I suspect most entrepreneurs think that the Great Resignation is a fad. The truth is that workers, especially service workers, are angry. And the most angry service workers are the ones who had once had good-paying manufacturing jobs. Office workers are angry too--angry at dehumanizing office environments, corporate cultures that create burnout, and billionaires who treat people like crap.
Entrepreneurs still hoping that the job market will return to "normal" are in for a big disappointment. The smart ones are already anticipating the change and creating workplaces where people actually want to work because they're well-treated and paid well, and where the company has a positive impact on the world. Here are five books that will get you up to speed on this huge "sea change" in what business is all about:
Subtitle: The Rise and Fall of Good Jobs in America
Author: Rick Wartzman
Ten second summary: "Big businesses once took responsibility for providing their workers and retirees with an array of social benefits and believed that worker pay needed to be kept high in order to preserve morale and keep the economy humming. Productivity boomed, but the corporate social contract didn't last. So much has been lost: job security and steadily rising pay, guaranteed pensions, and robust health benefits.
Why you should read it: The social contract between corporations and workers created a prosperous and stable America. While we can't go back to those times, they provide a model for a better way for corporations to behave.
2. On the Clock
Subtitle: What Low-Wage Work Did to Me and How It Drives America Insane
Author: Emily Guendelsberger
Ten second summary: The author took a pre-Christmas job at an Amazon fulfillment center where the vending machines were stocked with painkillers, and the staff turnover was dizzying. In the new year, she worked at a call center where even bathroom breaks were timed to the second. Then she took a job at McDonald's where she escaped revenge-seeking customers who pelted her with condiments. This is an up-close portrait of America's actual 'essential workers' that examines the broken social safety net as well as an economy that has purposely had all the slack drained out and converted to profit.
Why you should read it: It's easy for people with cush office jobs where they can work from home to just "not see" the people who are actually holding civilization together. Reading this book prevents you from being a clueless "let them eat cake" Karen.
3. Net Positive
Subtitle: How Courageous Companies Thrive by Giving More Than They Take
Authors: Paul Polman and Andrew Winston
Ten second summary: Based upon the real-world experience at UniLever, the authors show corporate leaders how to make their companies thrive by giving back more to the world than they take. Such companies unleash innovation, build trust, attract the best people, thrill customers, and secure lasting success by helping create stronger, more inclusive societies and a healthier planet. Heal the world first, they argue, and you'll satisfy your investors as a result.
Why you should read it: While I'm naturally skeptical of any business book that smells like a "victory lap," the concepts in the book actually harken back to the corporate values that worked so well during the post WW2 boom. As such, they may provide a model for smarter, better companies.
Author: Rebecca M. Henderson
Ten second summary: Free market capitalism is the greatest source of prosperity the world has ever seen but it is on the verge of destroying the planet and destabilizing society as wealth rushes to the top. This book debunks the worldview that the only purpose of business is to make money and maximize shareholder value. The book explains why capitalism is not only an engine of prosperity but also a system that is in harmony with environmental realities, the striving for social justice, and the demands of truly democratic institutions.
Why you should read it: Frankly, the "greed is good" view of capitalism is played out and clearly dysfunctional. Either business leaders need to figure out how to make it work for more people or they'll find out what happens to rich folk when there's a peasant uprising.
Subtitle: How the Rich Dodge Taxes and How to Make Them Pay
Authors: Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman
Ten second summary: The book explains why, for the first time in more than a century, billionaires now pay lower tax rates than their secretaries. It dissects the deliberate choices (and sins of indecision) that have brought us to the gradual tax exemption of capital owners, the surge of a new tax avoidance industry, and the spiral of tax competition among nations. The books explains how America turned away from the most progressive tax system in history to embrace policies that only serve to compound the wealth of a few.
Why you should read it: The wealth of the ten richest men in the world doubled to $1.5 trillion dollars during the pandemic. Let me explain how insane that number is. To most people, $40,000 a year is a living wage. And I think everybody can agree that making $40,000 a day is an enough to get by on. Well, if you socked away that $40,000 each and every day, to get to that $1.5 trillion, you'd need to start when homo sapiens evolved, a hundred thousand years ago. You might want to think about that factoid the next time Elon Musk whines about a wealth tax.