Less than two hundred years ago nearly everyone was self-employed. Most statistics state that 75% ere involved in agriculture, tilling their own land and raising their own livestock, often it was a family undertaking. The industrial revolution virtually transposed those figures, 75-80% of the workforce were employees of an organization, whether it be government, business or education. Now at a faster rate, we are going to a knowledge focused workforce of entrepreneurs, contracted consultants, individual contributors, and the self-employed.
The same held true for social tasks. Raising and educating children, healing the sick, and assisting the aged was a family obligation. Less than one hundred years ago nearly all babies were born at home. Now most all American babies are born in a hospital. Today all of these social necessities are provided by day care centers, specialized business services, hospitals, health care systems, public and private schools, and universities.
A pluralistic society is nothing new, we have lived through several sources of influence and power; government, business, the church, and civic organizations like the American Red Cross and the Boy Scouts. But there is a big difference in the pluralisms of today from those of prior centuries. The early pluralisms were based on wielding and maintaining power. Today’s pluralisms are based upon function. In previous times, kings outranked dukes, that outranked counts, that outranked a knight. Likewise the pope outranked cardinals that outranked bishops. There was never a challenge in understanding each other. There was no such thing as a communication issue.
Today, no Director of Pharmacy at a university medical center is concerned whether she or he “outranks” the IT Director or the Regional Sales Manager of a pharmaceutical company. But everyone is rightly concerned with proper communication. The rights and responsibilities of the individual have changed with the evolution of our pluralisms. I earlier times, individuals were expendable. Institutions of all kinds did not depend on them. So because of this, individuals had no bargaining power. Quoting Marx, individuals were industrial cannon fodder. No longer!
Today’s organizations are now a collection of knowledge workers. Employers too, have come to learn to not refer to these individuals as employees, or workers, or laborers, but colleagues. These “knowledge workers” have bargaining power, they have influence, they have social and economic status, and they have a high degree of clout.
The successful organizations of today must continue to give attention to and revolve the responsibilities and the rights of “knowledge workers” in our evolving pluralisms in an information age.