The recent NPR Planet Money podcast episode Hard Work Is Irrelevant has caused me to think about several subjects associated with the modern work environment. I recommend listening to it and thinking about what was discussed.
For me, having been in the workforce for quite some time, the points that resonated with me included the phrase “we are a team, not a family” and the hours that you put in to performing your job are not relevant compared to what you produce.
On the team vs family aspect, I have a vivid memory of the first time that I encountered layoffs which was in the 80’s. I had been working for a few years and a business downturn of some sort resulted in a number of people being let go. What I remember is thinking that they had done nothing wrong or poorly that had caused them to be let go but instead had become collateral damage to decisions made by others that were outside of their control. The next thing that I clearly remember is no longer seeing them in the hallways and cafeteria at work and the realization that the work environment had changed and was a little less familiar and comfortable. I also remember recognizing that this could happen to anyone at any time and having a sense of a loss of security.
I think that in the modern work environment it is not unusual for companies to no longer feel or be responsible for workforce training and skills development but instead that individuals are responsible for themselves. One implication of this is that employees are becoming associated with specific tasks and that when those tasks evolve or disappear the employees assigned to them become disposable.
I am a regular CSPAN Washington Journal listener and have heard a few comments from callers about companies not taking the responsibility for training employees when the job environment or technology changes cause impacts to their older or less skilled workforce. Employees should recognize that the role they are in should be one that develops their own skills to ensure that they are marketable to their own and other employers and not assume that a job is guaranteed for life.
In the podcast episode there was a reference to Netflix deciding to migrate their server operations to the Amazon AWS cloud rather than to continue to use their own hosting capability and that numerous people from the related group were no longer going to be necessary for the success of the company. One risk of compartmentalizing your personnel to a narrow area and deciding that they are no longer needed if that area is either removed or outsourced is that you lose the potential of those people to contribute to other areas. Instead you are focusing on only one need and potentially looking only at the near term. Related to this, in my career I have seen business change from long term views to “the next quarter numbers” becoming the primary driver in many decisions at the expense of some strategic planning and direction.
Outsourcing is an example of this in that if a task can be adequately and more cheaply performed by someone somewhere else should those be the primary drivers for the assignment of the work? Many people may feel that their role or performance cannot be performed as well elsewhere but an objective evaluation may show that to not be true. Technology and the Internet have led to many jobs being moved to outsourcing companies and I suspect that objective evaluations will lead to that continuing to increase. Once again, your skills are your responsibility. You cannot assume that your experience or seniority will guarantee that your job cannot be moved to being adequately performed more cheaply elsewhere.
I think that the wage stagnation of the last 35 years has been a result of this change in business attitude. Executives have moved from strategic views to more nearer term numbers views and as a result have made decisions and implemented plans that have resulted in wage stagnation. In related political matters I wonder if the supporters of Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina recognize that their business acumen and success came from some of those decisions? Are those supporters confident in their own skills to survive those decisions being made objectively from an exclusively business leader perspective in their work situation?
I do not profess to know what is best or even for certain what my opinions are on this subject. I can only say that the podcast episode is a good one and is worth spending some time to think about.