For decades, the social contract of labour was to get a job in a company, grow on that job, and retire while working for that firm. Then, people spent decades in one company. The phrases “company man”, “company lifer”, and “one-company man” made sense.
Then in early 1980s, the redesign started: companies started killing that social work contract between employer and employee. Legends like Jack Welch of GE made it a management system – fire the bottom performers, promote the best. It went wild and just like that, there was no hiding place. American law evolved, the world followed: no human has any protection from axing managers. Labor was indeed labor, tedious and painful because jobs were offered as “as is”, uncontracted.
Before then, employees were loyal. Resumes or CVs were like classified documents: they were totally personal and secretive. But as the employees saw the dismantling of the work order, they revolted. They needed to, because they had lives and families to take care.
LinkedIn, a professional networking site, provided a cover, for these global employees. Simply, across industrial sectors, people felt it was normal to post their resumes publicly, for all to see, including the present employer and potential ones. The secretive resumes were gone. You can see the resumes unconstrained and unbounded on LinkedIn. That was a new world.
A local Nigerian proverb explains it all: “As hunters have learned to shoot without missing, birds will have no choice but learn to fly without perching”. In my local language which I share with peerless Chinua Achebe, he used the Eneke, a bird, to take home the same point, “Men have learned to shoot without missing their mark and I have learned to fly without perching on a twig.” We are the Enekes and we are flying on LinkedIn without deleting our accounts. That is the only way to survive in a world of firing managers.
If the bosses and managers could not honour the workers with secure and guaranteed employment, the workers have the rights to tell the world that they are available for work. It is evident the employers do not care, with episodes of mass sacks happening weekly across the world.
And unlike in the past, employees cannot say the workers are sharing resumes [to depart], because LinkedIn made it so cool, attracting even the employers to the ecosystems. It was the genius of a man named Reid Hoffman (a founder of LinkedIn) that you can share your resume publicly, and no one in HR will question your absolute loyalty to a current firm. Before LinkedIn, that was a big issue, a real revenge: tit for tit, and tat for tat. Game on.
Today, every employee is available and ready, reminding the employers that workers will not just wait for them to fire them. The LinkedIn revenge continues. But I am seeing something entirely new: employers are plotting the next one.
Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)
I hate to write this but I am seeing African companies investing in documenting their business processes. It is framed that SOPs are needed for business continuity and organizational succession. It is indeed because you want the capacity for any process or job to be easily done by another person. It is one way of handling the key-man risk where if one guy leaves, a system struggles. But when everything is documented, that risk is taken away, on some jobs.
Yet, the fact is this: as companies perfect that, we will see a labour of plug and play where older and experienced people will make way for less experienced ones and evidently more affordable. Labour is going to be redesigned in the age of AI and many jobs will be at risk.
To employees, the risk is there: as firms document everything that you do, they can easily feed those in machines in near future or get people to do them. The escape, for workers, is to get new skills and continue to update the LinkedIn accounts because in this age, I am not sure employers see us as humans; most see us as numbers. That is unfortunate.