Business witnesses many evolutions but few revolutions. Both events follow technological innovation. Evolution often improves a base concept, such as the rotary telephone's transformation into the pushbutton phone. Revolution, on the other hand, creates a new base concept upon which others may build. Electricity, the steam engine, electronic computers: these were revolutionary.
In the last two decades, American business has evolved. Some companies have decentralized, restructured, and downsized their workforces, while mergers and takeovers fill the news. Once employees counted on organizations for stability; now the changing rules for job security have created a whole new ball game.
Changes in society and working conditions have altered employee attitudes. Joining a work "family" for life is a vanishing concept.
The new paradigm defines business as a set of interdependent networks. Corporate employment stability, permanence, predictability, and tradition are eroding. Replacing them are employee self-reliance, flexibility, and adaptability.
How well are employers and employees recognizing and adapting to the revolutionary emerging paradigm with its new-era employment compacts?
Three identical surveys which were conducted in 1975, 1988 and 1999, with the help of Bryant College and Ron DiBaptista, provide some insight to the answer.
Our first survey. When our first job loyalty survey was published in 1975, most engineers, managers and other knowledge workers believed that they had an unwritten "employment compact" that rewarded loyalty and respected hierarchy. When occasional downturns occurred, younger more junior employees were usually released first. Everyone understood that pay and various perks increased with seniority. Even when the productivity of senior employees leveled off, their compensation was rarely affected. This employment compact rewarded a worker's loyalty and dedication with job security that lasted to retirement. Employers more or less guided their employees' career paths.
Second survey. Our second job loyalty survey was published in 1988 during a time of transition. Business and technology were evolving. To become more competitive, firms implemented concepts like reengineering, downsizing, and outsourcing to create flatter, more flexible organizations and shorter product development cycles. Few realized that we neared a revolution that would require firms to retain the intellectual assets of its workers. By the late 1990s, firms realized that these intellectual assets had become a major source of competitive advantage. They abandoned their increasingly obsolete employee development practices. In addition, a shortage of qualified employees made it increasingly difficult to find, to bid for, and to retain good employees.
Our 1999 Design News survey appeared when new-era employment compacts were taking shape. These compacts put high priority on attracting, developing, and retaining employees who wanted to improve their individual competence while maintaining their commitment to achieve the firm's strategies and goals. Under these new compacts, only well-qualified and motivated employees will achieve employment security.
The next Management Design will provide the results for the 1999 survey.
Q Are employees job hopping or changing locations more than in the past in order to make more money?
A In a Boston Globe article about this subject (October 31, 1999), Nathan Cobb wrote that "in an era of shifting values, miniscule unemployment rates, and the further proliferation of the dual-career family, many people are deciding that an offer of a better position somewhere else is one they can refuse."
He wrote that though some are indeed "ready to ramble," that "among others there's a reluctance to move outward and upward, a kind of career conservatism that puts the latest hot job offer on the back burner if it conflicts with other values." He interviewed various experts in the field who noted that workers increasingly refuse to move because of "family ties." Low unemployment rates seem to contribute to this shift, since employees feel confident that many job options are available.
He identified another factor as well. Trailing spouses increasingly also work and as a result, complicate relocations for two-career couples. More employees who refuse to move now say this is the reason they won't relocate.
Q Have you read anything recently that you have found inspiring?
A In "Quotable Women of the Twentieth Century," edited by Tracy Quinn, author Terry McMillan says "Too many of us are hung up on what we don't have, can't have, or won't ever have. We spend too much energy being down, when we could use that same energy Ö at least trying to do some of the things we really want to do."
"When one door of happiness closes," adds a Helen Keller quotation, "another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us."