Gov Career

By Phil Piemonte

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The deal of the last century

The beginning of the year is a time not only to look toward the future, but also to look back on the past.

And it's probably not overreaching to speculate that, given the changes hitting the federal workplace, a lot of feds these days might view the past in a somewhat brighter light than the future.

This much is clear: Outside the federal sphere, the American workplace is way, way different than it used to be. Looking past any perceived issues of what's "fair" or not, the fact is that the broader workplace—and the workers in it—have changed substantially over the last few decades. And so have employers.

Generally speaking, out in today's world, the old 20th Century model in which an employee more or less furnished his or her long-term labor and loyalty to only one or two employers over the course of a working career is … well … simply gone.

Also gone is what employees used to trade that labor and loyalty for: Long-term job security. Employees had a reasonable expectation of fair treatment during their working careers, and a decent pension and benefits at the end of it.

That expectation was contingent on the employer's part of the bargain: The obligation to provide good stewardship of the company in a way that acknowledged that people and money were two separate things—a quaint notion that predated the concept of "human capital."

Of course, there always have been good and bad employers, as well as good and bad employees. And as in a marriage (another kind of long-term pact), there always have been rough times—things like labor strikes, recessions, etc.

And while this model may not have held true all the time, everywhere, during the last century, it sure was the way things worked in a lot of industries in a whole lot of towns and cities across America.

It was The Deal. And a lot of Americans liked it.

There was a 1960s documentary on TV the other day, one done by the same guys who filmed Gimme Shelter, which documented the Rolling Stones' 1969 tour.

This one was simply called Salesman. The film documented the travails of four down-and out, door-to-door Bible salesmen. One of the salesmen, who came from an Irish neighborhood in Boston, kept repeating the same phrase to himself (in an exaggerated brogue) every time his sales soured: "Jine da fahrse an' git da pinshun!"

It was advice he hadn't taken as a young man—to become a policeman or fireman—to "join the force and get the pension. "

In his neighborhood, that was The Deal.

And today, for almost everyone, it's gone. Employees move from job to job. Employers, preferring the fiscal flexibility of an on-demand workforce, hire and fire with an eye on the bottom line.

Yes, The Deal is pretty much gone.

Except in the public sector. And even there, as you well know, it's starting to fray at the edges.

So, we are wondering: If The Deal vanishes in the public sector as well, as it seems gradually to be doing, how will it change the public-sector workforce?

More than a few federal employees say they work where they do because it serves the public good.

But will people still commit to a career in public service if public-service employers no longer commit to them?

You're a fed; what do you think?


Posted by Phil Piemonte on Jan 02, 2013 at 4:02 PM

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