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Workplace Calisthenics

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by Cal LeMon

I just cannot believe it! You would think an asteroid is less than two days away from making God's green earth the latest celestial roadkill.

To those of you storing water, emptying your bank accounts and digging caves get a life! None of your dire predictions about 11:59:59, Dec. 31, 1999, spilling us into a computer-orchestrated apocalypse will happen. And the reason it will be business as usual is business.

Now let's think this through. You are the CEO of an airline, a bank, an electric utility, a cashew chicken outlet or car wash. Do you really think any responsible, computer-dependent businessperson will let Y2K close the doors Jan. 1, 2000? I don't think so!

There is a motivator out there which will always get in gear the posterior of any credible businessperson: profit. As a matter of fact, I feel much better about the marketplace solving the Y2K glitch than our willingness to end the "acceptable" business practices of lying over the phone, inflating prices or reneging on a verbal promise.

No, this Y2K issue is a problem, but it is small potatoes when you look at what our "just-in-time" workplace is already dishing up.

Y2K is a piece of cake compared with what the microelectronics revolution is doing to the working class in the world economy.

Here is a scary number to nestle into your neurons: More than 75 percent of the labor force in most industrialized nations is engaged in work which is little more than simple, repetitive tasks. Think about that number.

Guess who gets sighted into the computer crosshairs of a nameless efficiency expert? You got it. If business can replace people with PCs which never whine, organize for collective bargaining, have children who get sick, want their birthday off with pay or talk behind your back then, let's plug in.

The last thing I am suggesting is unplugging. My business runs more efficiently and provides greater client service because of the electronic hum in my offices. My appeal is that when we plug in, we also look around.

Look around at the 800 million unemployed people in the world today who would work if there were jobs which did not require someone to "log on."

Look at the radical transformation of the U.S. work force, where only 17 percent are now engaged in what could be termed "blue-collar" jobs. Look closely at the 2 million jobs that have been annually eliminated by U.S. corporations in the last six years. Y2K gets the press, but these people are getting the boot.

One of the significant reasons behind an economy which is in the black, has been the wholesale distribution of pink slips. I like the benefits of microelectronics, but not the long-term implications.

What scares me most about the future is the development of a new definition of the "haves" and the "have-nots." There was a time when, if you worked hard enough, you could inch your way up our capitalistic ladder. The people who did not demonstrate "the drive" languished at the bottom rung and often bought the audiocassette tapes (that they couldn't afford) of the "climbers."

It seems to me the new measure of the haves will be people who have the desire and aptitude to master microelectronics. If I'm right, we are in trouble.

The U.S. Department of Education recently stated, "90 million Americans are so poorly educated that they cannot even write a brief letter explaining an error on a credit card, figure out a Saturday departure on a bus schedule or use a calculator to determine the difference between a sale price and regular price."

The implications are immense. We may be programming an "underclass" who do not have the interest or ability to hit F7 when it counts. Are we willing to further exacerbate an economic and social class struggle for the immediate gratification of our hyperlink mania?

So, if you want to bite your nails to the quick or twirl your hair into knots, forget the Y2K. As long as there is a profit to be made, it will be business as usual Jan. 1, 2000. The real problem with computers is they may be the only humming thing you can have a coffee break with on Jan. 2.

(Dr. Cal LeMon solves organizational problems with customized training and consulting. His company, The Executive Edge, can be contacted at his Web site,

www.executive-edge.com

by phone at 889-4040 or e-mail at callemon@aol.)

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