In the 80’s, my business awareness and acumen was a .5 on a scale of 0 to 10. One thing I do recall is the general buzz regarding how hard other countries worked, how efficient they were, and how much higher the quality was compared to the United States. A centerpiece to this narrative was the success of Toyota. (You can Google endless articles with more details on Toyota’s kaizen continuous improvement.) The general takeaway I heard and felt was American’s need to work longer and harder to compete, succeed, and be financially successful.
Nearly 40 years later the narrative has flipped. Americans are working longer than most countries and now trying to find ways to get back to a healthier balance.
Seeing the pendulum swing so dramatically, I can’t help but wonder - where are we headed? What are the primary influences impacting those decisions? Will we ever find the right equilibrium?
COVID-19 obviously has had a very dramatic impact on everyday life and everyone’s thoughts. The shifts already in motion have been accelerated into overdrive by the pandemic.
I work with people across generations and have been asked to do or accommodate requests I’ve never experienced before. Taking a mental health day. Requests for an additional week of unearned paid vacation to decompress. Work from home remotely full-time rather than part-time. Leaving a job and taking a similar one for less pay because it is perceived to be less stressful. I’m not saying any of these are wrong or bad, they are just different from how I was raised (remember the work harder, longer philosophy).
All these dynamics are puzzle pieces impacting both business and personal. There seems to be more puzzle pieces than ever before, and they are strewn about wildly without the box cover to see what the final picture looks like. We are figuring out on the fly what the final picture may be and where the pieces go.
How are generational gaps impacting where we are headed? Do older generations need to change to accommodate younger generations? Do younger generations need to adapt to the status quo?
The noise level on global warming is higher than I can ever recall. There seems to be very real, palpable concern for our planet on a more global scale, but also at the individual level. Commitments by countries, states, and major corporations to attain net-zero carbon emissions by specific dates is growing. Major automakers are committed to entirely zero-emissions by dates less than twenty years from now.
What will automobiles, trucks, etc. look like? How will they get beyond the general 300-mile limit? How will access to charging stations across the country, especially in rural areas be accommodated? Will recharging be as quick as filling a tank of gas? With that said, what will happen to gas stations? Will they be converted to charging stations? How will the handling and recycling of the millions of expended batteries be handled to avoid becoming its own global threat?
How will the airline industry be impacted? As a major contributor to emissions, they certainly must be working on a plan. How comfortable would we be flying from Dallas to New York on a battery powered plane?
Like all politics, we do know one thing, getting our country to agree on how to navigate will be a major challenge. Getting the global community to agree is an astronomical ask. Even as promising as the just completed 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference was, the lack of actual change and pledges for change are disappointing. At least it is keeping the topic front and center.
Adding to an already odd environment, American workers are quitting their jobs in record numbers. In September, 4.4 million people left their jobs, according to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Over 4 million left their jobs in August as well.
I can understand why the pandemic has pushed some workers to reevaluate their quality of life and leave their jobs, but over 4 million in one month!? I know workers are now demanding different benefits from employers that didn’t seem to matter just two years ago and may be waiting for that perfect job. Nonetheless, what are 4 million ‘resigned’ workers going to do?
These shifts are obviously impacting everyone in different ways. From my own observations, the answer ‘out of stock’ has been more prevalent in the past 12 months than ever before and it’s not even close. Reading about supply chain issues and chip shortages seems to always include an aspect beyond a lack of materials and parts to a lack of workers willing to take jobs.
I read many articles discussing how these issues/challenges will normalize in the next year or so as we recover from the pandemic. But normalize to what? Global warming does not ascribe to a normalize timeframe, but more of a frantic ‘get it under control or we’re all in big trouble’ narrative.
How will all this impact our daily lives in the next 5 – 10 years? Will American companies change philosophies and policies regarding what ‘full-time’ work is? Will it be acceptable to work less than 40 hours a week and have 4 weeks or more of vacation? What will the millions of workers who have quit their jobs do to earn a living? What will happen to countries that do not change to improve our planet? What will coastal cities look like 20 to 30 years from now? Will the basic construct of what people value change? How will that impact our business and personal lives?
As a father and now grandfather, I often wonder what all this will mean to my daughter and more importantly to my granddaughter. I will be around to see some of it, but not most of it. I am fascinated and frightened about what the future holds for my family and our world. Like most, I have more questions than answers.