What Will Work Look Like in a Post-Consumer Society?

From the beginning of the Industrial Age in the west, Europe and North America built their wealth thanks to a consumer society.  Consumers bought things, driving demand for more goods and providing jobs for more people.  People moved to urban centers where factories, then industrial parks, grew and grew.  The need for managers grew as more employees were hired; managers needed to be better educated than their direct reports, so the demand for college education increased.  The middle class grew.  Fewer people were starving.  After two world wars and a Great Depression in the 20th century, it seemed like the sky was the limit.

Then the bottom dropped out.  2008 happened.

Shell-shocked, many of us are still wondering what hit us.  (I had breakfast with a couple of hundred realtors recently, many of whom are waiting for life to go back to the way it was in 2005.  They don’t seem to recognize that things have changed, perhaps permanently.)

At the same time, many of us learned an important lesson: we really don’t need a huge house, several cars and scads of possessions.  What we need are friends, family, spiritual and emotional sustenance.

Well and good, but what does that mean for the future of work?  With fewer people buying, there’s less demand.  Less demand means fewer jobs across all sectors.

  1. Technology is getting smarter, faster and cheaper very quickly.  MacDonalds is experimenting with automated order takers, Starbucks with automated baristas, Safeway and Home Depot with self-check out stands.
  2. Employers, seeking to control costs, find ways to automate more and more white collar jobs because those employees are very expensive assets.  That means fewer jobs, too.
  3. Meanwhile, employees are getting pickier about the companies they work for and the jobs they do.  They’ve learned to get by on less and be all the happier for it.
So what does that mean for jobs in the future?
Will we still all need to work for a living?  If the work isn’t there, what will we do to survive?
What will work look like if so much of what employees used to do is automated?
mb@douglas-partners.com' About Mary Beth Deans

Mary Beth (MB), managing director of Douglas Partners, works with clients to simplify business processes and ease the pain of new or upgraded technology, especially for HR and Payroll. She leads complex teams to ensure client needs are met and that her clients are able to take full advantage of new tools and best practices. Read more of Mary Beth's at douglas-partners.com/blog.html

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