The “Super-human” and the paradoxes of the Human Factor

By the 16 May 2018

Globalisation, macroeconomic changes and tough competition have led companies to adopt new ways of organising their work.

The key features of the new strategies are well known: multitasking, autonomous teams, tighter deadlines and client satisfaction impose new performance benchmarks in order to maximise the service level, cope with the growth in demand, meet deadlines, and foster continuous improvement.

Picture: Young man in superhero costume sitting on top of building

Constant individual and organisational challenges

In a new organisational era, autonomy, initiative, flexibility and creativity are key. Every individual is invited to evaluate and improve their skills, but also to make a personal investment, to engage in a continuous process, to be participative, to get involved. The need to develop new behaviours is evident at all levels of the company. Managers themselves are involved, and the leadership function should allow them to improve their ability to listen, reflect, solve problems, judge and decide.

It is not just a company-wide change: individuals’ own mental space that is now constructed in the name of competition and the challenge that they set themselves in order to “win”, “be the best” and “surpass themselves”.

However, if the pressures that are inherent in competitiveness are undeniable, the idea of an era that has been converted to the religion of challenges and competition does not appear very convincing.

Can risk-taking, challenges and constantly surpassing oneself be seen as “personal happiness factors” for those applying to be “Supermen”[1]? Doubts remain because the dominant feeling is that “life isn’t just about work”. We are witnessing today the consecration of the pleasures of leisure time and relationships, which, to some extent, tends to play down the ritual importance of the work factor.

It is nonetheless certain that individuals continue, to a large extent, to define themselves through their work, as a key factor for structuring their personal and social lives. And, even though personal happiness increasingly polarises individuals’ aspirations, work is still a genuine facilitator of self-esteem, the primary producer of social identity.

But it should be borne in mind that life’s centre of gravity has shifted to the private sphere, where ideas and values evolve and lead to a quest for leisure and personal development. In addition, an individual’s innermost desire, is (now) not to surpass themselves but, rather, to be able to enjoy a comfortable income so as to participate in the realm of pleasures that the market offers.

To be precise, “the new workers of modern times” see no promises of happiness in the new techniques for managing human capital when they foresee professional insecurity and increased difficulties and pressures. This new kind of management is indelibly linked to more precarious employment with the accompanying reduction in collective protections and the degradation of labour relations. Threats of dismissal, burn out, increased stress, low salaries, intensification of responsibilities and work rates, permanent fear of not being up to the new tasks: this is the social and employment landscape of the future, for which the management of the Human Factor will be too critical not to be taken into account in the good governance of companies.

The emergence of the Human Factor

In this context, the emergence of the Human Factor is heightened when combined with insecurity both in people’s professional lives and their identity; there is a loss of self-esteem, which is invariably followed by demotivation, loss of attention, and distress at the workplace.

While most workers do not identify with the cult of performance, there is unmistakable fear, based on a subterranean anxiety, on a silent tension, on a latent lack of trust, which rejects hierarchical levels, areas and services that operate in a process chain and answer for the common good of the business, and which, downstream, engenders nothing but additional risk factors for workers’ health.

These different paradoxes make it paramount that individuals want to be in an organisation that makes them “feel good”, in an “agreeable” environment in which people are respected and the merits of each individual are recognised. Now, when the obligation to “do more with less” intensifies, and we see in the world of business that quality of life at work is at the top of organisations’ social and employment agenda and where many of them display (or claim) the stamp of a socially responsible organisation, what is the value of an individual in an organisation?

Without wishing to be presumptuous, this is the million-dollar question:

By constantly surpassing oneself, can a new personalistic model (“Superman”) be created, where the role of hedonism, of consumerism, of narcissism is relegated to the background when individuals walk through the door of their working place, and where their beliefs and values blend in an expanded concept of organisational citizenship?

Within limits and limitations, there will always be room for exceptions…


[1] The superman is he who overcomes nihilism, overcomes the human form, old and worn, overcomes all human characteristics, the whole culture that keeps him within himself, it is he who “launches the arrow of his longing beyond man” (Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, p. 18). The affirmation of the superman is the negation of existing values: boldness in place of security, self-discipline instead of self-piety, forgetting instead of resentment.

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