I’ve always thought of the Ten Commandments as history's first how-to guide for the way the members of a society were supposed to live their lives. Now, as we’re looking at the new economy and pondering the new rules of work, I thought I'd take the Ten Commandments and give them a (non-religious affiliated) update for today’s workers.
I. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
There was a time when work meant loyalty to the big boss. That era is over. The new reality is we recognize that you can work different jobs, as freelancers do, and define the way you work however you want. The important thing is to recognize that we’re all in this together, and that the key metric isn’t just how the boss is doing, but whether workers are being supported and are developing the skills they need.
II. Though shalt not make unto thee any graven image . . .
Today’s labor market is full of golden calves. But we don’t need to be dying of jealousy over the shiny new startup or your friend’s office with a free espresso bar. A key skill for today’s workforce is growing where you’re planted and structuring your working life to work better for you—building your career as an independent worker—rather than waiting for the mythical dream job offer. Because we know there are issues and challenges in every job and every professional arrangement. They call it work for a reason.
III. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain.
There’s a new trend in corporate-speak, if you haven’t noticed: Instead of bragging about the money they’re making, CEOs are bragging about the social good they’re doing and the virtuousness of their business practices.
Business is business, after all, and CEOs aren’t Mother Teresa. Making profit isn’t evil, but there’s a lot of good than can be done just by being straight up about what business is really about, where that money is going, and how to derive real social benefits from the private sector.
IV. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
This one couldn’t be more timely. We need to learn to turn off our email sometimes. I’m not just talking about taking a vacation or giving the gig work a rest. I mean, take proper time for professional development, education, and real networking. And just like the sister axiom that says you’ll never regret going to the gym, taking the time to help in your community—working for others just as you work for yourself—is guaranteed to pay you moral dividends.
V. Honor thy mother and thy father.
Sounds good to me. As the mother of a 15-year-old, I say no update needed.
VI. Thou shalt not kill.
We need to make sure that we’re not hustling for business so hard that we’re killing the world around us. We need to have a longer time-horizon than the next earnings call. The communities we live in and the earth we inhabit both demand our attention and investment. But of course, actual murder should still be avoided.
VII. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Living a meaningful work life requires dedication to your network and your community and to something bigger than yourself. Moonlighting isn’t being unfaithful—sometimes, it’s what allows you to stay committed to an existing client while taking on new ones. Loyalty to different employers doesn’t (and shouldn’t) mean no loyalty at all.
In fact, freelancers are among the most loyal workers around—we have to be, to keep our best clients. Be good to your clients and they’ll be good to you. Experienced freelancers can often be more reliable than permanent staff—who are constantly refreshing their LinkedIn profiles in case a better opportunity comes along, or because they feel they could be laid off at any time.
VIII. Thou shalt not steal
You don’t need me to tell you that the ratios of compensation and inequality in this country are out of control. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be able to profit handsomely from their hard work or ingenuity. But at a certain point, we need to back up all this talk of the sharing economy with, you know, actual sharing.
We have a long way to go, but there are some easy places to start—like raising the minimum wage. While we’re at it, let’s start looking at unions again—what they accomplished for industrial workers in the old economy, and how we can adapt those lessons for the new workers in a digital-driven economy.
IX. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
Let’s not wallpaper over the flexibility of the sharing economy by calling it utopian. We’re not there yet. We need better pay and better safety-net protections for this emerging class of workers. And when companies aren’t treating workers fairly, we need to hold them accountable.
X. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, etc.
Nobody ever got happy focusing on what she didn’t have. Let’s brag about the homeless kitchen we work in or the human rights activist we fought for. We need to stop coveting other people’s status and success and define for ourselves, each of us, what fulfillment means.