Corporate jobs may finish-off humans way before Climate Change does.

Here are 5 reasons why

Photo by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash

Corporate jobs have always had a bad reputation: boring, unsatisfying, alienating, politically toxic, stressful. At times, self-hate affirming. Other times, homicide-inducing.

Then came the age of “better workplaces”: emphasis on “quality of life”, “diversity”, “inclusion”. And then came the gimmicks: the ping pong tables, the conference room yoga classes, the origami “well-being” workshops (cringe)

It’s all a bunch of BS. Really.

Over the past few decades, we’ve been made to believe that big companies, our employers, have been “fighting with each other” on who will provide the best quality of life for their employees. The best benefits and perks.

Aw…they are fighting over us.

For a while we were even told a 4-day workweek was on the way. Not so fast. The truth is, working conditions in corporate offices have seen a steady deterioration, which I will dare say is recently accelerating thanks to a number of things happening inside and outside of the office.

We are at the doorstep of the 4th Industrial Revolution: one of artificial intelligence, robotics, quantum computing, genome editing and other innovations that are so momentous that they will make previous industrial revolutions look like a small blips in human history. But they are also dramatically changing how we work, and what is expected of us as employees.

But there is something missing..

Photo by Chris Slupski on Unsplash

The previous industrial revolution was accompanied, or should I say followed, by a Workers’ Movement that put in place some hard-earned safeguards for workers. Nothing big, just a few minor things here and there like, say, the 8-hour day, lunch breaks, sick days, health and safety, holidays, maternity leave, you know.

We are missing today’s Movement!

Because our workplaces and working conditions are about to be heavily disrupted again. The have already been undergoing tremendous transformation thanks to this new Industrial Revolution. Our hard-earned workers’ rights are increasingly not applicable to the new environment of the gig economy, remote working, and the AI’s that are apparently going to walk through the door any day now, ace the job interview, and steal our job. Well, in many areas like travel booking and warehousing they have done that already. Transportation sector is next.

We need new rules

Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash

And I’m sorry to say that we will have to fight for them, the old fashioned way, by getting out there on the street and shouting. What we forget today is that basic workers’ rights were paid for with blood sweat and tears. Workers had to literally die before companies and governments even started moving their feet, until they finally legislated basic work standards. The immense human cost of the previous industrial revolution led to social upheaval, political movements like communism, unionisation and eventually the rights that we enjoy today as workers.

We are in the middle of a perfect storm of disruption in the jobs market and society and, judging from the last time we had a technological revolution, many people will suffer before even the most basic of safeguards are put in place.

Below are some of the areas where employees are already starting to feel the negative effects of the 4th industrial revolution:

1. Toxic HR systems and more stringent performance monitoring

There is increasing pressure on employees to perform. As companies monitor their financial figures in more and more sophisticated ways using technology and software, HR departments are increasingly moving from managing people to managing money.

HR departments are fast becoming accounting departments: seeing how they can get the most work out of the fewest employees at the lowest possible salary, with the most health and job satisfaction risk to the employee that they can get away with legally, or illegally

The HR profession has become a complete disgrace: when much of the job of an HR employee is supposed to be around employee happiness, growth and productivity, many HR departments have become “war rooms” in covering up employee mistreatment, discrimination and rampant mental health scandals associated with today’s workplaces. When the focus should be on prevention of job dissatisfaction and work-related risks, HR departments today are focusing on becoming efficient legal machines ready to fight off expensive settlement cases. The way HR works today can be summed up as purely toxic. And its getting worse. Although employees may have more legal leverage, they are seen by HR departments as more expendable than ever. Statistical terms like “turnover” are meant to take the human dimension out of HR.

In a chicken factory, its all about numbers of chickens, not about whether the chickens are having fun.

2. The real robots aren’t here yet, so you need to be the robot

Automation and AI so far have been nothing but a hype in terms of impact on our work, especially in white collar jobs. Yes, we will be disrupted, and many of us will lose our jobs, but before that happens our jobs will become much harder for us as we are under increasing pressure to be “the robots that never arrived”. This is already happening.

In humanity’s ever increasing obsession with performance, employees are being monitored to death and asked to compete with the machines that are not here yet: being able to seamlessly switch between tasks, increase both quality and quantity, and not have any feelings whatsoever on whether their job actually makes them feel fulfilled or not

Shit basically just needs to get done. The expectation of automation has put all of us on alert, not to mention given us technological anxiety. In many cases of implemented “automation”, although the total output increases, humans have become even busier than before: having to spend a lot of time monitoring the machines, and having to take the big, stressful decisions that machines still cannot take.

3. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide

Working from home was enabled by remote technologies. It is the same technologies however that have encouraged an “always on”, “always available” culture that is leading to an epidemic of stress. On Skype For Business and similar applications, employees can see which other employees are “online” and how long they have been “offline” for. It is now well accepted that this has contributed directly to the epidemic of occupational anxiety. Mobile phones have become a curse, with work e-mails following us wherever we go. It is likely that as we become more hardwired into technology, this will worsen: the more remote our work becomes the more attached to it we will be: around the clock, and under the watchful eye of our boss and the office peer pressure.

It is possible to even think of a day when work and personal life will not be separate anymore. They will be one and the same

How far will things go? Are we at the breaking point already or are things about to get much worse?

4. Entrenched, digital discrimination in the age of Instagram, Linkedin and AI hiring programs

You thought “me too” and “black lives matter” brought us closer to equality in the workplace? Not so fast. While there is a general movement towards becoming more aware of unconscious bias based on race, gender, sexual orientation etc., at the same time our society is already becoming the victim of the digital authoritarianism of Instagram and Linkedin. Social media sites where we “curate” our personal and professional lives are nothing but brochures that perpetuate negative and backwards social stereotypes. These stereotypes become data, and this data becomes part of AI algorithms that browse CV databases and supposedly shorlist the best candidates when, in reality, they are looking for the candidate that best matches the previous most succesful candidate.

While human bias has always been a problem in candidate selection, the digitalisation of candidate shortlisting is likely to magnify bias. The most sinister thing about this is that we won’t know why the algorithm was biased. In fact, the algorithm itself won’t even know.

It is one thing humans being racist, but encoding our racism into AI is another dangerous level. While there is hope that “blind” candidate screening and similar methods can limit this, ensuring gender, name and other information are completely hidden, using AI runs another risk: that of “accidental” discrimination. The algorithm will naturally “chuck out” any CV that looks odd. Einstein would not pass simply because of hair styling issues. But Einstein was a one of a kind human. In fact, every human is one of a kind. AI will not be able to appreciate a unique human because it compares everything to the data it has been trained on. It looks for similarities to what it has seen before.

The mental health toll of this on us, as we become competitive with each other, cannot be underestimated. As we all compete to curate our lives so that we can get the perfect job and trick the algorithm, we risk serious mental disease. Because we become fake. We become imposters.

So you’re a white heterosexual male who enjoys knitting sweaters in your spare time. Why hide it?

Because today there is nothing you can hide. As more and more of ourselves is out there on the social media, we cannot resist curating this avatar to fit an acceptable stereotype. We are not only discriminating against others, we are faking ourselves.

5. Jobs are vanishing. Haven’t you heard?

It is one thing work not being fun anymore, it is another to not have work. The AI revolution has already started disrupting many industries. The reason we haven’t heard about it is because the number of jobs lost is not huge yet, and many have moved into the controversial “gig economy”. It is also because it has happened quietly and gradually so far, and in “back office” industries like travel bookings, warehouse storage and other jobs that are now entirely AI-susceptible. But the pace of change is about to increase as AI becomes more intelligent, and high-paying jobs begin to be affected. Various scenarios predict high unemployment, lower wages, and an entire generation of workers unable to adapt to new skillsets.

How about a Basic Universal Income, anyone?

You can follow me on Twitter @99blackbaloons

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Author, podcaster, scientist, documenting our system failure. Photographic Heart, Disposable Earth, Age of Separateness, Becoming Imperfect. tsakraklides.com

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