Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The New Normal For Employees

"The new normal" is a term which, to me, represents the fact that industries and businesses around the world are coming to terms with the fact that indefinite exponential growth is simply not sustainable. Rather than thinking that the sky is the limit for revenue, profitability and volume, savvy post-recession businesses are learning to find sustainable output levels and grow organically over time.

Businesses are now running leaner and more efficiently while using less leverage to fuel growth. However, it seems that it is now employees' turn to face the reality of a new normal. The world watched as government workers in Greece took violently to the streets protesting the extension of the retirement age and cuts to employee benefits. Now we see government workers across the United States taking to the streets demanding that their legally-protected rights to collective bargaining be upheld.

The big picture I see is workers in developed economies refusing to accept anything less than what they are accustomed to. When I spent nearly a year working as a gas station attendant with a Bachelor's degree in 2009 I met a man who said he'd been out of work for over a year. When I asked him how he could have been turned down for every job in the market, he replied "I'm not looking for another job. I'm waiting for my old job to open back up." I fear this represents the attitudes of too many Americans today.

It may be time for employees in developed nations to accept that their income cannot grow exponentially forever. Companies and governments are operating leaner than ever before, while people are spending less and saving more. How can it be avoided that average wages and wage increases will find a new normal? This may come as a shock to a Westerner like myself, but we are going to have to accept the fact that our leveraged race cars, leveraged McMansions, leveraged private school tuition and a wide range of other expenses are simply unnecessary, and can no longer be taken for granted.

Workers in India and China are ready to work hard for wages that would offend the average American, and it's a good bet that our new democratic brothers in the Middle East will feel the same way. If Western workers are going to compete with the international workforce, we may need to stop demanding a week's wages for a day's work.

Here's a business idea to help workers with their new normal: household budget consulting services that charge a percentage of the money they save clients.

Further Reading
The Washington Post: Protests Grow in Ohio as Vote on Union Rights Nears
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: Riots Mark Greece Protest 

“Democracy divides people into workers and loafers. It makes no provision for those who have no time to work.” - Karl Kraus


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