Our National Conversation Surrounding Employment is Chicken Feed

image of chicken feed for employment conversation blog post - delightability

Yes, chicken feed, as in a meaningless pittance. The conversation about employment falls short of what is needed.

This blog post is actually inspired by a friend of mine. She is a smart, educated science teacher that in spite the cries for more women needed in STEM jobs she remains among those experiencing long-term unemployment. In response to a recent article about how states are confronting high long-term unemployment (original article here ) she shared this comment.

“My state has decided to sweep us all under the rug and pretend we do not exist. SO much easier that way!! You do not HAVE to deal with it then, as long as you can hide all of us in plain site.”

image of make believe fairy tale house for blog post about employment conversation- delightabilityWe live in an era of make-believe.

It is a bit reminiscent of another time in recent history when officials banned the word tornado. They didn’t want to cause panic. The result was tornadoes still happened and in the absence of warnings, more people and property were unnecessarily harmed, or worse. See related article here.

When we make things visible we can then actually decide to act differently. If we don’t believe in the viruses and bacteria that are invisible to the naked eye then the conversations about preventing infectious diseases are pretty short. We accept germ theory as reality today, but that was not always the case. Before 1880 physicians and scientists believed that diseases such as cholera, chlamydia or the Black Death were caused by bad air. This was referred to as Miasma theory and was in place since ancient times. Learn more here.

Today, we are still lingering in the aftereffects of a global economic meltdown. Some are working too much; others not enough. Save for the extremely wealthy, many have had their fortunes trimmed and debts amassed. The American [insert country here] Dream has been scaled down for many. This seems to be part of the new normal, at least for now.

The World of Work Has Changed.

There are many things that have contributed to a structurally changed world of work. We have witnessed the flight of capital to low cost regions, the shuttering of businesses old and new, the avoidance of taxes by large corporations, increased consolidation in many industries, the resulting financial hardship of municipalities, the creation of exponential organizations that employ a disproportionately small number of people compared to the large number of people they serve (see WhatsApp as a classic example – 55 employees, $19 billion purchase price, 100’s of millions of customers), a gig economy where workers’ rights have largely evaporated, an anti-labor movement by many politicians (some even repealing the weekend), the financial engineering that manipulates markets and even the books of entire economies as we recently learned about Goldman Sachs and Greece. What country or state will pop up next as problematic?

Add to this, an increasing world population and technology that continues to advance and the world might arguably need fewer workers today and in the future. There is too little discussion and proposed solutions in the crossover from the old economy that is still shedding jobs and the new economy that doesn’t create them fast enough. With the most recent announcement Microsoft will have now shed 1/5 of its workforce in recent years. What if our thinking and conversations about the economy and jobs are antiquated. When our ready made patterned solutions don’t seem to be working maybe it is time for change, time to invent new patterns. Making things visible and having a different conversation would be a great start.

Confronting reality is also needed. If we aren’t looking at real employment numbers for the unemployed, under-employed, and those that are super-employed working too many hours, then we really can’t have an meaningful adult conversation about what might be required to improve the plight for the residents of a nation.

Imagine if the U.S. census utilized the same land-line telephone survey methods that the BLS uses for arriving at unemployment numbers. It would be wholly inadequate and it would actually violate the constitution that requires an accurate census every 10 years. See how the census works. I would not be shocked if the many cogs in the BLS machine felt this inadequacy, but lack the courage to sound the alarm, for fear they too, will join the ranks of those they presume to measure.

If, as a nation, we can include all people in a census, file taxes electronically, manage social security and a host of other big government data challenges, then can’t we also design and implement a meaningful index to measure the prosperity of a nation’s inhabitants. Of course we can. This is a solvable problem; it isn’t the equivalent of “jumping to the moon under your own power.”

GDP and corporate profits can be up and to the right, while at the same time, those that helped it get that way may experience personal decline in terms of real wages, household wealth, and overall prosperity.

Aggregate GDP and UI numbers roll up from individual human inhabitants that reside within a nations borders. Local governments and state governments have a easier problem to solve – the borders are simply smaller. A sorely needed innovation in government is the roll-up of meaningful numbers from households, to neighborhoods, to cities, to states, to regions, to countries. This isn’t unique to the United States.

The Legatum Index is a move in the correct direction. The Legatum Institute’s signature annual publication is the Legatum Prosperity Index™, a unique global assessment of national prosperity based on both wealth and well being. This Index is the main vehicle through which the foundations of prosperity are explored. The Index ranks countries based on their performance in eight sub‐indices, including Entrepreneurship & Opportunity, Governance, Personal Freedom, Health, and Social Capital. While not working from the individual level, it does at least take into account a multitude of factors when looking at the comparative prosperity of populations. Learn more about their fine work here or watch the video.

With respect to jobs, the jobless recovery, and all things employment, we’ve returned to an era of noxious air. But, the bad air in play today isn’t from rotting organic matter as it was in Miasma theory.

Rather, it is from politicians and economic royalists that have much to protect by ignoring our current collective reality and instead protecting a system that primarily benefits them at all costs.

When we start measuring human prosperity we can then put in place policies that help increase that prosperity. It is a bit reminiscent of the Declaration of Independence and the “people first” reforms of the Roosevelt era.

In the current political climate I wouldn’t hold your breath for such change, but meanwhile you might want to cover your nose. If this article resonates with you, please share it with other on behalf of the many that remain silent and invisible.

about the author

Gregory Olson is the author of The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true.  As discussed in Chapter 14 of The Experience Design Blueprint, the world of work has changed. And, it is not coming back as we knew it. In this chapter, there is prescriptive guidance for:

  • large businesses
  • established small businesses
  • retirees and volunteers
  • underemployed
  • unemployed
  • Congress and other policy makers
  • and co-working spaces everywhere.

His latest book is L’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINThumans. Chapters in L’ impossipreneurs that pertain to this article include Ch 5: Wealth and Economy and Ch 12: World of Work.

Gregory Olson founded strategy and design firm Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers then success will follow. He believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and communities, but sometimes we need a little help.

 

5 Actions for Business Leaders to Help the Company AND the Economy

This Pesky World of Work Has Changed

The world of work has changed and it’s not coming back as we once knew it. Whether you are the chief people officer at the top, leading a department, or forging the way forward as an individual contributor, you’ve by now realized the new normal is not like the last normal.

Forces Beyond Your Control

Some forces acting on your organization are out of your control: industry consolidation, globalization, public policies of all sorts, advances in technology, a flight to values, demand for increased transparency, distrust of government and banks and cable monopolies, shifting workforce demographics, etc.

But, this doesn’t mean you are powerless, ineffective, and should sit on the sidelines. Of course, you could choose to do nothing. But, that usually isn’t a very good option for getting a desirable outcome. Your proverbial ship will eventually hit the reef ahead if you don’t veer port or starboard. You must take action. The annals of company histories are chock full of such victims that witnessed innovation from the sidelines. The marketplace is an unforgiving lover; your’e hot when your’e hot, and forgotten when you’re not. Size or tenure do not insulate you from marketplace realities.

Some Sobering Facts:

  • companies are running leaner than ever
  • employees feel insecure and overworked
  • work is increasingly specialized
  • leaders are forced to do more with less
  • employee engagement has declined and loyalty has evaporated in both directions

Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

Don’t look to the media, politicians, and economist for answers. You won’t find relevant prescriptions there. What you will find is self serving rhetoric bordering on sensationalism and focused on getting somebody elected or re-elected. They each have an agenda that is unlike yours and certainly not like your customers, employees, vendors, partners, or communities you occupy. The correct prescription is to do what is right for the business and all of its stakeholders. So, what the hell is a business leader to do?

Here are 5 Actions Business Leaders Can Initiate Now

If you are a leader by committing to these 5 actions, you will help your company and the economy at the same time. If you are not the business leader you don’t have to sit on the sidelines while your organization unravels. Consider today the “elbow nudge the leader at work day.” For additional clarity on any of the following 5 actions see the slideshare.net presentation below or my book, The Experience Design BLUEPRINT: Recipes for Creating Happier Customers and Healther Organizations. Pay particular attention to Chapter 14: The World of Work Has Changed.

  1. Create an innovation neighborhood. Stock it, in part, with outside entrepreneurs. Add fractional talent that you cannot attract for a job, but would still like to work with your organization. Shake things up by adding “entrepreneur seasoning.”
  2. Recognize and abolish your internal innovation hurdle (IIH). It’s really ok that your next business opportunity may only be a $ 20 million business as opposed to a $ 1 billion business. Small is the new big – get used to it and get good at it or you’ll be a Berlin Wall remnant.
  3. Treat people with dignity and respect . Add people to give current employees more capacity. Stop fear mongering tactics, period. Reduce executive pay before shedding employees upon bad news. The raving fans you build start inside your own organization. You are at a disadvantage if you don’t start there.
  4. Adapt your non-discriminatory policy to include the unemployed and especially the long term unemployed and veterans. Reprimand or fire those that break the policy. Go for diversity in everything. If everybody inside your organization looks and acts the same – your organization’s unwinding has already begun.
  5. Be more collaborative by sponsoring, using the talent within, and becoming a resident of co-working spaces.

Need help with any of these or want to discuss? Please get in touch.

Four Great Resources for Humans in a World of Work That Has Changed

Sushi Thai Seattle closed - middle class income disappearing in world of work that changed - DelightabilityThe World of Work Has Changed
The world of work has changed and it isn’t coming back as we once knew it. Once we accept these structural changes as individuals, organizations, and as a country we can go about our business to maximize opportunities for Americans to make a living, make a difference, and make an impact. Full employment for those that want it should be a national goal and priority for any great nation. But, sadly this isn’t part of our national conversation and it certainly doesn’t dominate the media headlines.  SushiThai Seattle, a place I enjoyed in my neighborhood recently closed. Your community has probably felt similar closures. Each restaurant closure or other business that shutters their doors, citing a lack of demand is a symptom of our world of work that has changed. Incomes of many ordinary workers have been decimated. This is a solvable problem if we think differently and work cooperatively.

office building world of work has changed - Delightability

Few Are Insulated in a World Changed
Whether your office is on the 70th floor, in a basement, in mahogany row, cubicle bay, the kitchen table, the operating room, the local coffee shop or a coworking space, you have to agree on this: The world of work has changed. Of course it has, because the world has changed. If you don’t see this, then you are not looking very hard or you are very insulated.

Three Major Forces Changing the Nature of Work
There have been three major forces in play for a while now that continue to shift the nature of work, employment, jobs, careers, etc. They are:

  1. industry consolidation;
  2. advances in technology;
  3. and trade policy.

And yes, there are other forces at play as well like accounting rules, tax policy and loopholes, and plain old fashioned human and corporate greed. But, I’ll leave those discussions for another time.

The Great Costs of Being Idle
Aside from the very visible restaurant and store closures, the ramifications of sidelined talent and organizations unwilling or unable to engage talent is decreased innovation, stalled human progress, and stymied organizations. Problems persist and opportunities go unaddressed. That means more broken experiences and poor service quality for us as consumers, citizens, customers, members, owners, passengers, travelers, etc. For those courageous leaders that do move forward, new possibilities await, in terms of products, services, market share, new ventures, brand loyalty, consumer habits, partnerships, etc.

Stop Waiting and Start Creating
But, you can’t mind meld with your future self or look through the prospectiscope and see future possibilities very clearly. When we do look forward, we tend to actually obsess on looking backwards at earnings, GDP, and the stock market. It is very easy to get quickly trapped by history, paint the future with the past and not see new possibilities. If you rewind the clock to look at iPhone sales and Android devices before those had been invented you’d see zero, 0, zed, nada. No revenue, no profit, no possibilities, especially if you were in an industry or market that was displaced as a result of the more open marketplaces that both of those ecosystems enabled. How wrong you’d be today. But, in your own industry, you may also be wrong. What if you are? How costly will that be?

It takes a special mindset to see what what you are not looking for.

Bigger Thinking is Needed for Larger Possibilities
Steve Jobs had vision. The Open Handset Alliance that collaborated to bring us the Android operating system had a vision and purpose. Kennedy’s man on the moon speech sparked a nation to action. Hundreds of thousands of jobs across a range of industries and institutions were the result. That would be a whole lot of employment today; it was an even larger percentage of workers in its day given there were fewer workers. We benefit from innovations of that era, to this day. Imagine the possibilities of our collective future if we only nudge our attention in the right direction. Imagine if the corporations sitting idle on a collective $1.95 trillion offshore were to put that money to innovative and good use in local communities, the nation, and in the world. Oh, the possibilities.

Each of Us Has a Role to Play in Our Collective Future

Whether you are an independent worker today, become one tomorrow, or hire independent workers, here are four resources to hopefully inspire and educate you on a World of Work that has forever changed:
image of The State of Independence in America report from MBO Partners - World of Work has Changed - Delightability1) The State of Independence in America report from MBO partners is a treasure trove of facts and figures that are sure to educate, inspire, challenge, and maybe even validate some of your observations and experiences. Chances are you won’t simply have a J-O-B as most have been accustomed to in the past. And, you won’t solely interact with others that have J-O-Bs. If you look around, you’ll notice this to be very true already, and getting more true.

Freelancers Union A Federation of the Unaffiliated smaller - The World of Work Has Changed - Delightability2) Freelancers Union is a website dedicated to being a Federation of the Unaffiliated. Founder and Executive Director, Sara Horowitz, participated in a panel discussion with Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation and President Bill Clinton, among others on June 24th, 2014 at the Clinton Global Initiative in Denver, Colorado. Sara represented the humongous and growing collective of freelancers and independents working in America. This is very important since most of these people are largely invisible. They don’t show up in unemployment or under-employment numbers. By the Bureau of Labor Statistics own admission in their Technical Paper 66 – Design and Methodology of the Current Population Survey, “The labor force concepts and definitions used in the CPS have undergone only slight modification since the survey’s inception in 1940.” Ah great – so basically the methodology for measuring labor force participation was invented shortly after the great depression and has yet to embrace a new reality that includes the internet, mobile phones, co-working spaces of all shapes and sizes,  liberation from land based telephone lines, social networking, etc. This is very wrong and why at Delightability we’ve taken a step in a new direction with number 3 on our list.

Please Count Me - Human Centered Community Project for Americans to Self Report Employment Status - Delightability3) Please Count Me is a community website for Americans to self report their own employment status whether fully-employed, super-employed, unemployed, or under-employed. This is a human centered community project we started at Delightability to shine a light on some of the structural changes in this country and the need to have a better conversation, reduce ignorance and rhetoric, and hopefully affect policy and lawmakers to do the right thing for the entire country not just the wealthy and influential that finance campaigns. Add yourself to the workers in more than half the states that have already added themselves to the count. Read the alternative jobs report.

book cover image - The Experience Design BLUEPRINT  by Gregory Olson of Delightability 4) Another resource is my book, The Experience Design BLUEPRINT: Recipes for Creating Happier Customers and Healthier Organizations. Aside from practical tools, exercises, and recipes that can be applied to any size and type of organization, the book specifically has a chapter with prescriptive guidance for large business, small business, underemployed, unemployed, coworking spaces, congress and other policy makers to work cooperatively toward full employment, human progress, and reaching our collective potential.  See Chapter is 14. The World of Work Has Changed.

Continue the Conversation
While these four resources I shared are US centric, my friends in Spain, the Netherlands, Canada, The United Kingdom, Germany, Hong Kong, Australia, and other countries will no doubt be sparked by localizing the concepts in these resources as well. Comments are closed here but please email me or message me on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook with other resources you find inspiring. Thank you Sabine for making me aware of 400 Euro “mini-jobs” in Germany. More on that in a future post.