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#ActYourWage: The Leader’s Existential Question

It's time to face a tough truth: we might have emotionally healthier employees in the future, but they may not have a place to be employed.

If you are an executive reviewing employees’ movements in the last 18 months, such as the “great resignation,” “quiet quitting,” and #ActYourWage, you are facing an existential question for your business.  The question is not how to adapt the new employees demands and create a hybrid working environment and more accommodation to employee’s mental health; those issues you will eventually solve.  They might require some additional funds, but they are solvable.  But the deep existential question, the one that most of us have not yet discussed is, who will lead this company in the future?

With all the time accommodation, mental health consideration and hybrid work, employee productivity and depth in understanding the company, competition, customers and business model will be sacrificed. The short-term tactical needs may be addressed, but who is minding the future? The new breed of employees basically seek to conduct tasks and report on completion. They refuse to assume responsibility or invest time in the broader picture of the business and the broad understanding on how to forge and execute a successful strategy. The focus on the immediate personal gratification and self-care comes with a price to the future of the business. We might have emotionally healthier employees in the future, but they may not have a place to be employed. While the gig economy is alive and kicking, the simple truth is that it does not usually create jobs for others.  And in most cases it provides supporting services, not products creation.

This existential question will give rise to two classes of employees in organizations: the future leaders and the short-term workers. To care for the future, organizations will have to start recognizing which employee belongs where and dedicate their resources according. The urgent need is for creating future leaders’ tracks that will nurture the next leadership ranks. While some have leadership programs like that today, they are not sufficiently large and deep in scope. They are often just a small side HR project, not a core company initiative. But in the past, many regular employees rose from the ranks to be leaders. Today, large numbers of employees have retreated from the willingness to invest themselves in the work—even perceiving it as modern-day slavery—so the need for future leaders has become critical.

Two classes of employees

In the very near future, organizations will need to formalize the creation of two employment tracks. The first track will focus on the task operators.  These are employees who are interested in short term, tactical work. They are here to contribute, but not to grow. They are here to make a living and live well while at it. Their priorities are elsewhere, and work is merely a means to an end. They do not see any higher purpose in working for your company’s cause—or in working, period. They are here to collect their paycheck and give value in return.

The second track is for the purpose pursuers. These are employees who see work as a way to make an impact on the world. They are not looking for outside activities to define their worth. They see the impact they make on customers and the planet as a great cause to commit to. They are here to grow and create.

With the emergence of the two classes of employment, resources and investment will be shifted accordingly.  The separation of employees into two classes will have significant ramifications on the way organizations provide resources, invest in training, pay and incentivize employees, and evaluate performance. Task operators will be provided with a cocoon of tools and training to complete the tasks, but little in the way of growth and development. Purpose pursuers on the other hand will be supported on a track of growth and development. This divide in resources will be more apparent as it will affect all employees—those who are on the task track and those on the growth track. In many ways, the choice of balanced work-life by some employees will be clearer in terms of the future sacrifices it may entail.

While some will consider this approach unfair or unequitable, it is simply a response to the emerging employment movements. It is not meant to punish anyone for their choices. But it does recognize that there are consequences to the task mindset provided by the latest employee movements. Someone is going to pay a price for it and the price is the future sustainability of the business. Someone must mind the future. It is therefore a responsible approach to secure the future of the organization so everyone can stay employed.

Developing the next rank of leadership doesn’t happen overnight and therefore as the current employment movements are taking effect immediately, there is a need to establish the future leaders’ programs as soon as possible, and create a counter-balance to ensure that the future remain bright for everyone.


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