If you listen carefully, every news story is an HR story.
Currently, business journalists are excited about the race to be the first $1 trillion company. The front-runners are Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. Some would throw Microsoft and Tesla in the mix. It’s probably going to be Apple, but Amazon is in the running because they are killing it with Alexa and the distribution of physical goods around America.
(Amazon owns the last mile to your doorstep through the use of everything from drones to contractors to part-time working moms. That’s a huge advantage over its rivals.)
I just wonder — who the hell is going to buy anything?
There’s been a decimation of middle-class jobs in America in every industry from pharma to retail. The workforce is aging, but older workers face obscene barriers to employment. More and more of us are in the gig economy, which means we pay a more substantial portion of everything from office supplies to mobile phones to health insurance. And younger workers have burdensome student loans to pay off.
When Google merges with Walmart and Amazon buys Target, we might have better prices and instant access to goods and services, but who’s still shopping? When Alexa wants to reorder diapers without approval, and Google Home wants consumers to buy things they don’t need, where does that discretionary income come from? When the only real way to build wealth is to stop spending money, but our society is created and ruled by consumer giants, how do I participate in this civilization without going bankrupt?
Personally, I’m with Elon Musk. I believe in basic income. Pay people a basic wage that recognizes their past contributions to the overall knowledge economy. Make sure everybody has a decent standard of living regardless of race, religion or previous criminal convictions. It’s not welfare or reparations, but a shared understanding that our data and privacy have been mined and leveraged to build this new world of Apple-icious and Amazonian wealth. Everybody deserves compensation for our time and attention online.
HR professionals have a huge role to play in the future of work. You’ll need to rethink “vocation” and “compensation” by applying your industry knowledge to a new structure of employment. You already know how to incentivize workers and create optimized teams. If people want to earn more money beyond basic income, you could help to build functioning systems to educate and retrain the workforce.
As companies rush towards a $1-trillion-dollar-market-cap, there’s a profound need for HR professionals to be in leadership roles and draw a link between the consumer and the worker. (Spoiler alert: They’re both the same.) If we want a future society where there’s a big class of people who can buy stuff, we have to include those buyers in the build.
For me, that’s the future of HR. I hope you have a role somewhere in that conversation in 2018 and beyond.