Sunday, May 4, 2014

Who Wants to Be A Boss? An Employee?

Inquiring minds want to know: how many employment makers and takers this month - quarter - year? Labor force participation rate statistics have been closely monitored and debated. Who is still in the workplace? Who is opting out and why? And yet there are times when neither the role of employer or employee always feels "natural" to individuals: highly desired though these circumstances may be. Sure, this relationship has been taken as a given. But is this form of workplace adaptation as easy today for younger generations, as it was for baby boomers such as myself?

Economic conditions and workplace expectations of late, have changed dramatically. Are there employer and employee stories in these shifts, which we haven't really taken into consideration? Most of the population adjusted to the employer/employee relationship as primary, through the better part of the twentieth century. To be sure, it's easy to forget how much economic activity has taken place in the past without the relationship these designations imply. In some capacities, more flexible and egalitarian arrangements still exist. As technology continues to shift and wealth formations are transformed, are we sometimes trying to fit square pegs into round holes? As calls for more job creation are heard, one wonders whether the right conditions exist for the earlier familiar reality.

It's easy to expect the employer/employee relationship as a natural outcome of present day economies. Just the same, some have always preferred to corroborate with others to get things done, wherever possible. Indeed, considerable self employment and entrepreneurship takes place on mutual agreement terms, regardless of other organizational factors. If it seems companies are reluctant to commit to new employees - especially given the regulatory constraints which stand in the way - individuals may sometimes be reluctant, to commit to the obligations of the employee role.

Recent spontaneous group efforts have not been easy to define: either in terms of the larger benefits they could provide, or how they might be considered in a broader context of economic activity. Especially, in that they frequently involve knowledge and information processes, rather than products to be sold or even the barn raisings of earlier times. Once, coordination such as this belonged to seasons of rural life and more recently, voluntary non profit efforts. But the spontaneous online coordination of late, has yet to generate a recognizable work environment context at local levels.

Seemingly the only common thread between past and present, is the voluntary nature of the agreed upon activities. How much bearing might egalitarian inclinations have, on the labor impasse of the present? Who "sits out" the job market when they might otherwise be tempted to engage in monetarily compensated economic activity? Especially in regions where jobs are no longer as widely available, as they once were.

Getting more of the population back to (compensated) work remains quite murky, and there are many factors to be considered. How has work "fallen away" from a significant portion of the population? How much labor force participation comes down to psychological factors, which discourage ongoing commitment either on the part of employer or employee?

Even as people decry today's lack of labor force participation, confusion exists re the discrepancy between work people want, thus would be willing to commit to, versus the "make-do" work some factions would like to be made available. In other words, these two categories don't quite match up. Until recently, most individuals expected jobs of some sort, to at least be available. And yet, what does society really want from these arrangements in a broad sense? The job which "pays", is not necessarily the job that is meaningful. But is "meaningful" work even still a reasonable possibility, in present circumstance?

To be sure, these factors have considerable bearing on the labor force participation rate. For instance, it can be difficult at times to "downshift" from knowledge based work to that of a more physical nature, especially when anyone reaches an age where their body is already asking permission to slow down. Just the same, after the Great Recession, more of the jobs which came available were physically demanding. In some instances, these jobs require the stamina one associates with peak health. Also, they tend to be associated with the kinds of work born of absolute necessity, rather than aspiration.

Another way to think about all this: can we give ourselves permission to find out, how people really wish to interact with one another? What would it take to generate more mutual respect and reciprocity? If the answers seem impossible, that only means they really need to be considered. What service provisions run completely counter to these understandable expectations, and how might they be considered in new contexts?

Once, the employer/employee relationship made good sense. However, in services, this intermediary process can break down the reciprocity which is needed for positive relations. As economies have shifted towards services, employer/employee relationships don't always leave room for the interactions individuals seek in experiential settings. What forms of work would encourage people to return to the workplace, if they could compensate one another for offering desirable work on cooperative terms? These are just some of the challenges which need to be considered, in ongoing efforts to create a more user friendly economy.

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