If America is Failing Today’s Workers, What must we do?
“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”
John F. Kennedy
As the pandemic hit our country, our workers were already in distress from underemployment. On the surface, we were given glowing reports of the lowest unemployment rate in history, hovering at about 3.8%. The actual truth was far more startling.
For several years, about half of our country’s workers have characterized themselves as “underemployed.” This state is characterized by millions of people that hold 2-3 jobs to keep a roof over their heads. We can find countless graduate students trying to keep stiff upper lips while serving coffee. Even more, sit in obsolete jobs as the market shrinks around them.
When half of our country’s workers look into the future and cannot envision where they will fit in, what happens? I believe this is the largest source of our turmoil.
America doesn’t need more promises. We need guidance. We need to be told the truth. The truth will set us free, but first, it will piss us off. In this particular case, task-based jobs have been disappearing for 20 years. The pandemic has thrown timelines out the window.
Now, we are being forced to change. Sell-change tends to require courage. Without meaningful guidance, many of our brothers and sisters who desperately need to reinvent themselves feel that doing so will add more risk to an already crowded table. Comfortable inaction will be the worst and most frightening choice of all. But in a country rich with abundance, most of us have become rather skilled in settling into our version of comfort. If we need to snap out of it and could use voices that replace hope with optimism, messages that encourage us to take action, and reminders that our lives are about to become much better.
In fact, the pipeline of work that is coming out of our vast change is far more exciting and it can give all of us more fulfillment and meaning. We sure could use leadership that points out what is in it for us if we let go and pay the price to become productive members of the new workplace.
We can begin a new mindset by recognizing that rapidly accelerating technology is offering us freedom. Just to let that in is frightening for so many of us, especially if we have hitched our livelihood to rote and monotonous work. Our home has been filled with Dachshunds since 1982. When Pablo Picasso found his dachshund he said that the family’s boxer was “large and simple” and their wiener dog “Lump” was “small and complicated.”
We brought that beautiful little puppy home in a small carrying crate. When we got home, we opened the door. She looked terrified. When she popped out of the crate, she spent a few minutes moving as if she was still in the cage she had been living in for a few weeks. Suddenly, she looked up more surprised than terrified. In a few minutes, Golda was running with glee throughout the house. The next evening, she stepped outside, killed a field rat that was bigger than her, dragged it into the house, and threw it at our feet.
Whenever I watch someone step into the life they were meant to have, I always remember her.
We need voices that replace hope with optimism, messages that instill confidence that through action, our lives will get better. In fact, what is coming down the pipeline of work is exciting and provides all of us with opportunities to have far more fulfillment than hanging on to obsolete and mind-numbing work.
The quality of our human capital has become the biggest contributor to an organization’s success. This is also true for the success of our countries. China, Canada, Germany, South Korea, and Japan have developed vigorous programs that not only minimize underemployment, but they also grow their talent to become bigger assets.
Let’s take a look at two shining examples:
Angela Merkel – Germany
For years, Germany’s automakers have built cars that have the strongest technological edge. Their factories lead the world in the use of robotic and software technology. However, they rarely lay off their workers. Angela Merkel developed partnerships with government, educational institutions, and employers. The government subsidizes apprenticeships for citizens entering the workplace and tax breaks to employers that train their workers to remain competitive. By the time new technology takes over the tasks of an employee, that person has moved on to roles that are quite reflective of the work hitting the market right now.
A number of our political leaders dismissed Germany’s model as a form of “socialism.” They view the practice as good business. Talent executives are able to build institutional knowledge of each worker, employee, and income tax revenue grows, and workers are more engaged because the work environment requires it.
Justin Trudeau – Canad
During his entire time in office, Justin Trudeau has consistently crafted policies and outlooks that keep Canada’s workers employed. Once again, education and establishing expectations play an enormous role in their success. Time and time again, Trudeau tells Canadians that change is inevitable and resisting change is futile.
Canada also provides tax incentives, clear policies, and strategic partnerships to avoid laying workers off via education.
Trudeau is consistent and passionate about turning Canada into a hotbed with Artificial Intelligence. In addition to attracting AI rock stars from other countries, dedicated professionals are focused on determining how AI will impact workers. Throughout all of the statements Trudeau has made to the press, does he blame technology for the stress of personal change. He characterizes progress as an opportunity to learn, grow one’s career, and bring sustainability to Canada’s economic success.
What Can We Do?
One of my colleagues and closest friends is the Mayor of one of our most interesting beach communities. About two months ago, the CDC led a call about the pandemic with over a thousand mayors. During the conversation, they were told to not wait for the federal government to work things out. They made it very clear that our mayors and governors ought to behave as if help will never arrive.
It is hard to fathom what would have happened if that call to action had never been made.
Protecting each other’s health is a sacred act. I propose the same standard regarding our livelihoods.
Do not wait one minute for a politician to solve our problems. Compare the following statements to the consistent messaging from leaders like Trudeau and Merkel:
“These coal miners ought to go into trucking. There are a lot of jobs in trucking.”
Mitch McConnell – Senator
Robotic self-driving trucks are already shrinking trucking jobs from a current high of 5.2Million positions to about 600Thousand roles in just six years.
“Technology is rendering millions of jobs as obsolete. Technology companies own information about every aspect of our lives. As a result, I will see that every American is given a basic income of $12,000 per year, with no strings attached.”
Andrew Yang, former Democratic candidate for President.
Americans love free stuff. But Mr. Yang perpetuates the notion that we are being victimized. How does this viewpoint motivate people to change their lives? If one reader has an answer, please forward it to my attention.
“14 million people she’s gotten jobs for,” referring to Ivanka. “Her goal when she started it two years ago was 500,000 jobs. She’s done over 14 million, so that’s really something.”
“Manufacturing jobs are all coming back. Don’t move. Don’t sell your house.”
If I add just one more quote to this pile, I will develop a facial tick and run to the kitchen for the “Party-Sized” bag of potato chips.
If we were to glue together these statements into a cohesive statement, it might sound like this.
“It’s going to be great. Keep doing what you’re doing. Role model my daughter. She’s created billions of jobs. Besides, we’re sending you a thousand dollars a month to compensate for all of those evil tech companies in California. You know that coal is coming back. We’re big on coal. But if you need an income right now, take some of the money you are hiding under the mattress and go to trucking school.”
Do not wait. If you are having challenges with your work, get help today. If you want to change but don’t know how, get others to help you.
Arieti, one of the world’s most influential psychiatrist once said, “Our mental institutions are filled with creative thinkers.” His point led up to a basic truth. Creative thinking is not creativity. Creativity is based on taking action. If we sit in front of the TV and imagine becoming great artists, is that art?
Is There Good News?
There is fantastic news for those of us who look for it. I will not give a step-by-step list. That’s what task workers do.
However, we could all use new mindsets:
Technology is taking away task-based jobs. The pandemic is accelerating the change. It is time to move on.
Today’s technology is giving us freedom.
If you have any doubts about this, study social entrepreneurs, the fastest growing sector in business start-ups. This is one of the sectors that reveals exactly where we are headed. It is a world where wealth is generated by solving a world problem that is attached to a rigorous business model.
By the time many of our best and brightest students graduate, they are not going to the want ads. They are looking for leaders and organizations that are bringing good into the world.
I have been in the rather challenging game of bringing people to the work they were designed to do. What has been especially gratifying is bringing people to the work they most love. In addition, we have failed if that person doesn’t go back into their world and make a financial and lifestyle success out of that mission.
This is the new world. We cannot have happiness from work that generates deep ambivalence or outright dislike. But, we cannot have happiness unless we built the skills and mindset that shows us how to succeed.
We are being offered the freedom to do the work that we love. In fact, love will turn out to be the most potent fuel that overcomes our resistance to change. I found my life’s work in 1990. Since then, I have helped thousands of people define and succeed in the work they love. From our career development, leadership, and employee engagement programs, all of the outcomes have been focused on harnessing our truth and organizing that truth into a result that begins and ends with love.
And, you, over there! Yes, the CEO crunching up your face with cynicism. How on earth could we produce sustainable success without creating environments in which the right people are happy? Where they find meaning? If you can’t find a way to produce that, don’t let the door hit you from behind.
I love my work so much that I have been willing to practice persistence during some of the most difficult times in my life. Loving my work has humbled me to the point that someone who is brilliant makes a suggestion and I accept it and run with it right away. There have been times where I am mortally afraid. But, my work required that I build the kind of support system where there is always an answer.
I don’t wake up in the morning and think, “On boy, I sure could use some change today.”
We are deep in the trenches right now building a new company that sits on a sophisticated digital platform. I was aware that we needed to do this fifteen years ago. Making that commitment was so confronting that I went to one of my fallbacks, which is to ask God, wherever she or he might be at the moment, to send me a sign. Pardon the shift, but one of my greatest role models is Kathryn Graham, whose husband was the editor-in-chief of The Washington Post. He shot himself in their home. When she was at the lowest point in her life, she stood up and placed her family’s company at risk by condoning the release of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate.
A few days after making the decision to change everything, a client called. She came to us at one of the lowest points in her life. Since then, she has managed the estates of some of the world’s most famous and wealthiest icons. I’m always so happy to see or hear from her. I asked what was going on and she responded with a question.
“Would you like to have Kathryn Graham’s desk from the Washington Post?”
I have come to believe that my God sends “messages” designed to penetrate one of the thickest skulls in our country. So, here I sit at a desk where one woman, far more afraid, made the decision to do the right thing.
This is the time to act quickly. Just a few months ago I was telling people they had time to change and for those that were not ready to work with us, I thought to myself, “They will either get pushed by the pain or pulled by the vision.” I cannot control their decision. Now, there is no time left. If you haven’t retooled to meet the opportunities ahead, I will be a very sad man indeed.
Here is an example of the mindset I am suggesting.
Over the weekend, I dropped everything to spend time with three clients. Each one had been offered a wonderful job. For one, it was a perfect fit. The other two had also received great offers but were conflicted about accepting them. At one point, I burst out laughing. She responded, “What’s so funny?”
“Here we sit in the midst of this huge and disruptive health crisis. Perhaps we should not watch the news at all because it appears the world is coming to an end and you are about to turn down an offer from what could be framed as a dream job.”
We discussed the mindset of these three rather wonderful women. Each had taken the time to thoroughly examine what she wanted to do with her life. None of them fell into the victim game ever. They made sure the produced better results, more profit, greater innovation, and more effective teams than many of their peers. These are the types of role models that I believe women could use today. They take full responsibility for their lives and the well-being of their families. They don’t look for shortcuts, they are too busy exceeding everyone’s expectations. They do whatever it takes to shine and deliver on their commitments. They look for help and mentorship all of the time. When it shows up, they respond with humility, not the kind of humility that makes us feel bad, they are open and respectful. They take guidance and input and then send love notes when it all comes together.
That’s what we need.
I have weathered many storms to experience moments like this.
This is what I want for everyone that connects with these words today.
If we are going to experience the profound benefits of living in a world where the best choice is the work that we love.
For God’s sake, start looking for those of us who are thriving!
In a world where the most contemptuous demonize anyone with money, study the social entrepreneur movement where billions are being made by cleaning up the planet, growing solutions for education, and investing in cures for fatal illness. By playing with them, I bring more to everyone else. I learn more from these individuals in ten minutes than a year with many of my other learning options.
I want you to wake up in the morning and rather than rehearsing what you are going to do when the boss from hell greets you at the door, to confidently move onto to a boss who could mentor you and change your life.
I want parents to become the role models that have come through our programs. They are not presenting work as a necessary evil or something that isn’t much fun. These are the role models that tell their children to find the work that they love. I want our parents to recognize how wrong it is to dictate what is done with their lives. Giving them the support and freedom to do that will cause a detour around the rebellion that leaves wounds so many families.
I want you to have the kind of confidence to walk away from circumstances that are not growing your life and build the kinds of support systems that give you the freedom to be yourself.
This is what I want for you and we better hurry!
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