Over the past few weeks, I have been talking with friends and colleagues about the sad state of the American workforce. Psychologically, I see a disheartened, shocked, and sometimes angry group of people who have been put to the curb by their employers.
Out of these conversations, came the thought that we have all been institutionalized – pun intended.
This weekend, I went and looked up the definition of “institutionalize” and found this:
“1a To make into, treat as, or give the character of an institution. B To make part of a structured and usu. well-established system. 2. To place (a person) in the care of an institution.”
Now, let’s think about our careers for a moment. When we were offered our jobs, we were provided a job title, job description, and specific duties and tasks to perform. When we looked for future employment, we looked for similar jobs in our field of expertise, perhaps ones that had more responsibility, better pay, and benefits with a better work culture.
Folks, we have been institutionalized. Ever since we started school, we have conformed to existing organizational structures, fitting into the culture, job requirements, and overall make-up of our organization.
This is not a bad thing. In fact, that is the only way organizations can move forward. They need rules, regulations, and standards to provide direction to their workforce.
But what happens when the organization goes away? What happens to the workers that have been trained and molded for 20 years in the same institution? Without any guidance and support from a well-established system, how are workers supposed to assess their skills and apply them to new job opportunities? Suddenly, we find ourselves in a straight jacket, shouting and yelling that we don’t belong here!
We are an institutionalized workforce that has lost many of its working institutions.
This is our greatest challenge: To rediscover our skills, strengths, and capabilities and use them to build a new infrastructure for our workforce. We need to overcome the fear of the unknown, the pain of job loss, and the pressure that seems to be building around us every day.
The onus is on all of us to define our roles in the new workforce and the new economy. If we fail to take that leap, we will be at the mercy of those willing to break the institutional mold in creating new organizations and infrastructure.