If Only Employers and Workers Would Act Like Adults

The U.S. is in a real pickle. Job creation is improving but slowly and unemployment remains high. The rich seem to be getting richer while the unemployed and under-employed are falling into deeper depression and debt. Hopes for any immediate solution are dashed quickly because the rich and the poor, the conservatives and liberals, corporations and workers are all engaged in a battle of finger pointing, not problem solving. Employers blame a lack of work ethic and job skills on the workers and the workers point their fingers right back at greedy executives, corrupt bureaucrats, and a dysfunctional Congress. Few people lately seem to be willing to admit mistakes and take some responsibility for their own actions and inaction. Meanwhile the unemployed are angry, resentful, and depressed while profits soar for many corporations.

To get job creation moving and get people back to work, everyone needs to take a step back and breathe deeply. From the White House to the homeless, everyone made mistakes. Everyone makes choices and it is time all of us accept some personal responsibility for things that happen to us as individuals and collectively.

Businesses have the right to make a profit. In return, individuals have the right to expect they will receive fair wages, respect, and dignity from employers. When the relationship is working, businesses thrive thanks to the efforts of employees and employees thrive thanks to the social and employment contracts they have with their employer. Based on hundreds of comments to a recent article about the unemployed, workers are steaming as the gap between company profits and the lack of job opportunity. Tempers are boiling over.

Behind all the noise and rancor lies the fact that it's a new workplace, where the definitions of work and a job have changed forever. There is no turning back thanks to technology, globalization, and the Internet.

For starters, it's a free agent world where there are no jobs, at least as we defined them for the past 150 years.

The concept of "permanent" employment is gone. No one will ever work again at the same company for 30 or 40 years, to rise up from stock boy to C-suite, without experiencing significant work and life disruptions. Continuous improvement and adaptability will be the new normal. Work and jobs will be a continual state of flux. Even if the company survives a decade, the business and its products and services may be different. A worker will have to assume some responsibility for re-making himself, learning new skills, and adapting to change.

Full time work is also a work concept that is history. Full time used to mean job security and a weekly paycheck. In later years, it inferred eligibility for company benefits. Today the full time job is merely a labor classification that denotes an employee works more than 30 hours per week on a consistent basis. Any relationship with job security, a livable wage, and benefits is almost pure coincidence.

The new workplace will employ part-time, contingent, project, and temporary workers. Workers may need to piece together full-time work like a puzzle -- an ever-changing one. That concept will put some if not all of the burden back on the individual for managing days off and vacations to health care insurance and retirement. Most workers are woefully unprepared for that reality.

Worse, most people, including government officials and politicians, are uninformed that contingent, project, and temporary work is the new reality. The expectation that full-time, permanent jobs will return once the economy "turns the corner" is pure folly.

So where does that leave us -- all of us?

1. Everyone -- from the White House to the unemployed worker -- must stop lying to themselves and each other. Our world today is a different place than it was pre-2007. We can't turn the clock back but we sure can prepare for the future. Work and jobs have changed. Just as important, they will continue to change and evolve. The only thing constant about the new workplace is that it will be in continuous motion.

2. Employers need to start treating workers as the "most valuable asset" they proclaim them to be in company mission and value statements. All workers have a right to be treated fairly and with respect and dignity. Stop blaming workers for infidelity when many businesses broke the job contract years ago.

3. Workers must begin to assume responsibility for their well-being. It's time for many workers to stop acting like children and become adults. Many workers left the comfort and protection of their parent's home after high school or college only to expect employers to become the new adopted parent to provide love, money, comfort, and protection with no strings attached.

4. Employment laws and regulations need to adapt to the new workplace. Mostly written for the full-time- 40-hour week- industrial job, they are completely out of whack for protecting the telecommuter, contingent, and part-time worker. Many laws are out of touch with how work gets done these days. It's a hardship for business to comply and an injustice to workers who fall in the full-time/part-time crack. We don't need more regulation, just better.

5. If companies want to attract engaged, productive skilled workers, they need to get creative. The opportunity to hire part-time or as needed workers doesn't excuse them from paying fair wages and offering benefits. Sharing workers across companies also creates an opportunity to offer benefits, but share the cost. It's not only the socially correct thing to do; it is a competitive edge for companies seeking top talent.