The Work-Human Revolution
The 20th Century witnessed several revolutionary changes tied to work. From the Communist revolutions in China and Russia that set out to redesign the Economy and work respectively to the founding of many large-scale social movements and unions such as the International Workers of the World collective.
The revolutionary changes made to the world of work in the 20th Century were largely a reaction to the industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th Centuries. Technology developed during the industrial revolution fundamentally altered the nature of work. Complex crafts such as tailoring, cobblery, or blacksmithing were replaced by mass-producing factories where the people in them performed tasks largely centered around the new-fangled machinery. Many of these roles arguably took the skill out of work as they were highly repetitive. This resulted in the workforce being seen as interchangeable and able to forgo years of training and apprenticeships.
And what of recent years?
Commentators have argued that in recent years, we are perhaps undergoing another era of revolution akin to what we went through 100 years ago. What we know for sure is that technology is once again fundamentally changing the nature of work. Digitalization is dividing the world into two distinct labor markets. Highly skilled jobs that demand constant learning, and low skill jobs that require little training and that are at constant risk of being automated.
The industrial revolution of yesteryear replaced complex craft jobs with more simplistic jobs focused on performing repetitive tasks. The digital revolution is having the opposite effect. Repetitive jobs are being automated and replaced by jobs that require learning new skills and capabilities and years of training and development. Consequently, job security in the digital economy is not about what you can do, it’s about what you can adapt to do.
New opportunities from uncertainty – purpose, potential and perspective
It is unquestionable the acceleration of digitization, especially since the coronavirus pandemic came to being. In a recent study, fifty-three percent of survey respondents said that between half and all of their workforce will need to change their skills and capabilities in the next three years. Instead of anchoring business and HR strategies in what’s known about the capabilities of their existing workforce, organizations need to look ahead and find ways to develop every worker’s true potential.
The level of disruption caused by digitization though, depends on our ability to harness technology to ensure people profit from change instead of being crushed by it. This survival comes from when people have a clear sense of purpose and feel part of a trusted team, secure in their sense of belonging. A Forbes article highlights this importance, as well as how people can create job security through reinvention and taking decisive action for their own futures.
When these conditions exist people see changes as opportunities for growth. When these things are missing people become disillusioned, depressed, anxious, and fearful. This makes it difficult for them to learn, and as a result change becomes a vicious circle of adversity, anxiety, and failure.
Whether this work-human revolution creates more good than bad will rest on our transparency on how we make decisions and inclusive, inviting cultures that we then embed through the technologies we choose to use. This can start by managing people in a way that supports effective learning. Specifically, making sure people get a sense of purpose from their work, feel connected to their colleagues, and making sure they feel secure and cared for by organizations and broader society overall. It isn’t a coincidence that during these times the social unrest and escalation of inequality have been so prominent. It is the human instinct of adaptability for survival in the face of adversity. Thus, the intention to belong, reduction in biases and unlocking of the potential of individuals that comes to the fore.