The recent article in NYT also appears elsewhere in NYT The Morning version under ‘Our nature as humans’. This article ends with the summary: “Many people want to believe that being a generous employer is crucial to being a successful company. But that isn’t always true”. This would appear to be an example of an opinion stated as a fact!
No one should believe that any employer will be generous or benevolent, any more than any employee will voluntarily work for peanuts, just for the love of it. The relationship between any employer and employee is always an economic transaction driven by price elasticity. The value perceived by an employer and hence the wages offered will depend on the needs for the business met by the employee. The employer will always find ways to decrease the value of all its resources used while seeking to gain the most value out of it. Sadly it is true for any machinery or Robot used, as much as it is for the people used as resources by any employer at all levels. This treatment of human resources as “non-human”, yet as needed resources started in the late 70s and has continued to accelerate unabated. The Digital data driven innovations under the misnomer of “Technology” has been the driving force for this change. As long as we fail to recognize this driving force, for what it is, or couch it under any other reasoning we do a disservice to the very same workers we want to give a helping hand.
“Amazon encouraged employee turnover. After three years on the job, hourly workers no longer received automatic raises, and the company offered bonuses to people who quit. It also offered limited upward mobility for hourly workers, preferring to hire managers from the outside. As is often the case with one of Amazon’s business strategies, it worked”.
Let us dissect the above quote here:
Planned Obsolescence is a well-known strategy in the business world. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20160612-heres-the-truth-about-the-planned-obsolescence-of-tech When the job is repeated or carried out merely as “tasks”, without any additional added value, workers become obsolete over time. In fact, the same workers if they also expect higher wages with time (and rightfully so to meet their growing personal needs), they can be replaced with junior employees at lower wages but with the same skills as required by the job. Perhaps Jeff Bezos and Amazon realized this basic business economics along with all others – both the workers as well as the employers. Sadly the success of Bezos in using this strategy would appear to be much more aggressive and hence far more financially successful. But, let any worker who is guided to believe Jeff Bezos as the only or primary villain is being misguided by NYT and its article. Instead every worker and indeed all students from middle school onwards have to constantly gain new skills and add value through such new skills, to remain indispensable for the employers. Absence of this broader perspective and hence a change in our way of thinking – from task oriented to holistic or solution oriented – dominates every facet of the challenges imposed on us that we face today. For additional details see: https://stimsinstitute.com/2020/11/22/commentary-on-american-factory/ and https://stimsinstitute.com/2016/05/23/do-americans-really-miss-the-unions/
Lack of upward mobility in jobs for hourly workers is another Trojan horse created by the evolution in the relentless application of Digital Solutions. Let us be clear. No one should be anti-Technology. That will be like burying one’s head in the sand. It will also be like standing in the ocean beach waiting for the waves to subside! It is not wise, prudent or even feasible. But, we need to understand the impermeable layers in jobs created by Digital Technology (DT) innovations. Every worker in Amazon warehouse uses tools enabled by DT. But, they have very little knowledge, education or even awareness of how these tools or solutions are created. They are created by a whole different set of coders (IT workers). We see a high employee turnover in the High Tech. sector companies as well as at Amazon! https://gethppy.com/employee-engagement/can-tech-industry-solve-employee-tenure-problem The point is this: No one at any job can expect to climb the ladders of the organization as we used to do in the 50s and 60s. Following are couple of illustrations to describe the traditional work and its separation into impermeable layers. We also see the consequence of that in the wealth and its distribution.
Then what is the answer? As long as labor is getting rewarded for what we do as human beings, we can gain such rewards only through our physical efforts (Amazon ware house jobs), managing and manipulating information (IT jobs) or creative use of our brain to constantly conceive and implement solutions of added value to the employers or whoever is paying the wages! In other words it is not doing what you are asked to do (task oriented). Instead figuring out what you need to do and making it happen and getting paid for it (solution oriented). For details, see this short video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SvZb-qmjakY
The ability to be relentlessly innovative through System Thinking and Transformational Skills may be good pathway for some people and for some period of time. But, what happens to the millions who cannot climb on to this small boat for their success and survival? You can see this question raised and the answer at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJxLXBgQZi4
As individuals each of us have a need to constantly learn and fine tune our skills and use them relentlessly to build and implement a stream of new solutions. For details: https://stimsinstitute.com/20151207books/ Such personal effort for self-betterment must go far beyond seeking free college education or merely higher degrees in task oriented education from the archaic and obsolete teachers, schools and colleges in our educational system. At the same time there should be concerted effort to use the wealth gained by those through DT Applications. Wealth tax, higher tax rates for ultra-rich, progressive tax on non-wage income, and minimum corporate tax as resources to build the infrastructure and meet basic needs of the population left behind by DT revolution must be our collective social goal.
Our nature as humans is to think and reflect. Such reasoning leads to objective analysis of data and observations. This in turn leads to identification of the problem and its possible solutions while keeping our bias and ignorance in check. It leads to enhanced knowledge and awareness of our ignorance and bias. Again we seek new knowledge leading to better solutions and its implementation. We benefit from the results (rewards) and we share such benefits through the results of our solutions. The journey continues. DT can be a useful tool in this journey.
People like Jeff Bezos, Donald Trump and many others will come and go. They may succeed temporarily thanks to DT applications, which can be a bow yoke that ties down individuals and society as cattle used to plow the field, no matter what we do and in any field of activity. It requires us to resort to reasoning and comprehension first to escape the shackles of DT and its negative effects, while gaining from its positives and beneficial effects. The future of human as an egalitarian society depends on that.