(This doesn’t speak to specialists like doctors, lawyers, scientists etc.)
In an era when even high school kids know that corporations are really running the country, why are Americans still seeking meaning in the workplace? Not too long ago, media outlets praised what they called the “modern employee”. This modern marvel is the equivalent of a workforce mercenary; able to move between careers as easily as a 401K could be rolled over. What a dramatic shift from the employee who worked her whole life for one company. But is it realistic to be a career hopping Rambo? I doubt many Americans want that kind of career. Cubicle hopscotch isn’t the definition of a career. It’s closer to becoming a programmable chimp.
Here’s a simplistic example of what I mean by “programmable chimp”. Let us say that a company needs someone to file TPS reports (gratuitous Office Space reference), the new workforce mercenary can do that. How about process or design TPS reports? Got it. Underwrite, audit, proofread, quality control. Yep, that too and we can’t forget the most important job, Supervise. You get the picture. And one reason corporations can bring any Joe Shmoe off the street to do these jobs is the Operations Manual! Saints be praised! Normally compiled before a massive layoff, by the very people about to be laid off, the Operations Manual is pretty much the how-to and the key to employee expendability.
Interestingly, the real innovation has gone almost completely unnoticed by the media (shocking). Corporations are now nearly identical in their employment needs. America is a service economy which means we manufacture very little. Our economy has become a veritable waste land of cubicles or the 21st century equivalent of the factory era. Let’s look at the corporate organizational structure for a moment. A company of 150 to 200 people serving anywhere between 2 to 3 thousand customers usually consists of the following departments: Human Resources, Executive Team, Information Technologies and the Staff.
Increasingly anything remotely resembling performance recognition perks or opportunities for mobility is reserved for everyone but the Staff. Bonuses, additional paid time off, holiday parties, pay-raises that match the rate of inflation. Things once considered incentives to motivate Staff have been kicked up the ladder as exclusive to supervisory management. The Staff (who also exist within IT and HR) consist of the aforementioned “modern employee” mostly because they have no choice. The resulting workplace is a demoralized zone consisting of the hopeless, the fake, and those biding their time. Furthermore, the thousands of dollars these employees spent on college educations go to waste because corporations aren’t looking to hear from their mercenaries. I know, I know, at least these people can pay their bills (barely), go on vacation once a year and pray like a monk not to get sick (we won’t even get into healthcare). The truth is corporations have always looked at staff as interchangeable expendable parts but these days they don’t have to hide it.
Here is the rub for Staff: they are all treated like the so called “modern employee” whether they choose to be workforce mercenaries or not. Don’t get me wrong, if you get your kicks going from job to job building a resume that looks like a thesis, that’s your deal. Go for it.
Where does that leave the others?