Workplace revolution leaves casualties in its wake

Not terribly long ago, whistles wailed signaling the start and end of the work day at the factory, the mill or the mine.

Going away parties with cake and cookies celebrated official retirements, where people collected their guaranteed pension, paid health care and gold watch. They weren’t farewells for people in their 30s jumping to a competitor in hopes of a better deal. They were shown the door.

Your first January check virtually guaranteed a significant bump in your pay, a fully paid benefit package, a far cry from today’s pittance raise, health insurance rate increase and constant threat of a warn notice.

To say that working in America has changed is a colossal understatement.

Working has been revolutionized so that it is nearly unrecognizable from what it was even a decade or so ago.

Back then, 8 to 5 meant just that, put in eight hours and head home. Bosses barked, workers did what they were told. When you earned vacation, you took it. Leaving work two hours early happened only on Christmas Eve. Work moved no faster than the mail man. The only person pulling an all-nighter was the company watchman.

In 1993, a fresh-faced 32-year-old Wall Street lawyer looked around him, gazed into the future and did the unthinkable – he quit. From the day Bruce Tulgan founded his Rainmaker Thinking consulting group that specialized in advising businesses how to cope with his contemporaries, the Generation X workers, he began documenting the workplace revolution. Today, after more than 10,000 interviews with employers, managers and employees throughout the United States, thousands of focus groups, surveys and studies, he’s released a concise, on-target synopsis of the revolution in the American workplace (

The study finds six key trends shaping our work lives

  • Work has become more demanding and time-consuming for nearly everyone.

  • The days of the hierarchical boss and compliant employee are waning, replaced by manager-employee relationships marked by constant negotiation and fulfilling of individual needs and expectations.

  • Long-term employment (and the retirement accoutrements above) is history.

  • Employees are motivated more by short-term rewards and recognition because they have no confidence or guarantee they or their employer will be around for several more years.

  • Immediate or frontline supervisors are now the most important people at work.

    That’s because supervising today’s increasingly noncompliant, stridently independent and often out-spoken employee takes considerably more time and skill to meet the increasing demands of senior executives to increase productivity and quality.

    “Welcome to the real new economy: where employers must be ruthless to survive and individuals must be very aggressive to succeed,” Tulgan writes.

    These trends, first observed with the arrival of Gen Xers in the workplace, did not as expected abate during the dot-com crash and economic downturn of 2001 that persists today. But they intensified and spread among workers of all ages.

    “The huge change in economics, fueled by globalization and technology, have had a massive impact on the employer-employee dynamic,” Tulgan said. Employers are demanding employees work longer, better, smarter and faster, Tulgan said. They get less management support and guidance and less tolerance for error, waste or inefficiency. Pressure is their everyday, every hour co-worker. They not only must adapt to new technologies, processes, skills and knowledge but also to often unanticipated changes such as downsizing, mergers and restructuring.

    Employees have adjusted all right but not compliantly. “They’re saying, more on an individual than group basis, ‘hey, what’s in for me?’ “Tulgan said. “Every individual has needs and expectations, and they’re becoming much more aggressive in getting them met.”

    In the middle lies the direct supervisor, under great pressure from senior management to deliver, who must deal with increasingly entrepreneurial, questioning yet highly skilled employees who seem motivated primarily by “employer promises of immediate quid pro quo,” Tulgan said.

    It’s like “if you want the project done on time, on budget, then allow me to leave at 4 p.m. to attend my kid’s Little League game or give me two weeks off, even though I officially don’t have the vacation time.”

    The revolution is still in its infancy and the pressures on employers and employees only promises to intensify, Tulgan said. Will it eventually reach a breaking point? Tulgan shrugs. “I don’t know, but there will be plenty of casualties along the way.

    “Write Eric Zoeckler at The Herald, P.O. Box 930, Everett, WA 98206 or e-mail

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