Working in Reality
In 2008 — nearly 15 years ago — Joseph Epstein published an article called, “The Kindergarchy”. It begins like this:
In America, we are currently living in a Kindergarchy, under rule by children. People who are raising, or have recently raised, or have even been around children a fair amount in recent years will, I think, immediately sense what I have in mind. Children have gone from background to foreground figures in domestic life, with more and more attention centered on them, their upbringing, their small accomplishments, their right relationship with parents and grandparents. For the past 30 years at least, we have been lavishing vast expense and anxiety on our children in ways that are unprecedented in America and in perhaps any other national life. Such has been the weight of all this concern about children that it has exercised a subtle but pervasive tyranny of its own. This is what I call Kindergarchy.
It was easy enough then to call Epstein’s view extreme. It might even be easy enough now. But if we determine that Epstein wasn’t at all extreme, we may discover he was, in fact, prescient. And it would make it far more predictable that, in 2023, four folks from Gartner would publish this article in Harvard Business Review (HBR), “9 Trends That Will Shape Work in 2023 and Beyond.” The summary of the article says this:
Last year was another tumultuous year in the workplace, with continued high employee turnover rates, evolving return-to-office policies, inflation, and more. In 2023, amid a looming economic downturn, organizations will continue to face significant challenges — and how they respond could determine whether they are an employer of choice.
Employer of choice? Hold on thar, Baba Louie. We might need to do a little research, followed by a little math. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:
The number of job openings increased to 11.0 million on the last business day of December … Over the month, the number of hires and total separations changed little at 6.2 million and 5.9 million, respectively. Within separations, quits (4.1 million) and layoffs and discharges (1.5 million) changed little.
Okay. Let’s see:
- 6,200,000 hires – 5,900,000 separations = 300 people employed
- 11,000,000 jobs – 300 people employed = 10,999,700 remaining jobs
And that doesn’t take into account the myriad folks who aren’t looking for employment, including everyone from career Pajama Boys to older folks who’ve been aged out and have given up, as well as those who’ve been paid quite handsomely by the government to stay home and do nothing, thank you very much. So, if you’re an employer — one needle in a haystack of 10,999,970 — you’ll spend more time trying to be the employer of choice than you will doing whatever it is your company does.
The Secret Decoder Ring
In any case, logic notwithstanding, the nine trends our Gartner friends list in HBR are these:
- Employers will “quiet hire” in-demand talent. [Translation: Employers will promote from within or find the guts to settle for nothing less than the qualifications they want and the performance they deserve.]
- Hybrid flexibility will reach the front lines. [Translation: Employers will require those who’ve been slacking to take some pressure off those who’ve been taking up the slack.]
- Managers will find themselves sandwiched between leader and employee expectations. [Translation: Business as usual.]
- Pursuit of nontraditional candidates will expand talent pipelines. [Translation: Employers will look for people who actually want to work for a living.]
- Healing pandemic trauma will open paths to sustainable performance. [Translation: In addition to participation trophies, employers will also start awarding cookies.]
- Organizations will drive DEI forward amid growing pushback. [Translation: Employers will be forced to check boxes, even though they know meritocracy is the only way to succeed.]
- Getting personal with employee support will create new data risks. [Translation: Employers will acquire cybersecurity protection, or they’ll be sued out of business.]
- Concerns around AI bias will lead to more transparency in recruiting tech. [Translation: HR departments will disappear, and hiring will be mechanical and homogenized.]
- Organizations must address workforce-wide erosion of social skills. [Translation: As surrogate parents, employers will pick up where public schools left off.]
There may be a whole bunch of things you’d like to be these days, but an employer shouldn’t be one of them unless, of course, you need an outlet for your masochistic tendencies, you have an innate and unquenchable desire to be a babysitter, or your altruism compels you to give some folks a place to spend a few hours of their days and take your money without doing too much to earn it.
The Moral of the Story
With the death of empiricism and common sense, I’m coming to conclude we can analyze things to the point at which our ability to distinguish between cause and effect is eroding unto obliteration at the same time that our ability to read bell curves is suffering the same fate.
As the bell curve above illustrates, the majority of employees don’t need to be fretted over, to be objects of pampering, to have special circumstances created for them, to receive counseling for pandemic trauma, or to get naptimes and cookies. Their epidermis is sufficiently durable. They just need to be treated with fairness and respect, to be allowed to contribute to the best of their abilities, to be recognized and rewarded for their contributions, and to derive a sense of fulfillment for the work they do.
Because that’s true, employers need to get a grip of their knickers, to recognize their prerogatives to impose conditions and to have reasonable performance expectations, to expect a degree of self-discipline and to impose the discipline that’s lacking, to exchange a day’s wages for a day’s work, and to have the respect they give be returned in kind.
If the coronavirus pandemic taught us anything it’s that we’re tougher, more resilient, and more resourceful than we may have realized. When it comes to mental health, I minimize nothing. But please. If we’re going to infantilize people or, at best, treat them like adolescents, let’s not expect them to behave like responsible adults, okay?
We all want to live in Utopia. But we don’t. We live and work in reality.