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December 27, 2001
Employers' Upper Hand Won't Last
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le this year saw the balance of power shift away from employees and toward employers, the Christian Science Monitor warns that the change will be only temporary.

For now, American workers are looking for stability in their jobs, as they see the demise of dot-coms, the fallout of Sept. 11, and the economy's plunge into recession.

According to a survey of chief financial officers conducted by Robert Half International, 28 percent of CFOs interviewed said they wanted a stable employer above all else - including salary and advancement opportunities.

While that survey only covers one of the top echelons of the workplace, career and workplace experts tell the Monitor that stability is coveted at every level these days.

So employers once again have the upper hand in the see-sawing balance of power, which in recent years has tilted unquestionably in favor of employees. In the tightened economy, employees no longer flit from job to job, and employers no longer go begging for qualified talent.

But experts interviewed by the Monitor warn that this won't last. By no means, they add, does it give employers the leeway to downsize with the kind of slash-and-burn ruthlessness they exhibited in the late 1980s.

Due to a confluence of forces that have emerged over the past decade - including increased awareness of human-resource issues in the workplace as well as the irrevocable information revolution - skilled employees will continue to wield extensive power in the marketplace, according to the experts.

"The pendulum swinging in favor of organizations is very, very short-lived," says Dan Pink, author of the book, "Free Agent Nation."

"In the grand scheme of things, the meta-pendulum has already swung. Forces that are much, much larger than business cycles have shifted the balance enduringly," he adds.

Unskilled workers are always vulnerable to swings in the economy, say experts, while the top 10 percent of the workforce will always be able to write its own ticket, even in difficult times. But in general, they say, the average worker has more options today - giving him or her more freedom in the marketplace.

For one thing, the information revolution has changed, and will continue to change the workplace, despite the bursting of the dot-com bubble. Laptops simply make it easier for workers to operate more independently within organizations, or as contractors.

"That's a change that is enduring," Pink says. "It has nothing to do with business cycles, and everything to do with a shift in how work is done and what sorts of things are valuable."

For employees who do get laid off these days, it is much more likely than ever before that they will be offered outplacement services than just handed a pink slip and told to clear out. That's due in part, say human-resource experts, to ongoing shifts in employer attitudes toward their workers.

Instead of seeing workers as resources to be used and then replaced, as was the case in the 1980s, employees are often seen now as "human capital" - something to invest in and nurture.


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