The Loneliness of the Long Distance Worker

#WF11 how Chinese birth-rates and 'visits to the park' impact the future workforce

Hi, I’m Andy Spence and this is the Workforce Futurist Newsletter about the rapidly changing world of work.

Thanks to all the new subscribers – especially Conor, Stefania, and Yvette!

This is the 11th regular article delivered to your inbox every other week.  Thanks to all those who have shared these articles. If you enjoy the content, please ❤️ above , share it with friends, and consider subscribing if you haven’t already 👇

This week I set out to write about DAOs (which will now be a longer essay) but ended up writing about sex, the loneliness epidemic and football.  How do they relate to workforce trends you may well wonder?

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Worker

One of my research interests is how the workforce is changing in the Digital Covid Age. Less about employment statistics, and more around where people find financial security, belonging, and sense of purpose.  Our needs are fairly consistent, but how we fulfil them is swirling around in an age of streaming money, tiktokification, and masks. The ‘traditional job’ has ticked some of these boxes for some people, but is now being dismantled.

In his article, Rex Woodbury describes How the Internet Is Reacting to the Loneliness Epidemic. Half of Brits over 65 consider the television📺 or a pet🐶 to be their main source of company. And more evidence of loneliness is provided from changes in the family to different expectations of generations.

What problem does Facebook solve? Loneliness.

A few years ago, I heard Alain de Botton explain that platforms need to fulfil deep-seated problems. The challenge to entrepreneurs was to solve problems higher up the hierarchy of needs.

If the 2010s were about people’s need for ‘status’ online—manifesting in curated Instagram feeds and filtered selfies—then the 2020s are about people’s need for ‘belonging’.

The article outlines three main ways that the internet is reacting to the loneliness epidemic:

the commodification of intimacy - an example with online relationships with OnlyFans creators becoming replacements for real-life intimacy.

the shift from status to belonging – an example of gaming becoming more social, less about winning, and more about hanging out with friends.

the socialization of the economy – every aspect of the economy is becoming more community-centric. From Finance (social investing) to Education (cohort courses) and Healthcare (apps to connect people with similar health issues).

What will be the impact on Employers?

The biggest competition for workers in some sectors is not the rival supermarket, but the pull of 24/7 streaming entertainment from Discord, YouTube, Twitch. Expensive status symbols exchanged for months of hard graft aren’t required to attract a mate or a date.

Some employers are going to struggle to persuade people it’s worth turning up for work.  In competitive labor markets, winning employers will need to provide better financial security, a sense of belonging, and a smattering of purpose.

One finding from my research on the impact of work-matching platforms is that it will lead to much more frequent job/contract/project changes as people move around more. The platforms make this easier, and expected improved social protection for independent workers will accelerate it.

Although the narrative of the so-called ‘creator economy’ is all about individualistic freedom to follow your passions, the real story will be the millions of teams that are created.

The employer brand - aka Why would I want to work for you? now includes all types of contract, agency, and freelance workers, not just the ones who show up on an internal org chart or payroll.

Employers will need to provide opportunities for earning digital cash but also solve some of our higher-order needs too. 

For in-demand skills, watch out for the rise of Workforce Anthropologists as the ‘new Epidemiologists’.

Netflix and Pill

As lockdowns forced couples to ‘Netflix and chill’ every night, it seemed plausible that covid-19 might lead to a baby boom. Instead, it has caused a bust.

Initial data from the Economist shows that birth-rate drops might result in 10 million fewer births which is similar to their estimates of excess deaths from Covid-19.

The article has a tenuous theory on how ‘visits to parks’ influence the birth rate, and titled the article ‘Parks and procreation’ – at least the dismal ones have a sense of humour.

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China’s Future Workforce

We might find that the pandemic birth rate dip bounces right back.

However, China’s birth rate has seen a steep decline according to a recent census.

In response, China has announced it will allow couples to have up to three children in a major policy shift.

Labor economists obsess over monthly non-farm payroll data, but what happens in China really matters in the longer term. Wages in the west have been suppressed since the 1980s, with 600 million Chinese workers joining the global workforce. And this is also the biggest reduction in poverty in human history.

It’s been said China will get old before it gets rich due to its’ demographics.

The census showed China's working-age population has fallen from 70% to 63% since 2010.

As I outlined in my post on New Year’s day, in theory, with less labour available, workers might have more bargaining power.

We’ll see how this plays out, but despite a declining workforce, China still has about 880 million workers. The workforce is shrinking, but also getting smarter. Educational levels are improving with people with degrees increased by 70%, and 40% of these workers are in STEM fields.

The Flu is Gone

Some much-needed good news is that Flu Has Disappeared Worldwide during the COVID Pandemic. The public health measures that slow the spread of the novel coronavirus work really well on influenza too.

Manager of the Week

It’s hard to mention football this week, coming from the red side of Manchester.

For a few years, I have hosted the #HRAndHashtags Fantasy Football⚽ league.

The league includes some of the greatest armchair managers in HR and Technology and past winners have included David ‘assisted by Watson’ Green, Damon ‘Kloppette’ Klotz, and James ‘Wise Owl’ Pike.

Congratulations to the winner this year David Wood, and runners-up Jeffrey Rohrs, and Damon Klotz.

Well done to all managers in what is the ultimate annual performance review.

Remind me if you would like to enter the competition before the start of next season, 14th August.

Do share with me your comments, experiences and insights - just reply to this email, or connect on Twitter or LinkedIn.