A record 4.6 million people are drawing unemployment checks, and as many as 2 million could join them in the next year. That may seem like a Depression to some people, but what we can be sure of is that these losses will not be felt evenly. As companies opt to cut the highest paid workers through buy-outs, you can be sure that the Baby Boomers, ages 45 to 63, will disappear fast than anyone else. That means that one effect we can be sure of is faster generational change.
This isn’t an easy change for the people being let go, many of whom aren’t ready emotionally or financially for retirement. Many of them lost a lot in the stock market downturn, so we can expect that they’ll be either looking for jobs or looking for a decent consulting fee. The better educated might be able to score some gigs even as the working class people are screwed (once again). But the expertise of older, experienced people looking for work might make some things more interesting.
For the rest of us? We can expect that workplaces will transform a bit more quickly into the kind of place that the Millenial generation thrives in. That includes an organizational structure that is less top down and more networked, emphasizing enthusiasm and a commitment to accomplish work in a nearly spontaneous manner.
If you’re laughing, you’re probably a Gen-Xer like me. Cut it out – there’s actually a lot of benefit to this kind of approach.
I’ve had the pleasure of consulting with three different organizations run in this way lately, and I have to tell you I’m impressed. I wish I could tell you all the details about them but I have to maintain confidentiality if I ever want to get work again. Besides, I’m a lot more effective as a consultant if I sound a little mysterious, as if I have secrets. The truth is that I learn a little from each of my clients, which comes naturally from keeping my eyes open. I can say that loose, networked styles based on commitment and fun do indeed spontaneously generate amazing things under certain conditions.
From what I have seen, the first requirement is commitment. When a group of people really believe in what they are doing, they love having a role to play and easily take on a share of the work. The second thing I see is a social tie, meaning that people generally like each other and hang out together often. That becomes a problem when people aren’t all of the same social class or ethnic group.
This may seem like a lot to ask of people, but strangely this type of approach to work passes the most rigorous test I can think of – the “Pa Ingalls Test”. How did early pioneers clear large acreages and set up towns? By helping each other quickly and easily, doing what they told or something acting without being told to help their neighbors. Thy did this by realizing they were wealthier together and staying true to their commitment to the goal of “civilizing” the prairie. They had some ethnic diversity as well, even if it was limited.
Are the Millenials just like the early pioneers in their approach to work? I have to say that the answer seems to be a strong “Yes!” The networked approach is flexible and emphasizes doing whatever need to be done, and works well in a changing world with new frontiers. The top-down approach will still work well when the system is well known and the potential problems quantifiable, an approach that will be needed if we ever develop a larger manufacturing base in this nation. For the time being, however, the demographics largely favor moving to the idea that work done almost spontaneously because people are that committed. That may sound strange, but I’ve seen it work well.