Employee Satisfaction in the New Era
Yesterday I wrote about a subject near-and-dear to my heart: the changing nature of work and the workforce as a result of the transition out of old (Industrial Age-based) economic models and into new (Information Age-based) ones. Today I spotted a couple of items that further expounded on this point.
The Conference Board released results on January 5th of a study in which they have found that 45% of respondants are satisfied with their jobs, and 55% are not — revealing the lowest American job satisfaction levels in two decades. The numbers get more interesting when you examine how they shift among different demographics (for instance, dissatisfaction levels are much higher among younger workers), but what’s even more interesting is the media coverage of this news.
An article on StartUp Nation touts this news as a great opportunity: it’s the perfect chance for people who are miserable ‘working for the man’ to throw off their shackles, and bootstrap their way into a new venture. Forget the past, forget the assumptions of older generations: there is no such thing as job security, so stop clinging to the J-O-B and go find a way to do what you care about doing.
The flip-side, of course, is the cover of BusinessWeek inspired by and covering the results of the same Conference Board research, entitled (in classic doom-and-gloom fashion) “The Disposable Worker.” (Ouch.) The subtitle says it all: “Pay is falling, benefits are vanishing, and no one’s job is secure. How companies are making the era of the temp more than temporary.”
This coverage is a classic example of that old saying (typically attributed to Abraham Lincoln, though some historical accounts dispute that fact): “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Is this change an exciting opportunity? Or is it a frightening disruption? As usual, the answer is: “Both!”
BusinessWeek’s article talks about lack of healthcare, temporary work, and no perks for an increasingly large number of workers. No matter how legitimate some of the issues they raise may be (and I’ll quickly concede that point — especially for things like healthcare, where the current system actively stacks the deck against individuals), their coverage is heavily skewed by a big business-centric perspective that assumes a healthy economy is based on centralized organizations fostering paternalistic relationships with employees. In other words, they are assuming that the way things worked in the Industrial Age is the way things should continue to work, even in an Information Age.
Why does it make sense to put the burden of ‘taking care of employees’ on companies, and fostering a child-like dependency on behalf of the workforce? Wouldn’t it be better to make the goods and services that businesses have historically provided affordable and readily available to individuals, and then let individuals move freely from one employer to the next (which is already happening, anyway, and when it does employees have to change their health plan, roll over their 401K and cash out their FSA plan). Is this really about anything more than just breaking our old habits and forming new ones when it comes to how we work, what we expect, and what we need to tie all the loose ends together?
I strongly encourage everyone to read BusinessWeek’s article, but with a skeptical eye. Do you see another side to the dismal picture they are painting? I do. And it’s one that — with some updated attitudes and business practices on everyone’s part — has the potential of truly helping us move into the era of small business.
But then again, maybe that’s what they are really afraid of.
Alora Chistiakoff is an entrepreneur, content strategist and project manager who has been developing online business and technology for startups for more than a decade. She co-owns The Indigo Heron Group, Inc., a content strategy firm in Austin, Texas