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The "Real" New Economy?

RainmakerThinking Inc., a leadership development firm led by Bruce Tulgan, author of Managing Generation X, recently released the findings of a 10-year study on changes in the American workplace. The report's key points include:

  • Work has become more demanding on employees.
  • Employer-employee relationships have become less hierarchical and more transactional.
  • Employers are moving away from long-term employment relationships.
  • Employees have less confidence in long-term rewards and greater expectations for short-term rewards.
  • Immediate supervisors are now the most important people in the workplace.
  • Supervising employees now requires more time and skill on the part of managers.

Not much new there, eh? What's interesting is how Tulgan contextualizes the research, which was done between 1993 and 2003. "In the early- and mid-1990s, these trends were decried as aberrations — driven by the 'free agent' inclinations of Generation X," Tulgan writes. "Many analysts expected these trends to abate following the dot-com crash and the economic downturn that has persisted since early 2001. Instead, these trends have both intensified and also spread among workers of all ages."

He continues: "Average employees feel challenged to take care of themselves and their families; they struggle to balance desires for long-term security with short-term needs for opportunities, work conditions, recognition, and rewards. The downturn in the economy has further entrenched these responses, not weakened them."

Also of note are the trends behind the immediate supervisor's emergence as the workplace VIP. "Employees think of their immediate supervisors as the primary representatives of their employers' missions, policies, systems, and practices," the report indicates. "The day-to-day communication between supervisory managers and direct reports has more impact than any other single factor on employee productivity, quality, morale, and retention."