

Virginia Lloyd looks at the way Skype (video conferencing) has changed the way we have meetings, and how the working day now depends on time zones for global virtual meetings. She comments on the possible end of the physical work environment, an intriguing idea where we will go back to the ‘cottage industries’ of our forebears.

David Peetz writes about the growing uncertainty of our work environment. He claims that there is greater job insecurity and tougher management attitudes that contribute to a growing difficulty in workers finding balance between their work and the rest of their lives.

Rebecca Huntley comments on the increasing flexibility demanded by market forces, which means that more and more workers tend to have multiple part-time or casual jobs. Ironically, that flexibility seems to disappear when it comes to working mothers trying to forge a career, or mothers returning to the workforce trying to find a pathway back, or older workers made redundant trying to find a fresh start.

Shahna Hudson has put together a fascinating collection of photos of workers’ hands: from a beggar to a civil engineer to a student translator. It is a reminder of the different demands of varying jobs on our bodies, or our minds, or our emotions.

There are stories and essays on the plight of asylum seekers, who are prevented from working, and stories about the gender gap, with the stubborn continuity of inequity in wages and roles for men and women. Christian mentor and entrepreneur Wendy Simpson is mentioned for her outstanding efforts via Springboard Australia in supporting women with start-up businesses.

Another article that caught my eye is “Beyond the Stethoscope” by Lucy Mayes that looks at an alternative approach to medicine that focuses on restoring hope and hearts, as well as bringing healing. She quotes Dr Glenn Colqhoun who says, “The art of the doctor is the art of the story … You can feel the ridges and the sorrows, the aches, the things they carry with them.”

As I read this I was struck anew by the significance of work in the Christian story. We are made in the image of the God who creates, who works. We were made to work the soil, to make it fruitful, and to grant animals the identity of naming. We needed a helper for our working, so working is about relationships. Work gives us dignity, and a sense of purpose.

However, in our fallen world, work is a source of great frustration and toil. Our bodies break down, our best attempts are foiled, our work is never as fruitful as we hope. Work relationships are fraught with conflict. Or worse, there is redundancy, or forced retirement, or asylum seeking which prevents us from contributing or using our gifts.

Work is meant to be a great gift, but we sometimes make it a great idol. It consumes our days, distracts us from our friends and families, or drives us to early graves through stress or exhaustion or bitterness.

Prophets like Wendy Simpson call us back to a right relationship with work, and continue to look for creative ways to redeem the ravages of the curse: being fruitful, mentoring, investing in creative ideas, offering opportunity, fighting for workplace justice and modelling Jesus.

Kara Martin is the Associate Dean of the Marketplace Institute, Ridley College, Melbourne, and is an avid reader and book group attendee. Kara is a regular book reviewer for Eternity.