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Destruction or Transformation Published: Sunday, April 23, 2006 By: Dr. Manuel Ángel Morales

There is an increasing paradox between today’s workforce and the workplace and the institutions, policies and external (global) realities that support them. If we don’t pay attention to this delicate tension, we run the risk of having a workforce and an economy holding back from reaching fair potentials. A serious consequence for the future can be a growing gap between winners and losers. We need to create new policies and institutions in ways that give employees and employers greater discretion over their destinies. The times require greater flexibility and adaptability and conventional world wants to structure and to regulate everything.

The old social contract grew out of the images of work and employment relations that were prevalent during the Operation Bootstrap era: a long term relationship with large scale formal organizations, competing mostly in an expanding domestic (or to the most regional) market, involving two types of employees – hourly wage earners and salaried managers. The policies, strategies and institutions that evolved out of the Operation Bootstrap were generally successful in producing a broadly shared prosperity and improved work quality for the majority of the people. Wages and benefits improved in direct proportion with the raising productivity and profits, and loyalty, commitment and good performance on the job were rewarded with increased security, dignity and opportunity. A social contract was crystallized and based on a secure job, health services and a decent retirement. As a consequences, employees would give their consent and support to the institutional system, all parties involved would show reciprocal responsibility and enforceability, and management and administration was undertaken by participants closest to the workplace in a fairly stable environment. Hard work resulted in the incremental expansion and diffusion of comprehensive benefits, employment standards and protections, and systems for fair business and public administration and deployment of workforce policies.

During the last decades these images of work became fatigued by globalization of markets, emerging technologies that created new businesses and shifts in the demand of labor and organization of work, organizational restructuring that displaced senior and white-collar workers, variations in employment types and uncertainty in employment duration, increased diversity in the workforce and more interdependence between family, schools, universities and work responsibilities. The old social contract has given way to a period of a stalemate society characterized by an increased polarization in almost all areas of policies issues and normative positions regarding passages towards economic and social recovery.

In the meantime innovations of how work is organized are spreading gradually, and there are ample spaces for knowledge workers (those with high and technical skills) increasingly doing well in today’s new and emerging labor markets. The new and emerging social contract will have to integrate an economic function (stability, standards of execution, optimization and quality of goods and services) with individual value (dignity, respect, identity, opportunities for learning, creating and innovating), impacting the family, the community and the sense of citizenship.

It is important to realize just how deep and pervasive these new realities are to make the necessary changes and modifications. Individual behavior, social structures, economic assumptions, even paradigms and worldview must all change. These changes are not shallow or easy. But if we do not change vigorously and successfully, we will be much worse than we may think that we are in this historical juncture. The cost of the deterioration and loses will be far larger than the costs of making these changes in the first place would have been. If we continue the shortsighted optic, the consequences can be catastrophic, perhaps even beyond the stretch of our imagination.

In Puerto Rico we need to adopt a collective long-term perspective; promote, conduct and deploy future relevant research; and design for meaningfulness and collaboration. It is crucial that we all move to caring about the well being of all our people. Let us stop fighting and enjoying the cannibalism game. The more and more of us change this inner behavioral perspective, there will be an excellent chance that the necessary outer transformation will also occur.

How would we all react to a bus driver who knew the breaks would give out soon but did not bother to get them fix promptly? If we dare to make the difficult changes, the benefits for this society will be much greater than the costs of making these transformations.

 


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