Friday, September 13, 2013

Why Gen X and Gen Y do not trust large organizations

...The big government/civil service agencies are old. They're products of the 20th century, and they are used to running their human resources and internal security processes as if they're still living in the days of the "job for life" culture; potential spooks-to-be were tapped early (often while at school or university), vetted, then given a safe sinecure along with regular monitoring to ensure they stayed on the straight-and-narrow all the way to the gold watch and pension. Because that's how we all used to work, at least if we were civil servants or white collar paper pushers back in the 1950s... 
...The key facts are: Generation X's parents expected a job for life, but with few exceptions Gen Xers never had that — they're used to nomadic employment, hire-and-fire, right-to-work laws, the whole nine yards of organized-labour deracination. Gen Y's parents are Gen X. Gen Y has never thought of jobs as permanent things. Gen Y will stare at you blankly if you talk about loyalty to their employer; the old feudal arrangement ("we'll give you a job for life and look after you as long as you look out for the Organization") is something their grandparents maybe ranted about, but it's about as real as the divine right of kings.  
Employers are alien hive-mind colony intelligences who will fuck you over for the bottom line on the quarterly balance sheet. They'll give you a laptop and tell you to hot-desk or work at home so that they can save money on office floorspace and furniture. They'll dangle the offer of a permanent job over your head but keep you on a zero-hours contract for as long as is convenient. This is the world they grew up in: this is the world that defines their expectations.
First, I think the statement about "employers" is perhaps a bit overly broad, and really applies to large organizations -- however, those are the organizations that have the resources and salaries that are most desirable, so maybe it's more on point than I'd like to admit.

Second, I see a lot of this in my personal experience. As you know, my father (whom I love dearly) has worked for the same medium-sized corporation since the late 1970s; I clearly remember the rounds of layoffs and mergers and national-media-level scandals that I saw as a teenager. Because of my dad's long rants at the dinner table, I've always held corporate America at arm's length. (What's funny, of course, is that my beloved dad can't understand why I'm hesitant to work for large companies. Sigh.)

Stross' concluding comments are really about the lack of loyalty that we tend to see in modern organizations (italics are by Stross)
We human beings are primates. We have a deeply ingrained set of cultural and interpersonal behavioural rules which we violate only at social cost. One of these rules, essential for a tribal organism, is bilaterality: loyalty is a two-way street. (Another is hierarchicality: yield to the boss.) Such rules are not iron-bound or immutable — we're not robots — but our new hive superorganism employers don't obey them instinctively, and apes and monkeys and hominids tend to revert to tit for tat quite easily when unsure of their relative status. Perceived slights result in retaliation, and blundering, human-blind organizations can slight or bruise an employee's ego without even noticing. And slighted or bruised employees who lack instinctive loyalty because the culture they come from has spent generations systematically destroying social hierarchies and undermining their sense of belonging are much more likely to start thinking the unthinkable.
Certainly, "the unthinkable" is different for an intelligence organization than an employer of scientists and engineers. That said, the lack of trust between employer and employee probably manifests itself in less productivity improvements and/or innovation than the employer would expect...

11 comments:

  1. We're all contract employees, it's just that some of us don't know the length of our contract.

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  2. I think the big cooperations need to promote a "job for life" culture. I could see the decline of this in big pharma before they left me.
    There was no loyalty or wanting to do well. The only reason to do well was selfish.
    So big Pharma needs to re-think their bull manure cooperate policies.

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  3. Is lack of loyalty among both employees and employers a new thing? I know there were several generations in the 20th century for whom 'lifetime employment' was a reality (didn't they also have mythical constructs like 'pensions', and didn't 'labor unions' exist?), but did this exist in days of yore (i.e. pre 20th century)? Note, I don't know the answer, and am earnestly asking.

    If the data from http://visualizingeconomics.com/blog/2011/03/08/long-term-real-growth-in-us-gdp-per-capita-1871-2009 are to be believed, it doesn't look like the changed employee/employer relationship of the post-Nixon era has really been that bad for the economy as a whole (I'm sure that downturn in 2007 is a blip....).

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    1. It used to be if you worked in a steel mill (think US Steel) you would "make the 30" (work 30 years) and get a pension for life.

      And you made decent money too, enough for a middle class lifestyle (and you were in a union).

      This was not uncommon back then (up to the late 1970's).

      This is from where my parents generation is from, and I don't think they can understand how hard you have to work, and how you always need to be thinking of the next rope to hang onto, these days. It really leaves little for any free time, which I think they had a heck of a lot more of.

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    2. As idyllic as the steel industry in the 70s sounds, the harsh reality is that it wasn't sustainable.

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    3. It would have been if it was not for cheap foreign steel. Kind of like cheep foreign tech labor today.

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    4. "It would have been if it was not for cheap foreign steel"

      A true point, but basing an industry on the assumption that the inevitable march of economic globalization won't occur is like hoping for a repeal of gravity.

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    5. I think you're oversimplifying the recent history of the steel industry. Foreign competition gave many mills the shove, but the rise of the minimill is what drove them to the cliff.

      You can read more here (start at p. 1-4):

      http://www.hbs.edu/socialenterprise/pdf/TheInnovatorsSolutionChpt2.pdf

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  4. IMO it's not just a generational difference. the older guys from the days of "company men" have seen the times change and have adjusted their attitudes as well.

    there was a time when my dad, a 30 yr PhD chemist at the same large company, would not even buy a competitor's brand of gasoline. He has grown comparatively disenfranchised over the years, however, after layoffs, outsourcing, downsizing, corporate decisions and so on. While his salary has increased every year and they never cut his bonus, his 20 year gift was cheaper than his 10 year one, and the 30 year one cheaper still (cost maybe 50-100 bucks). it's not that they can't afford gold watches anymore, it's that they just don't value long-term service and loyalty. at this point he pretty much has to reapply for his job every couple years as i'm sure management doesn't want to keep an old-timer on with his big fat salary even a year longer than he's indispensable to them

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  5. In the absence of a corporate (either as in business or as in a national or subnational unit) conscience (or a set of rules other than "I win and you lose"), individual conscience might become more important rather than less as a way to maintain a sense of value in oneself. If people have nothing to lose (the promise of full-time employment doesn't count, for not only is the goal transient and unlikely to last, but the word of lots of businesses and government entities is worth less than a warm pile of feces - that Fourth Amendment thingy or one's oath of office, for example) and no way to win, then they might begin to play other games.

    I think things have gotten cheaper so that people have access to more toys, but for education or health care (the things that make it possible for people to be useful members of society, and for their children to have a chance to do so as well), the costs have increased enough to make them unattainable for many. I think that (in constant dollars), the average family here in OH makes about as much as they did forty years ago, but pays for more (if not all) of their health care and retirement, more for their education, and more for training (since it's necessary to get a job and employers have been decreasing training for at least thirty years), which means they're not better off. (This would be consistent with the GDP data in that the distribution of wealth has changed to concentrate more wealth in fewer hands so that gains in wealth have not benefited lots of people much.) I don't know if education has gotten more unequal or not with wealth over time (right now, where you can live here determines much of the quality of elementary education you receive, but I don't know if this is worse or better than earlier in time). Finally, it probably varies, but there is less community available for significant support - the transience of jobs means that many people make fewer connections, which makes life harder even when one is doing OK economically.

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    1. Your comment about transient jobs leading to less community is spot on. Having to start over in a new place without friends/family/network is stressful. It's driven me into therapy.

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