Thursday, October 29, 2009

The IT market: the Darwinian workplace and hyperindividualism: is the pendulum swining back?

Well, do we still have a Darwinian (or Spencerian) workplace today, given the recession, with workers lowballing each other to keep their jobs? Or will employers have to become kinder and gentler, given the needs of communities as a whole?

It's true, that some of us took hyperindividualism to an extreme and actually benefited from the changes that led to offshoring of old jobs on the one hand and new opportunities for self-promotion (on the Internet) on the other. Now the pendulum swings back, as we become concerned with "systemic risks" and the need to pay attention to sustainability of whole communities, not just individuals.

We see this problem with the presenteeism debate. Twenty years ago, in some shops, employers tended to punish employees for taking legitimate sick days. With salaried employees it was, get your job done or else. Today that may be counterproductive, as sick employees (with H1N1) can cause more absences, although that may change if the vaccine supply improves. HR people are looking more closely at abuse if exempt people, as are lawyers. And the same goes for “background investigations” based on what people post on the Internet. Although everyone was talking about this two years ago, now lawyers warn that this can lead to discrimination claims.

Despite the economy, this may be a good time for younger IT workers who developed the right skills in high school and college. Compared to how things were when I came of age in the mainframe IBM and Univac world of the 1970s, today’s market requires much more mental agility and non-linear learning. IT, “created by the kids”, is changing who we are, and how are brains work. The irony it is that IT was born out of individualism and a desire to become mentally self-sufficient, but social networking is bringing us back together.

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