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15.04.2021

Today, human “work” is increasingly migrating to the machine and AI is taking over more and more tasks from us. By doing so, it is only driving forward a process that has already begun. Many of the classic “jobs” have been the responsibility of the so-called “low-wage countries” for years. How contemporary is the term “co-worker” – at least in industrialized countries? Is there a change on the horizon?
The one “from co-worker to co-creator”?
(By the way: we always think diversely, even if we “sacrifice” the wording for the sake of reader-friendliness).

Work has a lousy image

In the ant-song from Tabaluga you can hear “Work is half of life …”. And indeed, there were times when a large part of the population of the industrialized countries would have fully agreed with this. And still today we encounter this confirmation from other regions of the world.

Although the term “work” is initially described neutrally as a “purposeful, social, planned and conscious, physical and mental activity”, it nevertheless has a “hidden agenda” attached to it. Work is usually associated with burden and effort, with complaint, and often with “unfair” working conditions. This attribution has its roots in ancient medieval times. And although the Christian, primarily Protestant religion has tried to give work a positive “image” and this was also emphasized again and again in the course of industrialization, it remained so – we still associate with work a matter of the socially lower classes.
It is poorly paid and performed by people with low education. These people supposedly need representatives who enforce their interests and leadership, since they cannot lead themselves.

Perhaps sociology could provide a remedy here. According to its definition, work is a process in which people enter into social relationships that are of central importance in the overall context of life; these include the structuring of time, social recognition and self-esteem.
And, honestly, that was a great try, but who would define “work” that way?

Co-worker, employee, colleague, ….

When it became clear that trying to correct this “hidden agenda” with optical polishes was not really fixing the problem, new names were created for the more modern or educated worker: Co-worker or Colleague and “Senior Associate” or “Executive.” In this way, they distanced themselves from the lower class, which, for example, also had hierarchical levels in the form of the foreman, and created a parallel world. With the familiar social conflicts. And then – for whatever reason – a compromise was reached in the world of Management 2.0+. All of them became the species “co-worker”. Employees of a company who are assigned to a manager. So much hierarchy was necessary after all. Although there is also an ambiguity, because managers are also employees and therefore actually co-workers.
To top it off, all of them are “workers”. Again, “work”. And whatever it actually means.

In any case, it sticks with the “worker”. With the whole worker story in the luggage. With or without a crown. More or less dependent.

Expiration of the term the “co-worker”

That somehow no longer fits the times, does it?
The term “work” is overdue now, at least in the age of the next big digital transformation. Even if it is still a central component of our understanding of the economy, primarily the national economy, which is still valid and characterized by performance thinking.

How unsexy it is today to see oneself as a “worker”. Who among us still wants to “work”?
The term “co-worker” has had its day; it simply no longer has any appeal or hardly any appeal.
At least the “work(er)” part is then best left for disposal. But what happens to the ” co-“?

From co-worker to co-creator
What exactly “co-” is and what does it mean? First of all, “co-“ means “with” or “also” and not “alone”. “Co-” requires others in each case. That is the spirit of the times. Today, we still talk a lot about teams, but now the idea of collaboration is gaining ground. The idea of creating something together. As opposed to every man for himself. By the way, collaboration has its roots in working together with the “enemy”. That really resonates with a lot of transformation potential.

Co-creation is therefore the current and forward-looking approach. There the “co-” is further in it. And something new. This is “creating” instead of “working”.

For some time now, a re-prioritization can be seen in people’s basic motivations. It is no longer the motivation to perform that is most pronounced, but rather that of influencing or shaping and that of connecting. In some sources, the basic motives are supplemented today by “freedom,” the motive that is currently becoming a shooting star. And “influence” as well as “freedom” have little to do with what we conventionally understand by “work”.

It really looks like the shift is coming: from co-worker to co-creator.

Spot on the “co-creator”

Assuming that the co-creator does exist, what distinguishes him from the “co-worker”?

First of all, a completely new basic understanding and a changed attitude. Designing or influencing something oneself does not mean waiting for a task to be assigned. It means becoming active, perhaps even proactive, and getting involved proactively. It is about ownership.

Energy that may be tied up in resistance in the “co-worker” is released in the “co-creator”. Creative potential and joy in self-efficacy can emerge.
What a benefit for the individual and the entire company.

At the same time, the requirements increase. It is important to deal with what one’s own contribution is, where one’s personal strengths lie and can be developed. Attentiveness and care for oneself and visibility in business take on a special significance. Courage is required to defend one’s own point of view. And resilience, should this not prevail with other co-creators. This can also be quite strenuous and takes those affected out of their comfort zone.

These are all future competencies that sometimes need to be developed first. An accompanying qualification offensive is certainly indispensable here.

Effects in the system

However, moving from ” co-worker to co-creator” is not done by changing the attitude and behavior of the “co-creator”.
It has an impact on the entire system and culture of an organization or company.

Co-creators have something to contribute and say, and they want to be heard. For this, it is necessary to create a suitable framework, formulate governance and develop principles of collaboration.

Co-creators have different requirements for their environment in terms of the type and location of the place where value is created. Here, a flexibilization of existing structures would be required. Mobile work and trust instead of control of times would be basic requirements. As would an understanding of which formats are suitable for joint creation and exchange.
Here, at the latest, we are in the center of the transformation to the “New Work” which is taking place anyway.

Leaders First

The shift from co-worker to co-creator can only be considered if leaders internalize and support the shift.
In fact, such an approach requires executives to be engaged in the transition even before implementation.

Co-creators, who take ownership, contribute themselves effectively and thus take over leadership through their role, make classic leadership unnecessary. New and future-oriented competencies are then also and especially required of leaders.

First, however, we need a mindset shift and the development of a supportive attitude in management and among all decision-makers. The following also applies to executives: From co-worker to co-creator.
This journey should be accompanied and begin before the “co-workers” set out on their journey.

Interested in going deeper? Gladly.
Please contact us.

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