Work's next leap forward
During lunchtime at SAS Institute, a large software company here, you can play soccer, take a swim, work out with your personal trainer - or just grab a gourmet lunch. The fresh-baked red tilapia (a mild South African fish) is to die for.Skip to next paragraph
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SAS employees send their children to subsidized Montessori day care and the free onsite health clinic. At a discount rate, professionals on this tree-lined 200-acre campus will clean workers' cars, change their oil, give them a haircut or a massage, and do their dry cleaning. The idea: By bringing amenities on campus, employees will have less incentive to leave during the day and more incentive to work.
Welcome to the workplace of the New Economy, at least one version of it.
Ever since the dotcom bubble burst, the New Economy has looked rather dubious as a vision for the future.
Indeed, some of the hoopla proved illusory. But the same technological, economic, and demographic forces that over-enthused Wall Street during the 1990s are still grinding away. And over the long term, they promise to transform the way Americans work.
While it's unclear what the workplace will look like, say, a decade from now, New Economy advocates are beginning to spot the building blocks of the future. American workers will get better pay, fewer will hold dead-end jobs, and education will remain key to advancement, despite periodic bouts of unemployment.
One more tantalizing possibility: Americans may work fewer hours than they do today.
"We're moving to a more meritocratic society," says Rob Atkinson, director of the technology-and-New-Economy project at The Progressive Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank affiliated with the Democratic Leadership Council. And "the main impact Americans will feel is [that] they're going to be wealthier. If productivity rates grow 1 percent faster in the next 40 years, the average American will earn $41,000 more than if growth of productivity continued at the pace of the 1970s and '80s."
Not everyone agrees with that assessment. "In terms of making life better for workers, I actually don't see that," says Jeffrey Pfeffer, professor of organ- izational behavior at Stanford University. Even during the boom, "many of the New Economy companies didn't treat their employees very well."
Nevertheless, some trends are beginning to take shape here in the tech-heavy Research Triangle region of North Carolina that suggest some workplaces are already evolving into New Economy employers. While some perks of the recent dotcom boom have all but disappeared (think midnight foosball and pets in the office), others remain. These range from the superficial (free snacks) to the substantial (high-paid jobs and good benefits).
That's one reason the region's median household income ranks above the national average. SAS, in particular, showers employees with full health benefits, a help staff ready to assist with everything from adoption to caring for elderly parents, and all the soft drinks and M&Ms employees can consume. (The company buys more than 20 tons of the coated candies a year.) As the world's largest privately owned software company, with 98 of the top 100 companies in the Fortune 500 buying its business-intelligence software and services, it can afford to pamper its workers.
"Our motto has been stability," says Jeff Chambers, the company's director of human resources. "We don't try to go after people who are going to be here two to three years.... How can you have a long-term relationship with your customers if you are not going to have a long-term relationship with your employees?"