02/06/2008 11:47 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Power to the People: Consumer Empowerment Changes the Work World

When law firms are starting to allow more flexible life styles and remuneration plans, you know some volcano is a-rumbling in our 24/7 culture. And, while I more commonly observe and report on consumer rather than workforce behavior, the fact is that those two aspects of human life are becoming more and more connected.
You see, the average person has gotten very used to making more demands of the brands he or she purchases, and -- seeing how well that has worked (Exhibit A: Wal-Mart's emerging efforts toward sustainability and organic food offerings...) -- such behavior is also translating to their careers. If a person can get brands to fit his or her life, why not get their workplace to fit, as well?

In a recent New York Times article, Lisa Belkin wrote about the variety of little changes occurring in law firms that actually seem to add up to a huge cultural shift. For example, she mentions one law firm that is now doling out salary increases based on merit and not seniority, and another firm that offers a two-tier pay scale, where associates can opt for fewer billable hours and partnership can be achieved at different paces. Guess what? Given the choice, more than half of the associates at that particular firm took the reduced schedule.

While we could easily attribute these schedule and salary changes solely to stereotypical "motherhood-specific" inspiration, Belkin's article and interviews seem to point out that it actually reflects a growing life balance awareness for everyone in the workforce. A lot more people, men and women alike, are saying 'wait a minute...I've got a life outside of these four walls, and that life makes me a better employee inside these walls." I'm guessing these changes will be addressed more frequently in future human resource meetings for a wide range of industries.

As the trends seem to reflect, consumers are paying attention to things beyond price and quality these days. They are approaching purchase decisions with a more holistic perspective -- how might buying thus and so relate to their environmental or social responsibility views, for instance. The average person has seen how he or she can demand more from brands, and become more a part of that conversation, and that is now influencing their perspective on their work situations.

Even amidst outsourcing mania where the average customer service phone call means a conversation with someone several continents away, many businesses and professions still need well-rounded and experienced minds in order to function. The thing is, those minds are getting so well-rounded that they realize, in full, their incredible value to the brands they buy and the organizations for which they work.

The power has shifted to the people. Like law firms, other traditional professions and industries better believe it, and embrace the change.