What Difference a Century Doesn’t Make: The Roaring ‘20s -Then and Now

August 4th, 2020 truthinbenefits

Imagine you are entering the workforce as a young man or woman. The world looks pretty scary after years of foreign war, political upheaval, and a global pandemic. There are many well-known titans of business that have made billions of dollars inventing life-changing technologies and products. You are optimistic about the future, yet nervous about your standing given the waves of immigrants coming in from other countries. Technology is changing fast, and the economy is forever changed because of it. You see new inventions rolling out often, and you are excited about what the world is about to become. It’s a weird mix of optimism and anxiety.

Does that describe the young person of the ‘20’s?

Which century? Because if we can look beyond the last 10 minutes of history, we will see that the same conditions that existed for a young person in the 1920s also seem to exist today in the 2020s.

Think about it; just as then, we are now on the precipice of incredible change and opportunity, while at the same time facing incredible uncertainty on what the world is going to look like in the next 10 years.

A century ago we went from horse drawn carriages and chopping off limbs that had wound infections to automobiles with the internal combustion engine and penicillin. Production of machine parts, medicine, and industrial food took millions of young people from small family farms to the cities to produce the consumer goods and products that transformed the world economy permanently. These changes were ubiquitous, as they not only impacted the economy, but also impacted the traditional gender roles, education, and creating a category of people, the “middle class”.

Look at our society today. The tangible items that are changing are different, but the impact of what is changing is the same. What have we seen from the technology revolution? We are seeing a move from those offices, to virtual work, powered by technology-based tools. We are morphing from tangible inventions to those that are virtual, which will be no less impactful from the steel and rubber inventions from a century ago.

Our psyche is similar. We can see politicians trying to tap into that desire of the people to get back to life as it was before. Consider that Warren G. Harding’s campaign slogan for the 1920 election was ”Return to Normalcy”. He won on that platform.

Are our desires today any different?

As employers, how are you addressing and adapting as a result of this change? As usual, you are going to be asked to lead the charge and shape the future, no matter what the politicians promise from on high. How are you going to recruit and retain this hypothetical young person of the ‘20s who has the same optimism and drive, but who also has the same fears and reservations of the version of the same person from a century earlier?

We contend that the concept of work that dominated conventional wisdom of the 20th century is dead. What was offered as an employee benefit in the form of “insurance” is also dead, and in the 2020s can no longer be considered a “benefit” at all, but rather a detriment.

The concept of work and having a job is evolving to one that is more open, flexible, transparent, and decentralized. While the benefits being offered are still closed, opaque, monolithic, and structured.

The avenues to address your benefits program are available if HR and leaders of organizations are willing to break the conventional wisdom of how to recruit and retain this generation of people coming of age in the roaring ‘20s.

Tom DiLiegro

Benefit Advisors of Charleston, LLC

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