Surprising Things We Predicted About Work Just a Decade Ago
American middle managers were optimistic about what 2017 would bring
Is your working life better or worse than you thought it would be a decade ago? Chances are you’re a bit hazy on your recollections of the summer of 2007. But if you’re like most people, things haven’t turned out quite as well as you predicted back then.
In late June and early July 2007, Businessweek asked 2,000 Americans in middle management and above what they imagined for the futuristic world of work in 2017. The U.S. economy was still going strong, the housing bubble had not yet burst, and the unemployment rate had not yet soared to 10 percent.
The good times seem to have made people optimistic. Ten years from now, our predecessor magazine asked, will working conditions for the average person be better than they were at the time? Sixty percent said 2017 would be better.
Which will be a more powerful motivator, we asked: self-fulfillment or fear? Eighty-two percent chose self-fulfillment.
Eighty-three percent agreed it would be easier for women to get ahead in business than it was in 2007.
And 81 percent said it would be easier for racial and ethnic minorities to get ahead in business.
Only a minority believed that bosses would have more power over workers in 2017 than in 2007. There was more belief in bosses’ increasing power among people with household incomes under $75,000 (33 percent) than among those with household incomes over $150,000 (26 percent).
Outsourcing and offshoring were front-burner issues in 2007. On a whim, we asked people if they were on a first-name basis with anyone who works in India. Fewer than 10 percent were, but about one-third thought they would be by 2017. That seems to have been an overestimate. (John, meet Rahul.)
The Businessweek survey had some other fun stuff that wasn’t about 2017. For example, we asked people whom they would most like to be their direct boss. Donald Trump, then no more than a telegenic billionaire, came in way behind Oprah Winfrey (9 percent vs. 29 percent among whites, 6 percent vs. 48 percent among nonwhites).
Fancifully, we gave people a set of options for what scared them the most. Women named China first, followed by Wall Street, “my boss,” “my computer,” and “my spouse.” Men’s answers were about the same, except they were slightly more scared of China and their spouses, less scared of Wall Street and their computers.
More than half of 25- to 29-year-olds agreed that “people get away with murder when they work from home.” And 6 percent of respondents under age 30 said they had accidentally called their boss Mom or Dad. (Yeah, awkward. Now that you’re closer to 40, you’ve probably suppressed that mortifying memory.)
Lastly, here’s a finding that probably hasn’t changed in the past decade and most likely never will: Ninety percent of our respondents thought they were among the top 10 percent of performers in their workplace. Among those describing themselves as executives, 97 percent considered themselves top-decile material.