Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘bosses’

Here’s How Trump’s Labor Department Quietly Gave Bosses Even More Power Over Their Workers

Thursday, January 18th, 2018

On January 5, the Department of Labor (DOL) quietly took a step to bolster the legal power of bosses over their workers by reissuing 17 previously withdrawn opinion letters. Developed at the end of George W. Bush’s final term, the letters had been withdrawn by the Obama administration, which discontinued the practice of issuing opinion letters altogether.

Opinion letters address specific questions submitted to the DOL by either employees or employers. The party then receives an official interpretation from the DOL Wage and Hour Division (WHD) detailing how the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and/or the Family and Medical Leave Act is implicated in their case. That opinion can then be used as guidance in future litigation. Other employers can also rely on an opinion letter, even if they didn’t request it themselves, as long as the facts are similar.

Critics of opinion letters point out that they take a long time for the labor department to craft (the George W. Bush administration averaged just 28 a year), and they only address one company’s specific situation—despite the fact that they can be used to the advantage of other employers in future cases.

There’s another big critique of opinion letters: They make it easier for employers to fight labor violation claims in court.

“Employers love opinion letters,” Patricia Smith, former Obama administration solicitor of labor, told In These Times. “They’re viewed by many as Get-Out-of-Jail Free cards.”

This sentiment was echoed by Michael Hancock, who managed the WHD opinion process for Bush’s final term. “It’s no secret that the opinion letter process largely serves the interest of employers; it gives them a legal defense if their practices comport with what the opinion letter says, even if the Department of Labor was wrong in what the opinion states,” he told Bloomberg last March. “It offers a serious and real significant defense to employers.”

Employers typically have the resources to pay their attorneys to talk with WHD officials before they request an opinion, so they can make sure they only ask if they are going to get a favorable result. The process is further skewed toward employers if the administration they’re requesting opinion from is employer-friendly—a fact that is certainly true of the Trump administration.

The Obama administration ended the established practice of issuing opinion letters and decided to issue a small amount of informal guidance documents instead. Last June, Trump’s labor secretary Alexander Acosta announced that he was withdrawing two of the informal guidance documents, a move that was hailed by business groups, as the documents both benefited workers. One of the letters dictated that subcontractors could be held liable if they failed to comply with FLSA requirements. The other offered an interpretation of “joint employers” and required some businesses to comply with the FLSA’s overtime rules.  That same month Acosta announced that opinion letters were returning.

Lawyers who say that they received favorable opinions for employers during the George W. Bush administration explained to Bloomberg how the process worked. Christopher A. Parlo, who represents management clients, said, “In the past you could go to DOL and lay out a scenario for them and they would give you their informal view on how that situation might play out. And if you didn’t believe that the result was one that would help your client or industry, you could choose not to ask for formal opinion. I thought that was a great process.”

The 17 Bush administration opinions that are being revived refer to a variety of topics, from year-end non-discretionary bonuses to salary deductions for full-day absences. Smith told In These Times that it was hard to know exactly what kind of impact these specific opinions would have, but said she thought that the move was at least partially symbolic: a signal to employers that the pro-business policies of Bush’s labor department have officially returned. “The message is, ‘We’re back,’” she said.

National Employment Law Project executive director Christine Owens issued a strong statement regarding the move, calling it “another example of how this administration is siding with big business to make it harder to get paid for working overtime and to make it easier for companies to reap the benefits of young workers’ labor without paying a cent for it.”

There’s a good chance that the WHD, which issues the opinion letters, will be soon be run by Trump nominee Cheryl Stanton, who is expected to be confirmed by the GOP-controlled Senate early this year. Stanton served as the White House’s principal legal liaison to the Labor Department under George W. Bush and spent years defending companies in labor cases. She’s also had an unpaid wage scandal of her own: In 2016 she was sued for allegedly failing to pay her house cleaners.

For the first time in over eight years, employers will be able to ask the White House for advice when they get tied up in legal battles. It seems quite probable that the pro-business forces dominating the Trump administration will have a lot to give.

This article was originally published at In These Times on January 18, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Michael Arria covers labor and social movements. Follow him on Twitter: @michaelarria

Bosses are stealing billions from their workers' paychecks, but it's not treated like a crime

Monday, May 15th, 2017
 Here’s a kind of theft almost no one goes to prison for. When an employer doesn’t pay workers the money they’ve earned, it has the same effect as if they got paid and then walked out on the street and had their pockets picked. But somehow wage theft—not paying workers the minimum wage for the hours they’ve worked, stealing tips, not paying overtime, and other ways of not paying workers what they’ve earned—doesn’t get treated as the crime it truly is. It has a huge impact, though, as a new study from the Economic Policy Institute shows. The EPI looked at just one form of wage theft: paying below minimum wage. Just that one type of violation steals billions of dollars out of workers’ paychecks:
  • In the 10 most populous states in the country, each year 2.4 million workers covered by state or federal minimum wage laws report being paid less than the applicable minimum wage in their state—approximately 17 percent of the eligible low-wage workforce.
  • The total underpayment of wages to these workers amounts to over $8 billion annually. If the findings for these states are representative for the rest of the country, they suggest that the total wages stolen from workers due to minimum wage violations exceeds $15 billion each year.
  • Workers suffering minimum wage violations are underpaid an average of $64 per week, nearly one-quarter of their weekly earnings. This means that a victim who works year-round is losing, on average, $3,300 per year and receiving only $10,500 in annual wages. […]
  • In the 10 most populous states, workers are most likely to be paid less than the minimum wage in Florida (7.3 percent), Ohio (5.5 percent), and New York (5.0 percent). However, the severity of underpayment is the worst in Pennsylvania and Texas, where the average victim of a minimum wage violation is cheated out of over 30 percent of earned pay.

Young workers, women, immigrants, and people of color are disproportionately affected because they’re overrepresented in low-wage jobs to begin with. This wage theft is keeping people in poverty—the poverty rate among workers paid less than the minimum wage in this study was 21 percent, and would have dropped to 15 percent if they’d been paid minimum wage. If their bosses had followed the law, in other words.

The wage thieves rarely face penalties for stealing, and when they do:

Employers found to have illegally underpaid an employee are usually required only to pay back a portion of the stolen wages—not even the full amount owed, much less a penalty for violating the law.

The law basically gives employers permission to steal from workers, in other words. And it sure won’t be getting better under Donald Trump.

This blog originally appeared at DailyKos.com on May 12, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and labor editor since 2011.

The End of Enemies at Work

Monday, March 1st, 2010

Image: Bob RosnerMicrosoft and Yahoo recently received permission to move forward with their joint venture on search from both US and European regulators.

Competition makes strange bedfellows. And nary a day goes by today that Microsoft isn’t announcing a new partnership, or a partnership discussion, with a company that it formerly tried to crush. Real Networks, Palm, AOL, Apple, the list just keeps growing and growing.

Believe it or not, Microsoft’s new make-nice approach impacts each and every one of us who works today. Because it signals the end of the “enemy,” at least as we’ve known it in business for the last hundred years. Let me explain…

The “enemy” has been a great rallying cry in business. To paraphrase General Patton, your goal is to kill the other guy before he has a chance to kill you. And that is how business tended to operate.

We learned from our earliest days in the corporate corridors to identify our enemies and create a healthy disdain for them. And it was so simple to do. G.M. hated Ford. M.G.M. hated Universal. It was easy to identify your competitors and once you did then you let the hatin’ begin.

That is until today. Now, auto companies collaborate on technology to improve fuel mileage with competitors and movie studios collaborate on producing films. And the former 99-pound weakling turned monopolist, Microsoft, can’t seem to find anyone outside of Google that it doesn’t want to take a turn around the dance floor with. What a difference a few years can make.

What is becoming clear is that today’s enemy at work could very well be your company’s next strategic marketing partner, merger partner or the company that purchases your firm. So the enemy is dead, long live today’s competitor who might be tomorrow’s collaborator. Why? Because you can’t afford to alienate your next business partner. Or worse, your next boss.

How do we survive this new competitive landscape? We need to resist the temptation to bad mouth a competitor. We need to always fight fair. We need to reach out to competitors at industry conferences and trade shows. We need to resist short term thinking and learn to adopt a longer view. In short, we need to always anticipate the future where we just might be on the same side with our current competitors.

I’m looking forward to the day when I can wax nostalgically about the enemies that I did battle with at work to my child. Because it increasingly appears that the enemy’s days are numbered. And being a guy who can nurse a grudge as well as the next guy, I think this could usher in a great new environment in which to do business.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Also check out his newly revised best-seller “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

Losing Friends and Influence at Work

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

Image: Bob RosnerI get a lot of wonderful fan mail. But the nasty emails are the ones that you can really learn something from. Take this one (please!), that I received recently:

“You are an idiot; the main thing wrong at my workplace is management. Same as the last job. It would be nice to be treated as an equal in all areas, not just when I come in late once every two years and get dinged for it. Most punks half my age don’t know what work is, just a bunch of whiney spoiled brats with greasy spiky hair. I deal with hundreds of slackers too lazy to click three times to find an answer or listen to a front end message to call the write extension for help, including most of all “management”. What a bunch of losers. 50% of my coworkers have at least two years on the job and are clueless.”

I guess you could call this a target-rich environment, because there is so much to comment on…

Let me start with his opening—“You are an idiot.” What a great way to motivate your reader to want to keep reading what you’ve written. The problem is that most of us forget that old rule that you’ll always get more with honey than with a smack on the butt—at least that’s what my mom told me when I was just a little sprout.

If the game that you’re playing is to be self-righteous and burn every bridge, then of course lead with a vicious attack targeting your reader. Heck, throw in a choice vulgarity while you are at it. However, if you’d like to see something positive come from an interaction, stick to the facts and you just might get your reader to listen to what you have to say. Just a thought.

I do like that he blames management for the problems at this job and his last one. After personally responding to over 50,000 emails from bosses and employees, you don’t have to convince me that there are a lot of bad bosses out there. But there is a point when you have the same problem following you around from job to job—where you have to ask what is the “common denominator” here? And more importantly, there is the “it takes two to tango” rule—how do you contribute to the problem? I always try to ask these questions before I attack someone else.

Then there is his diatribe on the “losers” he is forced to work with. Again it’s all, “they do this,” “they do that.” Okay, you are thinking that I’m beating up on this poor guy. But to me this is the greatest example of why the workplace is getting so nasty and difficult to maneuver through; because this guy isn’t alone. There are so many people out there screaming “they, they, they” when, ironically, they could probably be happier and learn more if they spent more time exploring “me, me, me.” But we can only make this leap when we are thinking rationally and able to muster some real introspection, something few of us have any time or inclination to do any more.

I know that work is tough; even demoralizing some times. But I do think it’s interesting that in just one paragraph this guy attacked me, management and the losers he has to work with. Wow, isn’t this great energy that you’d like to spend 40 hours a week with? Again, it’s too easy to blame just him. The important question is to look in the mirror to ask, “What baggage do I bring to work each day?” And, “How hard is it to put up with me on a daily basis?”

Then there is the key reference that explains the entire diatribe, “Not just when I come in late once every two years and get dinged for it.” The guy clearly got busted for something he did wrong. Rather than acknowledging his mistake, he goes on a rampage to expose every “wrong” and “loser” in today’s workplace.

And that’s why this is the perfect email to sum up everything that is wrong with work. Because rather than taking a slice of humble pie about a mistake, he goes on the attack. So throw stones until your heart’s content—just remember by doing so you blow the opportunity to begin the journey toward a better workplace.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Also check out his newly revised best-seller “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

Can They Do That?

Friday, January 15th, 2010

Image: Lew MaltbyLynn Gobbell was fired because her boss didn’t like the bumper sticker on her car.  During the 2004 presidential election, Gobbell put a “Kerry for President” sticker on her bumper.  When her boss saw it, he ordered her to the sticker off.  When she refused, he fired her.

Most people think that what happened to Gobbell was illegal, but they’re wrong.  What her boss did was wrong, but it wasn’t illegal.

What about the Constitution?  Doesn’t the First Amendment protect our right to freedom of speech?  The answer is yes, but only where the government is concerned.  Unlike millions of people in other countries, Americans can openly criticize the government or advocate for positions that are controversial or even offensive without fear of retribution.

But the first amendment applies only to the government.  A private corporation, no matter how large or powerful, can legally ignore the first amendment.  Too many employees have learned this the hard way, when their boss fires them for something they say on their personal blog or MySpace page.

In my upcoming book Can They Do That? Reclaiming Our Fundamental Rights in the Workplace, I explain how all your Constitutional rights essentially go up in smoke the moment you go through the office door.  In addition to free speech, your right to privacy disappears.  While the government has to get a court order to read your e-mail, your boss can (and will) read your e-mail, including messages on sensitive personal subjects, for his/her own amusement.  This breach of privacy extends even further than email – it includes video monitoring, too. When Gail Nelson found out that male security guards were watching her undress in her office after work to get ready for the gym, her suit was dismissed.  She didn’t even get a trial.

Even worse nightmares are coming.  At least a million Americans carry company-issued cell phones, all of which are equipped with GPS.  Any of these employers are at liberty to track their employees 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  It could be happening to you right now without your knowledge.  The growth of biometrics (such as electronic fingerprints) may enhance security in some locations, but it also opens the door to identity theft on an unprecedented scale.  No one knows what to do when a hacker, or dishonest employee, gains access to a database containing thousands of fingerprints.

Not only may your boss know where you are every minute of your life, he may control it as well.  Thousands of companies order employees not to smoke or drink, even in their own homes, and fire those who disobey.  As the wellness movement grows, employers are expanding these rules to include diet, exercise, and potentially dangerous hobbies like skiing.

The few rights we do have exist because of federal or state legislation, such as laws prohibiting discrimination based on race, gender, religion, and other improper bases.  But even these rights are in jeopardy as employers require employees to “agree” to give up their right to go to court if their rights are ever violated.  Instead, employees must go to arbitration, where they have few rights to a fair hearing.

Can They Do That? explains what you can do to protect your rights under current law, and how we can change the law to restore our fundamental rights when we go to work.

About the Author: Lewis Maltby is president and founder of the National Workrights Institute and former Director of Employment Rights for the ACLU. He has testified before Congress many times on employment issues and appeared on 60 Minutes, Larry King Live, and Oprah. His views on employment law have been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, and other leading publications. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey and is the author of Can They Do That?: Retaking Our Fundamental Rights in the Workplace.

Who Makes the Worst Bosses?

Monday, January 4th, 2010

Image: Bob RosnerAccording to my email, today’s workplace is full of bosses who seem more focused on baubles and bling than on their organization’s well-being. Bosses who yell, bosses who have their own set of rules or even bosses who ask their assistant to type her own termination letter (a true story from one of my presentations) seem to be all the rage (pun intended).

Think I’m exaggerating? Then listen to what people talk about on airplanes, in restaurants and on street corners. It’s all about work. And the one work topic that dominates all others is bad bosses. Sorry to break this to you if you are a boss, but chances are that your employees are talking about you and what they are saying will make your hair curl.

Which got me thinking, is there a particular group of bosses who are worse than another group? So as a community service, the nominees for worst type of boss are:

FINANCIAL people—accountants, CFOs and finance types who are totally focused on money, usually at the expense of any ability to actually deal with people. Or in the words of my MBA Finance professor, “Cash flow is more important than your mother.” At the time I thought he was joking. Having gotten to know a few CFOs, I think many of them actually think this is true.

SALES people—marketers and sales people who are totally focused on getting people to want to buy whatever they are selling at the expense of actually listening to what people really think. A great salesperson can easily create an environment where everyone is drinking from the same batch of Kool Aid and where any voices that disagree are silenced or discredited.

TECHNICAL people—engineers, CTOs and techies make the worst bosses because they are often favor machines over people. They like the “0” and “1” logic of computers and hate how messy actual people can be with their needs and wants. Technical people can always be looking for the logic in a situation, a logic that seldom exists when dealing with real people in a workplace.

LEGAL people—lawyers, need I say more?

Vote in our online ballot and tell us what is the worst type of boss that you’ve run across in your career. I’ll admit that this column and poll can be considered a cheap shot; at the same time, aren’t you curious to see the poll results identifying the worst type of boss?

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

Some Things I Took Away From The Organizing Conference Last Week

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

Image: Richard NegriLast week I attended the Web 2.0 Organizing Conference in NYC. It was an incredible event packed with hundreds of online organizers from around the country.

While I think the conference was a tremendous success, I think we, in labor, have a long way to go. We have the daunting task of internal organizing so that we can actually do 1/2 of the great things we talk about with online organizing and mobilizing. We have to remember that some unions’ web sites still look they were built out by a third grader. There appears to be an underlying fear among old school unionists to do anything on the web — and most probably because they cannot control the interactivity — or they don’t think they can. This is where we become educators.

We have to educate our bosses on the technology in a way that they can understand, and this is not easy for a whole host of reasons. Some of us don’t know how to explain why some social media tools work and others don’t. We don’t know how to explain that Convio is capable of a lot more than sending a mass email, etc. We can talk about this stuff until we are blue in the face, but often times we just need a shot at doing something to prove that it works. Do it now and apologize later? Maybe.

There are two different things at play for a lot of unions. One is actual organizing and the other is outreach – they are two different things that are frequently carried out by the same individual. (I think one day this will change. I think eventually the unions will realize that they need a team of workers to carry out the online organizing, mobilizing and education and will not put the task to one or two people only. I also think we are not there yet). For now, the same person who is clicking away at Twitter a few times a day is also the person who is getting flyers on web sites and sending emails to workers to get the flyers to print and distribute. The same person should also be building out technology to mine workers’ names and information to turn over to the boots-on-ground organizers. And this is where it can get very tricky for traditional organizing models.

At the conference something was said in one of the workshops that really struck a chord with me. If a worker’s first contact with a union is through a web site form, so should the second — usually with an email. Too often unions will realize they can get a worker’s information mined by the sites but then they want someone to go house visit with the worker immediately after. It shouldn’t, in my opinion, work quite that way. (In other words, I agree with the person who said this at the conference).  It should be: initial contact web site – second contact email. Sure, by the third or fourth correspondence with the worker, have them meet up with someone from the organizing committee, but they might not be ready sooner than that. This is why an online organizer needs to make assessments of the workers in the same way an organizer on ground has to.

The education and mobilization part is becoming easier and easier. We have tools like Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, YouTube. There are progressive blogs welcoming labor’s messaging, such as FireDogLake, Daily Kos and Huffington Post. Then there are labor specific blogs like UnionReview.com where we can get to the meat of things if we need to.

Of course it is important to comment on stories we see — and that is a brand of online activism the same organizer who is mining workers’ names from the sites must motivate people to do. If we see an article in the mainstream media news that is totally counter everything we believe in as working class union workers, then take ten minutes and leave a comment, sway the discussion and get yourselves heard.

If there is one thing that is clear to me after a few years of doing this stuff it is this — never before have we had the opportunity to actually be the media. I talk about this in workshops at the union I work for and wherever else I am asked to talk, it is pivotal. We have to take into consideration that once upon a time it was a talked-at media. We were talked at from places like the NY Times, CNN, etc. Now journalism is an interactive trade. We are still talked at, but now we can talk back, instantly. If we stay as apathetic online as many of us are in the shops we work at, nothing is going to change. And change is what everyone is crying for.

Finally, I think it is important to mention that some of us who are doing online mobilization and education fall into the rut of singing to the choir. I have been guilty of this also. When we have made some ground on blogs or web sites, got heard and — even better – understood, why not move on to the next site or blog? Don’t get caught up in saying the same thing over and over to the same people. It can be a challenge because sometimes we don’t know if our work is ever really done, but who doesn’t like a challenge?

Do you want to be part of the change or would you rather sit back and hope for the best?

This article originally appeared in UnionReview.com on December 12, 2009. Re-printed with permission by the author.

About the Author: Richard Negri is the founder of UnionReview.com and is the Online Manager for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Do You Have to Be a Jerk to Be an Effective Leader?

Monday, December 7th, 2009

Image: Bob RosnerBusiness is tough in the best of times. And few would probably argue that these are the best of times. A part of the problem is the rift between workers and their bosses. From an old Harris Poll that found only 37% thought their management had integrity, emails to Workplace911 and almost any conversation overheard about work—bosses and employees appear to inhabit two parallel universes.

From David Letterman to the folks at Lehman, it seems like integrity in the corner office has taken a sabbatical.

Which brings us to the topic for this week’s blog—Do you HAVE TO be a jerk to be an effective leader today? Are these the exceptions or the rule of bossing?

I’ll argue the pro side first. Then the con. Then I’ll tell you my take on the question (as if you didn’t already know).

PRO-JERK ARGUMENT. There has never been a tougher time to be a boss. The combination of a faltering economy, competitive pressures, a workplace that keeps moving faster and faster, technology and workers who have less loyalty than at anytime in the history of the modern corporation (which is approximately 100 years according to Peter Drucker, for those who are scoring at home).

Workers like a firm hand on the rudder at work. They like an executive who is in charge and pointing the organization in the correct direction. And as they say, you’ve got to scramble a few eggs before you can make an omelet. So a bit of jerkiness is a required part of being a leader today.

ANTI-JERK ARGUMENT. Eisenhower, the General who led the Allied Forces in WWII and later served as President. A real guys, guy. As weird as it sounds by his bio, he is the source of the best all time quote of the anti-jerk position. He said, “Hitting people over the head isn’t leadership, it’s assault.”

What Eisenhower knew was that treating employees like rental cars has consequences. Some beaten down employees will take it out on customers, while others specialize in being passive aggressive—employees, to paraphrase Kafka, have their weapons too.

AND THE WINNER IS…

I believe that jerks can have a major positive impact over the short term. But after a while their whip cracking tends to fall on deaf ears. Or no ears at all as the workforce goes running for the exits. So be a jerk selectively.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

Why Organizations Are Getting Worse and Worse

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

Image: Bob RosnerI’ve averaged 35 speeches a year for the last ten years. Most of my audiences have been comprised of executives. And if there is an overriding concern that they’ve voiced to me during these presentations it’s that employees aren’t as loyal as they used to be.

The executives give lots of reasons for this decline in loyalty. A bad work ethic. The desire to follow the money at the expense of any other consideration. The lack of commitment to company goals and objectives. The desire to stick it to the man (okay, that last one came from me).

That is why a poll a while ago that found that 61% of bosses were unhappy with their jobs is so interesting to me. Because to this blog-ster it clearly shows that the employees are simply following the lead of their bosses. They see the short-term focus and they are less inclined to go down with the ship when their bosses are the first ones diving into the lifeboats.

But it goes even deeper than that. The poll also asked for the primary reason that the executives were looking to move on. The top five were: 1. Lack of challenge/personal growth (20%); 2. Limited advancement opportunities (18%); 3. Compensation (13%); 4. Poor company culture (11%); and 5. Boss not a good match (10%). Sound familiar?

Maybe I’m showing my age here, but this reminds me of the old Mad Magazine cover where Alfred E. Newman is looking at the cover of Mad Magazine, that is looking in the cover of Mad Magazine, that is looking in the cover… Well you get the drift.

The executives are not only experiencing a crummy place to work, they are passing it along to the people who are below them. With gusto.

Crummy organizations don’t just happen. They are encouraged, supported and nourished. And with executives perfectly willing to take the big paycheck and corner office, but not willing to actually build a sustaining organization. That explains why most companies are a six cylinder engine that is, at best, running on a cylinder and a half.

One of my favorite sayings comes from Africa, “When the elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers.” So for all the talk of CEO perp walks and Sarbanes-Oxley, the bigger issue is not the greed and illegality—it’s the overall lack of anything approaching stewardship in today’s organization. Executives, before you blame your people, heal yourself first.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

What Do You Believe About Work That Is Wrong?

Monday, October 12th, 2009

After fifteen years of writing Workplace911 and its predecessor Working Wounded I’ve concluded that there are a lot of myths about work. I thought it would be fun to tackle some of the bigger ones in this week’s blog. Check out my list below and send me some of your favorites.

It’s impossible to be overpaid when someone else signs the paycheck. Let me offer a short translation of this rule—as long as someone is willing to pay you a ridiculous amount of money to work for them, then you aren’t overpaid because they have established a market for your services. I disagree. Corporate salaries are absurd. Cost cutting, layoffs and a myriad of other organizational sacrifices should float more than just the boats of the CEO and a few top executives. I’m no Marxist, CEOs do deserve a big paycheck when they are successful. But this escalator only seems able to go up.

Greed is good. The biggest problem here is that when Oliver Stone came up with this mantra for his Gordon Gekko character in the movie Wall Street it was meant as parody. Yet I hear some variation of it whenever I talk to traders, salespeople, etc. Henry Ford, hardly a commie himself, once said that only a fool holds out for the last dollar. I think wretched excess is a terrible way to run a company.

The bigger the jerk, the better the boss. Probably my favorite quote on management came from President (and General) Dwight Eisenhower. He once said, “Hitting people over the head isn’t leadership, it’s assault.” Sure jerks do get your attention and possibly results over the short term. But most employees will flee at the first chance they get. There are just too many sane bosses out there to continue to slave away for a jerk.

You’ve got to be first to market. Microsoft seems to me to be the only company that consistently puts second-rate products on the market and lives to tell the tale. The rest of us have to pick our spots and often the first to market position can’t justify launching a crappy product. So it often pays to wait.

Innovation is the middle name of American corporations. Despite rising productivity, I believe that corporations in the U.S. are running on fumes. Don’t believe me? Listen to most people talk about the management of their companies. It’s not a pretty sight. I see far more innovation right now coming from abroad and from the not-for-profit sector and I think it’s time that corporations started walking their talk.

Corporations are drowning in regulation. Tyco, Enron, WorldCom, etc. left in their wake Sarbanes Oxley and a host of other regulations. Undoubtedly Lehman, Goldman Sacks, etc. will leave their mark too. There is a lot of talk now about how corporations are being held back by senseless regulations. I hate filling out government forms as much as the next guy, but these laws came into place because of abuse by corporations. And in order to maintain the trust of the average investor these regulations need to remain in effect, no matter how much whining you hear from big business.

The bottom line isn’t just the bottom line. If I’ve learned one thing as an observer of business and the founder of four corporations, it’s that there are many bottom lines for a business. In addition to economic there are also social and environmental considerations. The financials really only are a part of the picture. The sooner that corporations take a broader view of the bottom line, the sooner they’ll begin to fully reach their potential.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. His web site, workplace911.com, contains a comprehensive archive of strategies for surviving today’s workplace. He is a fan of Workplace Fairness and can be reached via bob@workplace911.com.

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