The ‘Professionalism’ of the Modern ‘Indentured Servant’

That’s a provocative title, no? That said, in today’s corporate culture, this concept of ‘indentured servitude’ manifests in low wage jobs (adjusted for inflation) that increasingly prohibit workers from: 1) affording a number of necessities (i.e. transportation, education, child-care), 2) unionising, and 3) free opportunity of employment (by saddling workers with non-compete clauses that significantly impact their chances of changing employment to more fortuitous employment opportunities). Increasingly, workers have only been allowed to ‘party like it’s 1399’.

Interestingly enough, COVID-19 is seemingly in the process of removing our collective blindfolds concerning our approach to work. This unique situation is thereby forcing us into a dialogue that considers how we remain ‘professional’ while operating ensconced within an increasingly outdated model of ‘work’.

Varying definitions of professionalism exist and range widely. From professionalism as myth to professionalism as a set of skills and attributes, the term can be used for better or for worse. The prevalence of the myth of professionalism assumes that the worker’s private emotions “can be switched off at will” in an effort to maximise productivity, despite any personal struggles. In contrast, professionalism as a skill means that the workers can strive to embody a combination of qualities: “responsible, ethical, and team oriented…(with) strong communication, interpersonal, and problem solving skills”.

Workplaces and work cultures differ both within countries and around the world. How does professionalism manifest in Portugal’s work culture? An interview with Maria Monteiro, member of the Portuguese Chamber of Commerce in the UK, highlights an improving Portuguese work culture, especially as the younger generation transitions away from a history of unproductive 12-hour days, maintains focus on innovation, digitisation and experiences an easing of the processes businesses need in order to remain competitive. Her statement that, “we are doing amazingly well in selling Portugal as the new Mecca for entrepreneurship” underscores the slow, yet steady, shift away from the work culture of the past.

Through our process of defining new business relationships within Portugal, we’ve run into a number of different ways to define professionalism, but our favourite by far has been creating relationships by talking about almost anything other than business! Ultimately, this is what has been so liberating about creating a small business in Portugal. We are free to define both how we conduct our business and with whom we choose to work. This ultimately informs our ‘professionalism’, as that professionalism is negotiated between us and our providers in conversations that consider a context currently in the process of dynamic change. ‘Servitude’ no more!

So if you’re feeling like a cog in the machine and seeking to break the bonds of your own ‘servitude’, the improving work culture of Portugal can go a long way toward loosening the chains. On a typical day, we accomplish necessary tasks through simple emails, phone calls, and texts; however, much more enjoyable is sitting down to a meal, conducting a factory visit (or interview), and utilising our humanity to hammer down details first in order to mitigate problems in a way that respects the humanity of the other. This ‘professionalism’ allows for an authentic and transparent ‘way of being’ that minimises any feeling of being chained to the work.

By adopting a willingness to carve that out for yourself, you may become more able to co-opt that prevailing culture of ‘servitude’ into conceding any power that it already has over you. Portugal is increasingly becoming a place to do just that. Break those chains!


by @dahungryhubs

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