We are in the midst of a “less jobs recovery.” Unlike the so-called jobless recovery after the 2001 recession, this period will be marked by “employment waterboarding” – the continuous drip-drip-drip of jobs out of the economy even as businesses stabilize and start to grow again.
This never-ending shrinkage of the job market clearly poses a difficult challenge for American workers. Fewer employment opportunities means more competition for the jobs that do exist. It also reduces the available alternatives and thus the choice a person has among employers.
Despite these negative consequences, however, the diminution of the job market does have a positive aspect. There is an upside to all of the downsizing, not just for organizations, but for the first time, for the people who are affected, as well.
Historically, the rapid expansion of an employer’s structure during periods of economic growth created a number of excess jobs. Certainly, that wasn’t the intent, but it was the reality. In the rush to acquire enough capacity to promote, sustain and, if possible, accelerate business development, at least some positions of marginal utility were established and subsequently filled.
While this excess was clearly inefficient and costly, it did provide many organizations with a valuable strategic advantage. It gave them wiggle room or what business schools like to call “bench strength.” Extra jobs and the additional workers they provided enabled companies to adjust rapidly to shifting market conditions and to exploit those windows of opportunity that give goose bumps to CEOs.
Today, that bench strength is thin to nonexistent in much of corporate America. It has been carved out of the organization and sloughed off in the detritus of the recession. What’s left isn’t a lean enterprise, it’s a hollow one. And that unsubstantial state has forced employers to revalue the structure that remains.
Employers now need every box on the organization chart to make a real and meaningful contribution to their mission. For that to happen, however, those jobs must be filled with capable workers. The jobs themselves produce nothing, of course. It’s the incumbents in those positions—the employees who do the work assigned to the jobs—that enable them to contribute to the organization’s success. And the more able those incumbents, the greater that contribution.
The shrinkage of the job market has, in effect, made the talent of workers vastly more important than it has ever been. Employers no longer have room for “C” level performers and those who don’t pull their weight on-the-job. They need champions in every profession, craft and trade they employ and the maximum output from every employee they hire. And that need—that desperate dependency—gives working men and women the power to control their own fate.
Thanks for reading,