Writen by Michael Beitler

Professor Walter Oechsler of the University of Mannheim (Germany) believes the workplace and workforce in the 21st century will be characterized by "flexibilization." Oechsler sees the "flexibilization" of the workplace and workforce leading to "a core group with unlimited full employment, and an increasingly larger group of short-term limited and/or part-time employees who face severe employment risks, ultimately resulting in stress."

Unfortunately, I must agree with Oechsler's rather unpleasant prediction. Increasing global competition will lead to increasing pressure and stress on all employees. Employees who are unprepared for the new workplace will find themselves at great risk.

Oechsler goes on to describe a major change in corporate strategy. "Whereas the typical corporate strategy of the industrial society was uniform mass production with Tayloristic structures and stable employment, the dominant strategy for global competition is flexible specialization...The strategy of flexible specialization is directed toward customer needs."

This shift in focus from fixed standardized production schedules to flexible customized customer services will dramatically affect the workplace and workforce. The 21st-century employee will have to bring a "flexible specialization" to the 21st-century organization.

Twenty-first century organizations will only be interested in hiring employees who bring a specialization that will serve the flexible needs of customer/clients. Staff positions to support these customer-driven processes will still be available, but these staff positions (non-core competencies) will constantly be re-evaluated in light of possible outsourcing.

Except for a small group of core professionals, employees will have to adopt a mindset of selling their special competencies to different employers. Oechsler envisions these employees as "entrepreneurs marketing their own human resources in order to make a living". Employability will be the key to employee survival, not the stability of the company.

Another powerful trend in the workplace will be the technologically possible "virtual company." Oechsler believes the virtual company can suppress social interaction and lead to new forms of alienation. What we know about group dynamics in face-to-face interactions will have to be re-examined in virtual interactions. How will employees react in the decentralized work structures of the virtual companies? We simply don't know.

Oechsler believes, "Information technologies will dissolve social entities". If Oechsler is correct, what new entities and relationships will be created? I assume the social aspect of our human nature hasn't changed.

Oechsler (2000) summarizes his predictions for the 21st century workforce by saying, "The employee will take on more and severe risks of being unemployed."

The work of organizational effectiveness (OE) consultants will be dramatically affected by these changes in employer-employee relations. The downsizing, outsourcing, and global alliances that began to grab headlines in the 1980s were not simply fads driven by a few greedy capitalists. These trends are indicators of the more powerful megatrends of increasing global competition and increasing technological sophistication. No doubt, numerous psychosocial problems will arise from these trends.

Are you and your organization (or clients) ready for flexibilization?

Dr. Mike Beitler is the author of "Strategic Organizational Change." Read 2 free chapters of the book right now at http://www.strategic-organizational-change.com/


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