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Work Futures Daily - Black Friday of the Soul

Everything Is for Sale Now. Even Us.; 996; all routine labor will be automated; Robots on the farm; m

Work Futures

November 26 · Issue #1035 · View online
The ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future.

Everything Is for Sale Now. Even Us.; 996; all routine labor will be automated; Robots on the farm; manager readmes; Managing rebels

Beacon NY - 2018-11-25 — It’s the dark time of the year. Short days, snow, a persistent chill in the air.
And last week we had Black Friday, the big shopping day as people stock up on gifts for their friends and families.
Ruth Whippman ties together the season, and Black Friday, to the changes in our increasingly gigged-up economy, from which I drew the title of this issue, and which reads more like poetry than cultural criticism:
It’s as though we are all working in Walmart on an endless Black Friday of the soul.
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Everything Is for Sale Now. Even Us. | Ruth Whippman chillingly profiles where the gig economy has taken us:
As a writer, I am part of the 35 percent of the American work force that now works freelance in some capacity, either as a main source of income or as some kind of side hustle. This number is growing constantly — 94 percent of the new jobs created in the last decade or so were freelance or contract-based.
When we think “gig economy,” we tend to picture an Uber driver or a TaskRabbit tasker rather than a lawyer or a doctor, but in reality, this scrappy economic model — grubbing around for work, all big dreams and bad health insurance — will soon catch up with the bulk of America’s middle class.
Major companies now outsource many of even their most skilled jobs, ditching their in-house lawyers and I.T. support teams in favor of on-demand contractors, paid by the hour. More than 18 million Americans are now involved in some kind of direct sales or multilevel marketing scheme, shelling out hundreds of dollars on vitamins or juicers or leggings, then frantically attempting to recoup the money by flogging them to friends and neighbors. Economists predict that by 2027, gig workers of varying descriptions will make up more than half of the work force. An estimated 47 percent of millennials already work in this way.
It certainly feels familiar. Almost everyone I know now has some kind of hustle, whether job, hobby, or side or vanity project. Share my blog post, buy my book, click on my link, follow me on Instagram, visit my Etsy shop, donate to my Kickstarter, crowdfund my heart surgery. It’s as though we are all working in Walmart on an endless Black Friday of the soul.
The social contract of work has been erased by an endless series of precarious work hook-ups, where jobs are increasingly just one-night stands, and the opportunity for work security and commitment recedes into a rapidly attenuating past. An endless Black Friday of the soul.
[crossposted from]
China’s Grueling Formula for Success: 9-9-6 | Li Yuan links the 996 trend in China – working 9am to 9pm six days a week – to a growing sense that the cultural commitment to overwork is leading to health and psychological issues, there:
One midlevel Huawei executive said he works at least 12 hours a day because he wants to be the best and because he gets compensated for good performance. But he said he will evaluate in three years, when he is 35, whether he can keep going at such a pace.
Alibaba Group Holding is also known for long hours—some say it pioneered the 996 work schedule. Alibaba declined to comment on that, and a spokesman said the company encourages a work-life balance. Founder Jack Ma has acknowledged the company demands more, but also pays more.
“We ask three people to accomplish a job of five people, and pay them for four,” Mr. Ma, Alibaba’s executive chairman, said at a meeting with investors last year.
I don’t think this pace is sustainable, but there is no doubt that entrepreneurial management (or startup culture) culture has a predilection to induce employees to subordinate their personal goals and needs to the company’s ends. Obviously that’s part of what’s going on here. We can expect CEOs and VCs to continue to wag their fingers and tell us we in the US will have to adopt these practices if we want to prevail in this economy, or else.
I found that story thanks to Christopher Mims, who reviews what he saw and heard at the Wall Street Journal’s Tech D.Live conference this week in What’s the Next Big Thing in Tech? It’s Up to Us. Here’s the mic drop of the conference [emphasis mine]:
In the future, the top jobs are robot engineer and elder caregiver. There’s strong evidence that all routine labor—both physical and mental—is headed toward automation, Mr. [Kai-Fu] Lee of Sinovation Ventures said. This will have profound effects on the nature of work.
While it will certainly take more than five years for the workforce of the future to take shape, it will require a lot of engineers and technicians, mainly for R&D.
But while some people will help automation along, others will resist it. Jobs requiring warmth and compassion will likely still be filled by humans, because the people being cared for don’t want robots in that role. Chief among these occupations will be looking after the world’s elderly.
Not incidentally, Mr. Lee believes that journalism will be among the fields that will be largely automated, so readers should enjoy this column while it lasts.
By the way, it is not at all clear that people don’t want robots to care for them, so don’t expect that job to be reserved for humankind. And that trend will principally be driven by cost decisions by insurers and health companies, not the whims of patients.
Apropos of Lee’s comments above, Miriam Jordan reports that As Immigrant Farmworkers Become More Scarce, Robots Replace Humans:
In a 2017 survey of farmers by the California Farm Bureau Federation, 55 percent reported labor shortages, and the figure was nearly 70 percent for those who depend on seasonal workers. Wage increases in recent years have not compensated for the shortfall, growers said.
Strawberry operations in California, apple orchards in Washington and dairy farms across the country are struggling with the consequences of a shrinking, aging, foreign-born work force; a crackdown at the border; and the failure of Congress to agree on an immigration overhaul that could provide a more steady source of immigrant labor.
Farmhands who benefited from the last immigration amnesty, in 1986, are now in their 50s and represent just a fraction of today’s field workers. As fewer new immigrants have arrived to work in agriculture, the average age of farmworkers has climbed — to 38 in 2016, according to government data, compared with 31 in 2000.
The result? Large-scale deployments of automation: lettuce cutting and weeding, strawberry harvesting, putting garlic into nets, and dozens of other activities are now being handled by robots. Only delicate fruit and vegetables will be harvested by hand in the near future, as the agricultural sector transitions into a high-robot-density era.
Camille Fournier started a fascinating thread about manager readmes or user guides, and then decided to pull it into a blog post (I hate manager READMEs). The basic idea is for managers to write a document that explains how others – particularly direct reports – should approach interactions with those managers. She’s not down with that approach.
If you want to build trust, you do that by showing up, talking to your team both individually and as a team, and behaving in an ethical, reliable manner. Over, and over, and over again. You don’t get it from writing a doc about how you deserve their trust.
A must read.
How to manage rebellious employees | Edward Mady is the general manager of the The Beverly Hills Hotel and he shares some solid thinking on dealing with the rebels.
From the Archives
Different Kinds Of Workers Need Different Kinds Of Workspaces | Stowe Boyd from 2014. Canon Australiarejected Activity-Based Working and built a ‘palette’ of spaces keyed to show people actually use space:
Personally, I would be in the library for 5 hours a day, and the rest floating around.
The real takeaways:
1/ Find out what sorts of work modes are present in your company before committing to any stem-to-stern remake of the office workscape.
2/ The researchers determined that what they discovered ethnographically by direct observation of users correlated strongly with what worker surveys showed. So, a small company can probably rely on a simple survey that provides a range of working styles – maybe more than the three at Canon Australia – and then proceed to a hybrid of traditional and ABW workspace, if that is called for.

Quote of the Day
We must unlearn the constellations to see the stars.
| Jack Gilbert, Tear it Down

crossposted from
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Stowe Boyd, 17 South Cedar Street, Beacon NY 12508