Back to the Future

December 07, 2004

In spite of my best efforts to do otherwise, I find myself investing in a potential future. By this I mean I am emotionally and spiritually investing myself in a future that is currently dependent upon the actions of others. Most of us have some control over our immediate future, we can plan out the day or a week. And major events likes weddings or vacations are sometimes planned for months or years before coming to pass. These are all situations where most of the control lies in the individual and very little is delegated to others.

Employment by and large is not an area where individuals have much control any more. In the twenty-one plus years I've been a professional the employment landscape has undergone several major changes, the end result of which has been to create an unsettled and chaotic environment where people are no longer really in control of their destiny. The illusion of control still exists, people can still make what appear to be choices about what work they wish to perform and where. The change has been more subtle and more insidious. Gone is the promise that hard work and dedication can help you build an investment in your current engagement. Gone is the idea that your support of the company will net you support from the company in return.

Don't believe me? Just look at the change in language used to describe people in the work place. Personnel departments are a thing of the past, now we have Human Resources. Positions require a "full time equivalent" or FTE. The bottom line is protected at all costs through resource actions rather than firings. We've de-humanized the language used to describe human contributions and costs in the workplace, which in turn allows us to treat live people as objects. It is far easier to throw away an unwanted object than it is to impact the live of an employee and their family.

This past week on "NOW" there was a piece on New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer who is making a career out of investigating and prosecuting large deregulated industries. His raison-d'etre seems to be that deregulation doesn't place the corporation above or outside of the law. This is the first sign I've seen that the pendulum may finally be reaching the end of the swing started in the 1980s by the Drucker lead "downsizing" movement. Maybe the final twenty or so years of my career will see a return to a time when corporations and employers view their employees as valued members of a community, as human beings with life's of importance, and not just as pawns in some meaningless profit driven chess game.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.