I have only scratched the surface in identifying the significant changes our society has made the past 50 years and, I am sure you can find volumes of information presented by others far more knowledgeable. The point of my last two articles was to highlight the fact that much has changed in our life styles yet, I continue to observe the inability of our institutions to adjust to these changing social norms. This is true for corporate, academic, political, government agencies, religious institutions and many other organizations. I have observed numerous situations where serious family issues have resulted due to demands by their employer to transfer for promotion or expanded experience. Most of my career was in management and I can appreciate the need to expose employees to new experiences and work challenges. Changing social values, particularly in family structure, require a re-evaluation of managerial principles prominent in the past. I have observed several cases where valuable employees have been lost due to a lack of understanding by top management of the changing social values in our culture.
One case involved an employee with a strong educational background, excellent people skills and 12 years in place. His wife was a corporate lawyer at their present location and their family involved two high school aged children. Management insisted on transferring the person to a new location that was struggling and to expand the persons breadth of experience. The employee felt obligated and reluctantly accept the assignment. The wife was unwilling to give up her career resulting in the couple’s separation and eventual divorce. The family was split up and the new assignment was located in a very high cost living area where the employee was unable to cover the costs. In order to meet the high cost of living, the individual was forced to change careers resulting in managements loss a valuable employee. I don’t know if the family was able to re-connect.
In another case, both spouses had professional careers and had made the necessary family adjustments to provide for the needs of both spouses. Their profession frequently provided employee housing as re-assignments were historically a part of the profession for advancement and breadth of experience. The male member had just completed an advanced degree and was working on a less than full time assignment to help support the family’s needs but, found the need for a full-time position for financial reasons. He requested a re-assignment within a reasonable commuting distance of their home. Management decided they could re-locate the person to a full-time assignment but, he would be required to live in the new location which was unacceptable for his wife’s career and their child’s education. The result was the family took priority and the employee left for a similar position with a more flexible employer.
These are just a couple examples of situations where I believe management lost two valuable employees’ by not understanding changes in family needs however, they represent common situations encountered today.
With the loss of manufacturing jobs, to other countries, skilled labor has had to adjust to lower paying jobs in the service industries. Today, many of the better paying service jobs are with the health industry however, salaries are not yet competitive with past manufacturing job salaries. The other significant change has been in employer provided health insurance and annuity benefits. We are also observing a raise in temporary employment agencies which, allows companies to use temporary labor without paying benefits of any kind. These changes have resulted in a decline in employee morale and company loyalty which, I believe, has adversely effected employee work ethics and productivity. When I entered the work force in 1960, most employees spent their entire career with one company or organization however, today employees are searching for better opportunities and will change jobs and even careers several times prior to retirement.
Corporation efforts to increase profitability, urbanization and a world economy have contributed significantly to the changes we have described and encouraged large investors to look for other labor sources. Advanced technology is rapidly being developed which will also have a serious reduction on the demand for skilled labor.
Management is being challenged to understand and develop management principles that will encourage American workers to bring back our American work ethic and support their company’s goals and objectives. Adjusting to today’s social norms will require a new relationship between management and labor where labor is recognized as the most valued company asset and are given the freedom to participate in building the company’s value and reputation. America’s future depends upon working together and sharing in the success. Employees need to look forward to the day’s work opportunities and leave at the end of the day feeling fulfilled with the contributions they have made to their company’s mission. We can still return to the best and most productive work force in the world, the challenge is up to management! I have seen foreign investors achieve success by forming partnerships with their work force so, the examples are available if we will initiate change! America’s economic strength was built on the strong work ethic of our workers and has been lost primarily as a result of corporate greed for increased profits. It can be rebuilt when management develops a work environment where corporate leadership and the employees share in the company’s success and profits. It is the ingenuity and dedication of the employees that builds strong profitable companies! The focus on individualism and individual success that is what is destroying the values that elevated the United States to world leadership. Rebuilding management and worker relations is required for our desired future!