Will Work Save or End Democracy?
For the next few minutes, please include the possibility that we might be wrong on everything we suggest. Try on the upcoming thoughts and see where this narrative takes you. In an hour or two, if it doesn’t work, throw the ideas away.
As a method of government, Democracy has led a brief and rather fragile life. From the lens of history, dictators, rulers, fascism and nobles have had much longer runs. For those of us that have grown up in a democracy, we might take it for granted because of the level playing field it gives to becoming the best versions of ourselves.
When we closely examine the purpose of Democracy, we can see why it is so very vulnerable right now. Democracy provides equal rights. Most importantly, Democracy gives all of us relevance.
The greatest threat to relevance rests in the American worker’s ability to change. Our economy appears to be OK. Unemployment is hovering below 4%. But, if the numbers are so rosy, why isn’t our country thoroughly enjoying its well-earned peace and prosperity?
Scratch just below the surface of our current state with work and we will find vast amounts of workers that are thoroughly out-of-sync with change. In fact, in a recent New York Times survey, 48% of Manhattan’s workers characterized themselves as “underemployed.” The symptoms of underemployment include holding 2-3 jobs to make ends meet. We find it in the working poor who miss one or two rent cycles and become homeless. Underemployment pushes many of us to hold onto obsolete jobs with the hope a human resources death angel isn’t about to make a visit. We can see underemployment in the eyes of a worker with a graduate degree only to spend years serving coffee.
If half of our country’s workers are already being kicked to the curb with change, what of the bigger and bigger waves coming towards our workers?
It is difficult to enter the future of work if we are grieving or asking for a return to the past. Our country can ill afford messages that promise a return to a simpler time. That distraction shields so many of us from building the courage to change and find our place in a future that is actually filled with good news. The future of work is filled with work that is new, fresh, interesting, and above all, relevant.
We cannot afford to wait. We cannot afford to blame. As members of the single most powerful talent pool on earth, we cannot afford to seek comfort before taking action. This is the time to actually make eye contact with underemployment because if it continues to grow, turmoil in our country will also grow. If too many of us develop the reality or even the illusion that we are no longer relevant, that outcome will impact all of us.
The growing waves of change are impacting professions we were told represented great security. For example, law firms hired attorneys who were given mountains of task work. Now, LegalZoom manages that. The largest executive search firm have laid off mid-level associates by the thousands. LinkedIn turned the staffing industry upside down. But, these are the very jobs that have mind-numbing repetition. After years of being shackled to jobs where we had to become a bit machine-like, some of us are having trouble waking up.
I know that I can be worse than Debby Downer. How about some good news?
Technology offers freedom to all of us. There has never been a better time to get a job that belongs to the future. It has never been easier to launch a business, publish a book, or better integrate our work with our personal lives. As we become unshackled to mind-numbing task work, new work is appearing that solves problems, increases our quality of life, and uses larger portions of our brains.
History has indicated vast upheaval as the world moves from one paradigm to another. The advent of the industrial revolution brought about wars, the falling of political leaders, and great finger pointing. The advent of Communism, the rise of Mussolini and Hitler, all of these events centered around workers giving up hope. The leaders during those terrible times didn’t tell people to change. There was no collective accountability. They sold a message of scarcity and the notion that others were robbing them of entitlements. Today, hope is the last thing that we need. We need good doses of courage and embrace the very necessary actions to change ourselves. Relevance can only begin when we take charge of our lives. And, for those of us who get it and are in the game, we need people like you to mentor others and help them find their future of work.
It used to be an easily dismissable luxury to do the work that matters to us, the work that we really want to do. When I began Inspired Work in 1990, it was a luxury to find one’s spiritual DNA and craft a practical way to monetize that purpose. But now, loving our work is simply the single most reliable way to succeed as we move through change, because love makes us willing to change. Learning how to change ourselves is also core to building an engaged workplace. Let’s start there rather than surveying the dysfunction we already have.
If life is a sandwich, we are born and then we die. But it is the meaning that becomes the measure in how we live our lives. Finding the work that inspires love within our hearts, the work that brings meaning into our lives is also how we build relevance. Once again, relevance is why we build and protect democracy.
Democracy, through its very implications, will never be a one-way street. In fact, idly sitting by and expecting improvements will only grow the darkness at hand. In my recent book The Workplace Engagement Solution (Career Press), I talked about the need for organizations to stop waiting for engagement. People who do not believe they can change or are unwilling to learn how to change are at the core of the engagement problem. The numbers around disengagement are so large that internal mentorship organizations represent the only way we can solve engagement without breaking every bank.
The future of work is already here. 3D printing gives laid-off assembly line workers the means to start manufacturing in their own homes. Technology is giving parents the ability to conduct professional-level work within their homes. Growing needs in healthcare can take truck drivers, the ones with empathy and discipline to provide assistance to the elderly. Artificial Intelligence offers intelligent and motivated workers the opportunities to solve the unsolvable. The problem is that today’s illiterate don’t know how to learn, unlearn and relearn. They are afraid and if they do not move forward, of course, someone with a promise to save them will make sense. But if that promise is simply to gain their support, we will lose our Democratic way of life. History has proven that to be so.
For anyone who buys this message, tell others.
Give others courage to reinvent, to find their purpose, to live out their dreams, to build new careers and to find their ideal spot in the future of work.
We need all the help we can get.
Brought to you by David Harder, President – Inspired Work
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