The future is bright and shiny – AI, RPA, IoT will make our lives easier and will help us getting into a more balanced way of work and life. – does that sound familiar? Right! The same claims were made with the introduction of computers into our (work-) lives and later with the online economy. And what was the result of both? – you know it: even more work and less freedom for those who still had a job – and an even more growing number of people w/o jobs. Sure, each revolution has also created new jobs – but not for everyone. Each revolution created jobs for a smaller and smaller talent pool. Why? – the skills, the requirements, the capacity one needed to have to fulfill these new jobs were more and more difficult to have or build. Many employees were just not able anymore to learn these new skills or to even think in the new categories that these new business models required.
At first – during the early revolutions, this was dealt with by early retirements – but this gets more and more difficult as employees need to work longer to be able to have a life as retirees, as well as there is a growing number of middle-aged employees too far away from retirement that cannot meet the requirements.
Don’t get me wrong – I am all in for the digitalisation of the workplace. I am a big fan of digitalisation and the chances it opens up at the workplace (and in private lives). But we need to change the way we handle the implementation of such revolutions.
In the past, businesses, the econcomy as a whole had always the same reaction: “Way we work”-revolutions led to new employees that can fulfill the demands of faster and more (let’s face it – besides many great outcomes, the recurring theme is that with each new revolution, workload increased, turn-around times decreased) while many old employees were squeezed out (and old not necessarily being used for age, but for long-standing). Companies used the easy way out. The pool was big enough and the outcry of the ones squeezed out was sufficiently small. Now, my thesis is that we are reaching an inflection point where this way of working – the way we actually do business is coming to an end.
Let me tell you why:
(1) More and more western countries are starting to have social uproars, to a great extent due to rising unemployment and increased social jealousy – the haves and the have-nots
(2) Even the part of the population that still has a job (the “Haves”) is struggling – struggling because of workload, increasing speed and required new skills.
(3) Job related illnesses that are psychological/ mental nature are raising and have surpassed physical illnesses (see here). Psychological triggered missed-work-days are having a higher negative impact in companies than physical triggered missed-days.
The next revolution of digitilization is quickly approaching and the populare opinion on what needs to happen is the usual: work faster, build up new skills. Problem is: Humans are NOT bots, cannot just as easily be reprogrammed or get a new, father processor. As after each work-revolution there will be loosers – just that this time I am afraid the added loosers will bring the system to the tilting point. The part of the workforce that will still be able to follow and be the winners of each revolution will be too small to stabilize the system – a system where the average age of employees in western countries is rising. And with rising age, adaptability and speed are decreasing – this is fact. Another key message from last years INSEAD “The Global Talent Competitiveness Index” reads “Low-skilled workers continue to be replaced by robots, while knowledge workers are displaced by algorithms” (see here for the detailed analysis of our global workforce). – another group of losers. Also, just look in many of today’s boardrooms (and let’s leave the Silicon Valley out for a moment) – how many boardmembers are truly immersed in today’s ways of working? Social Collaboration, Social Media, “Appinization” – these are for many of them interesting concepts, but that is it. There is still a very large number of senior leaders that ask there assistants to “print their emails” so that they can “reply”. And they are supposed to lead us into the next revolution? – but this is a different story for a different post…
My statement is that we need to drastically change the way we do business from “employees that serve the company” to “companies that serve the society”. The solution is not to stop the future (although this is currently very much a popular theme in Trump-America), the solution is though to actively shape the future in a way that it serves society – and I mean each and every member of it. And not how we did it in recent industrial-revolutions: In a way that it serves the Shareholder alone. We must understand this now – or we will face the consequences of the path we are on – and although I am repeating myself, the signs are more evident than ever: Brexit, Trump-America, Alt-Right and other popular extremists on the rise.