Beyond signalling the end of summer and back to school, Labour Day has been celebrated in Canada since the 1880s. Immigration and industrialization made workers fear becoming "replaceable", so they protested for fair wages, working conditions and a shorter work week. Since then, we think about Labour Day as a time to acknowledge the contributions of workers but I started thinking about what the modern day employee grapples with. As a result of the digitization of work, information deluge and global competitiveness today's worker feel that workplace survival is all about becoming irreplaceable.
Arguably industrialization revolutionized the workplace, but so has digitization. Working smarter and faster does not always mean easier however. Expectations have increased. I remember working in advertising and spending countless hours faxing creative proofs to clients for approval. Changes would require type to be ordered by the assembly department which did have the upside of hanging out with creatives for a few hours. Not so today! Turnaround is almost immediate which has compressed timelines and even when we face delays, the process appears so easy that the expectation is that time will be made up somewhere along the line. In many ways, the same work can be done so much more efficiently but that account person is doing so much more.
Its not enough to generally be knowledgeable about your industry today. With instantaneous news soundbites, you feel compelled to keep up with the latest and greatest. God forbid you start a meeting with your peers around the table talking about something that happened an hour ago that you don't know anything about. Worst of all, your boss emails you news about one of your clients that you don't share first! "Fear of missing out" has now been replaced by "fear of not knowing". Hence, hyper-connectivity has become the norm, reducing the average human attention span to what studies say are less than that of a goldfish (Source: National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, The Associated Press). Next time you're feeling particularly stressed during your work day, you should be relieved to know that a goldfish may actually feel less overwhelmed by the various demands of your job.
Globalization hasn't only required companies and countries to reinvent themselves, but has also the profile of what makes an attractive candidate for a job. For anyone who has had the recent pleasure of interviewing for entry-level positions, you may have come across any number of recent business school graduates, who not only found time to volunteer at a non-profit in some remote part of the world, but may have had the benefit of an impressive internship outside of Canada. How do mere mortals compete today? I was at a conference recently where "transferable skills" were being referred to from a cross-country or culture perspective not functional area. International work experience has become a career game changer.
This Labour Day, sometime after BBQing and before watching the fireworks, take a moment to contemplate how your work environment has evolved and how you can successfully adapt.
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