5 Disruptive Challenges for Workers in the Social Age

by Karl Rohde — Get free updates of new posts here. Photo Credit: Karl Rohde

This article is a continuation of a series on the Social Age. You can start reading it here.

As the Social Age gains momentum it's becoming more and more important to recognise the impact it is having on our work and our ability to maintain our viability in the economy. When the practices we were taught to run our careers start to wane in effectiveness and value its prudent to consider where we need to change, improve and adapt. Once we understand the defining characteristics and business shifts of the Social Age we do well to question the challenges we will likely face.

Indisputable Realities Affecting Work

  1. Knowledge workers can no longer rely on promises of long term job security. The era of century old organisations offering attractive long term career tracks is over. There’s no such thing as long-term job security anymore. The age-old promise of a lifelong career at one company is gone and has been for a while. IBM, for example, used to be famous for its promise of lifetime employment, but in 1992 this policy was scrapped. One year later some 60,000 employees were made redundant. In his book, Free Agent Nation, author Dan Pink links the rise of microbusiness, temp workers and soloists to the decline of job security. The bottom line is that career advancement is no longer your company’s responsibility. In general, a slowdown in economic growth, digital transformation and the GFC has forced organisations to change tack with people resourcing. Not surprisingly it’s predicted that one of the 25 best growth sectors in the economy is that of re-skilling and aging workforce.

  2. An increased material abundance has increased our desire for meaning. Since World War II a high standard of living has reached deep into the middle class and altered expectations. Today it's up for debate whether the middle class continues to thrive, but purpose driven people and businesses are on the rise. Along with the explosion of the personal development industry in the last 20 years people are more attuned to doing or at least aspiring to do work that matters. It connects well with Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory which presents the idea that people will aspire to express their innate potential more fully when their safety, material and social needs are met. People no longer just want the utility of a job, they are seeking purpose in their work beyond the money. Karl Moore, contributor at Forbes.com, clarifies the point that Millennial’s long to be part of something bigger than themselves and that purpose trumps pay. Will we find our purpose? Will organisations be more purposeful?

  3. Globalisation is shipping white-collar work overseas. Globalization means skilled labour is all over the map. We used to think of the West as the domain of intellectual work and the East as the place to find cheap labour. If that ever was the case, it certainly isn’t now. Countries like China are investing heavily in education and it’s paying off. By 2030, 30 percent of the world’s college-educated workers will come from China, while only 5 percent will come from the U.S.

  4. In the post GFC market business functions are under increased scrutiny for tangible value. Businesses are outsourcing entire departments. Human Resources departments, IT departments and others are being traded for fixed service contracts. We often hear tragic lacklustre outsourcing tales, however despite the bitterness this is still a growing sector as businesses prioritise cost, core business, standardisation and "as-a-service" cloud computing efficiencies. The global financial crisis was a wakeup call for businesses, but for their employees, it was a nightmare: Cost-cutting measures led to dramatic reductions in the workforce. Moreover, just because the recession is partly over, doesn’t mean people should expect to get their jobs back. In his book, Choose Yourself, author James Altucher contends that larger companies won’t be restoring their employee numbers to pre-GFC levels.

  5. Hyper connectivity and disruptive technologies are changing everything. According to Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, 3 technology trends have converged to shift the playing field in most industries. First the Internet has made information free and ubiquitous - practically everything is online. Second, mobile devices and networks have made global reach and continuous connectivity widely available. Third, cloud computing has put practically infinite computing power at everyone's disposal, on an inexpensive, pay as you go basis. From a consumer perspective, the convergence of these three technological waves has made the impossible possible. Gartner Research Corporation has created a model called the Nexus of Forces that is in full swing right now. Cloud, Social, Mobile and Data (information) are ushering in the so-called digital era of business that is now the buzzword of moment. The barriers to innovation are indeed melting away. Anyone can capitalise on these forces to transform business because the cost of experimentation and failure has dropped significantly.

With these challenges in full swing how do we best respond, adapt and develop the ability to face them with confidence and poise? There is a way forward and we see this being played out across the internet, social media, digital transformation initiatives and the rise of the so-called modern day hacker, people developing smarter ways to thrive in the new workplace. Stick around as I unravel these the opportunities that the Social Age presents for the brave and willing.

For now stay tuned for the next post in this series on the Social Age where I talk more specifically on its direct impact on work.


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