The new normal – not so very new?

Perhaps it is because of the industry in which I mainly work – information technology – that I haven’t fully identified with the statements I have heard or read in the news media: that the world of work in America has fundamentally changed over the past two years.  It seems to me that the rest of the country is simply catching up to the reality that I have been experiencing for decades.

Admittedly, more than once I wished I could have had the dependable, single-employer type of career that my parents’ generation enjoyed – that might have been less stressful and not taken such a toll on health and family.  But that was not to be the case.  In my business, so many of us had to take charge of our own future and deal with continual change.  Contracts come and go, and companies form and fall apart, in only a few years at best.   For a period, I could count the number of managers I had worked for as a multiple of the years I had been employed.  Any stability I might have perceived at the time – mostly earlier in my career – was illusory.  

So how did we deal with this emerging world where the traditional relationships among employers and workers were breaking down?  Many of us had to continually retrain ourselves – including spending our own hard-earned money – to keep up with the rapid changes in the industry: new technologies, new modes of service delivery, constant intense competition (from other companies, but also from our aggressive peers).  We became accustomed to the fact that our work was in the form of mostly short-lived projects – all temporary, and each one different (unlike Crowther’s twisty little passages, all alike, or not?). 

On the plus side, especially for those of us with short attention spans, there always has been something new – a new problem to solve, a new technology to learn, new people to meet, new spaces to experience…  On the down side, there have been periods for many of us when we have been un- or under-employed. 

In defense of the media I have been questioning, the current unemployment situation is much more serious than has occurred in our or the previous generation – this is not normal.  But I have yet to be convinced that it is the new normal.  That being said, for those who had been fortunate enough to live in the old world of work for a few years, perhaps there is a new normal for them.  But this has been the normal for us in the information technology industry for many years now.  If you are new to this normal, then you will have to learn to shift with the times – to be more agile and constantly learning.   Welcome to the future! 

December 23rd, 2010 by