Changing Nature of Work and the Difficulty of Government Regulation

by Michael Haberman on February 16, 2012 · 3 comments

Our basic assumptions about how work gets done are what’s changing. It’s less about having a fixed location and schedule and more about thoughtful and engaged activity.” This very thought provoking statement comes from an article by James H. Lee called Hard at Work in the Jobless Future and is found in the March-April of The Futurist. I have been thinking and writing about the nature of work for some time and I found Lee’s article interesting. He discusses the nature of the transformation of work in America, the advent of Results Only Work Environments (ROWE) and the idea of what he calls “multitasking careers.” I discuss the changing nature of work and the difficulty that government regulation presents us.

We have actually been talking about the changing nature of work for 20 years. It has been no secret that types of work have been disappearing from this country for a while. This is especially true of manufacturing work. If it has not been “offshored” it has been a victim “off-peopling” or “other-sourcing” as Lee called it. What Lee means by this is that many types of work once done by people are now being done by software. This doesn’t mean that these industries have left America’s shores but they now require far fewer people to do the work. Thus no jobs for those people with those skill sets. One example he uses is that of food production. In the early 1900’s half the jobs in America were in farming. Today only 3% of the population is involved, yet the U.S. is still a major food exporter all as a result of efficiencies.

I made a statement in Facing Reality: A Lesson from Drucker that echoed this sentiment from Lee, he said “Those looking for a rebound in manufacturing jobs will likely be disappointed. These jobs will probably not be replaced- not in the United States and possibly not overseas either.” Drucker tells people they need to improve their education to stay employable. Lee quotes author and coach Pamela Slim, who wrote Escape from Cubicle Nation, who tells people that they need to have a “side hustle” in order to be prepared for their job and line of work disappearing. She feels that everyone should have a money making venture that can be turned in to more if need be.

Lee also talks about something that Tom Peters has talked about for a long while, the concept of “YOU, Inc.” Lee says “Fixed hours, fixed location, and fixed jobs are quickly becoming a thing of the past for many industries as opportunities become more fluid and transient.” We are seeing more contingent workers and independents, whether by choice or circumstance. Lee says we are also seeing more ROWE workplaces. Daniel Pink has also talked about this. (See my post AMPing Up Your Employees: Motivation According to Pink) Lee also makes the comment that work in the future will blur the distinctions among work, play and professional development. “The ways that we measure productivity will be less focused on time spent and more about the value of ideas and the quality of the output.” This is very similar to Pink’s message when he talks about Motivation 2.0. I love the idea, but I see a major roadblock to achieving this. Currently, for a major portion of our working population the Fair Labor Standards Act requires of us to pay them for the time they work not the results. Until government regulations catch up to new ideas there is going to be a major roadblock to achieving what Lee, Pink and even Drucker call for in the workplace.

How do we overcome the influence of 20th century work methods that are promoted by the government and supported by unions? Unions adamantly cry foul to any legislation that seeks to reward workers for innovation that does not require recalculation of all the hours they worked so that overtime can be adjusted based upon the amount of the reward. So employers don’t reward nonexempt workers that way. We are caught in the trap of rewarding time and not ideas and innovation.

At least that is my point of view. What is yours?

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

James Lee February 16, 2012 at 9:28 am

There are parts of the economy that are still playing by the old rules. I agree that we would all benefit if we focused more on achieving positive outcomes and less on the amount of manpower and time invested.

If interested, here is a link to the original article on the WFS website:
http://www.wfs.org/content/futurist/march-april-2012-vol-46-no-2/hard-work-jobless-future

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Michael Haberman February 16, 2012 at 9:51 am

James, thank you very much for the link to the article. I think everyone reading this blog post would benefit from reading your article. Some great observations in there.Thanks for the inspiration.

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