Is The World Of Work Getting Better Or Worse?

The Future Of The World Of Work

In the same day, I read one article about a company here in Silicon Valley giving their employees a year’s worth of paid vacation, another unlimited PTO, and another article about how companies are issuing wearables to their employees in order to track their every movement. Why is there such a huge disparity in the way typical companies treat employees?

Personally, I feel that it’s a cultural battle between the “past of work” and the “future of work”. In the past of work, it’s a leftover of the industrial age, where we all got up early in the morning, commuted to a job, worked at that job, either physically, mentally, or both, then got up, came home, saw the family for a bit, went to bed, and the cycle started all over again. Weekends were time off, and outside of the 9-5 or the shift, you didn’t work. Life had to happen in the fringes around work – work was immutable – and most people kept a separation in place. This has been going on for over a 100 years, so it’s only normal when there are challenges to this, people start to freak out – witness Hillary Clinton and other politicians rail against the sharing economy. You typical managers didn’t have to worry if your employees were working or not – you could just look out at the shop floor and see them there, working. You figured that you needed to oversee your employees just to make sure that they were working – the assumption was that they would not be working if they weren’t there, and the work was physical, you could actually watch them work.

Enter the white collar corporate economy, replace the assembly line and the factory with computers and the same things applied – you were either in the office – visibly working – or not. Before the days of the internet, when everything was a dumb terminal, you couldn’t really do anything other than company work on that terminal anyways, so if you are in the office and your manager see you at your desk, typing away, then you must be working, right?

Then desktop computers and the internet came along, and if the company you were working for didn’t have super strict controls on what you were able to run, you could be sitting at your desk all day, seemingly working, but actually surfing the internet, or working on your side business. From the outside, your manager could look over at the floor and see you working, but without some kind of monitoring solution, you could be doing anything.

At the root of all this? You don’t trust your employees to do their jobs. That was how that era started, and for some companies, that is where we still are. Even though the world of work is changing, they are still clinging to the old: “I can’t trust my employees, so I need to make sure that they are working” so they issue edicts saying that there is no telecommuting and or give their employees wearables to track their movements or run monitoring software on their computers to make sure that they are working. These employers do not trust their employees to work. The power is in the hands of the employer.

Of course, this is the old way. Things are changing and the employer is losing this power. The progressive employers get this – they understand and trust their employees, so they give them the leeway to work for them anywhere, anytime, anyplace. Its outcome-based management, not second-by-second oversight. As I mentioned in a previous post, people want to be free. The more freedom they have, the better they perform at their job. It’s a progression, but eventually, all jobs will be this way. All jobs will be “life first, work second”. All jobs will be fit around worker life, as opposed to the other way around. Technology has made this not just possible, but inevitable.

If your current employer is still in the dark ages of work, then fairly soon they will likely start to see some attrition to companies offering the new way of work, or even more likely, their employees will start bailing in order to become free agents – to start their own companies – who can come together to work on specific projects, and disband again when they need to. Unless these employers change their ways, they’ll eventually find that they will have trouble finding people to work the old way, to give up their lives for the old 9-5 grind. It will no longer exist, and neither will the companies who run by that model.

Liberate yourself. If you find yourself working at one of these old style companies, I’ll bet there are others in your space that work the new way. Or even better, make the jump to being a free agent now. After all, wouldn’t you rather mold work to fit your life and not the other way around?