In an economy more and more populated by "knowledge workers", one would expect the productivity and real income of employees to move upward together, as an increasingly skilled workforce benefits from its own improved efficiency. But since 1995, the year when the "new economy" based on information technology began to take off, incomes have not kept up with productivity, and during the past five years the two have spectacularly diverged. Between 1995 and 2006, the growth of employee productivity exceeded the growth of employee real wages by 340 percent. Between 2001 and 2006, this gap widened alarmingly to 779 percent.
Nowhere have "Enterprise Systems" technologies been more rigorously applied to the white-collar workplace than in the health care industry. The practices of managed care organizations (MCOs) have provided a chilling demonstration of how enterprise systems can affect the work of even the most skilled professionals, in this case the physician.
For-profit health care providers that relied on this kind of standardization, such as Aetna and Humana, performed significantly worse than their counterparts in the treatment or prevention of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. But many of these health care companies think that ES technologies have made them profitable, and it seems unlikely that these practices will be discarded anytime soon.
In The Culture of the New Capitalism, a book based on a series of lectures given at Yale in 2004, Richard Sennett describes how the widespread use of enterprise systems has given top managers much greater latitude to direct and control corporate workforces, while at the same time making the jobs of everyday workers and professionals more rigid and bleak.
The spread of ES has resulted in a declining emphasis on creativity and ingenuity of workers, and the destruction of a sense of community in the workplace by the ceaseless reengineering of the way businesses operate. The concept of a career has become increasingly meaningless in a setting in which employees have neither skills of which they might be proud nor an audience of independently minded fellow workers that might recognize their value.
The evidence suggests that from an executive perspective, the most desirable employees may no longer necessarily be those with proven ability and judgment, but those who can be counted on to follow orders and be good "team players."
Here the purpose of the personality tests administered by career coaches becomes clear. They are useless as measures of ability and experience, but they may be reliable indicators of those who are "cheerful, enthusiastic, and obedient." The dismal experiences of many middle-aged job seekers suggest that corporations would rather find conformists among younger workers who haven't been discarded by employers and aren't skeptical about their work.