Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘job satisfaction’

Looking for a Good Job? Don’t Get Your Hopes Up

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

Michelle ChenIf you think your job stinks, you’re not alone. And if you’re still looking for a decent job, don’t expect to find one anytime soon, or ever.

A new analysis of job quality, assessing various measures of benefits and wages, confirms what many of us already suspected: Good jobs are vanishing from the United States, with global trade and social disinvestment leaving workers stranded on a barren economic landscape.

The report, published by John Schmitt and Janelle Jones from the Center for Economic and Policy Reseach (CEPR), shows that the downward spiral began long before the recent economic crisis. It notes that since 1979, the “good job” (one that “pays at least $18.50 an hour, has employer provided health insurance, and some kind of retirement plan”) has become an endangered species:

[T]he economy has lost about one-third (28 to 38 percent) of its capacity to generate good jobs. The data show only minor differences between 2007, before the Great Recession began, and 2010, the low point for the labor market.

In 2010, “less than one-fourth (24.6 percent) of the workforce” possessed those precious good jobs. And the clincher is this downturn is beginning to look like a sad plateau:

The deterioration in the economy’s ability to generate good jobs reflects long-run changes in the U.S. economy, not short-run factors related to the recession or recent economic policy.

While workers around the world have witnessed massive economic volatility in the recent boom-bust cycles, food crises and political upheavals, the trend line of labor hardship holds steady. The societal impacts of unemployment crises parallel the effect of long-term effects on individual workers, especially young ones–a self-perpetuating sense of despair and isolation, and perhaps entrenched, long-term suffering.

The report’s long-term prognosis undercuts the historically entrenched national mythology of upward mobility. Alan Barber, a spokesperson for CEPR, tells In These Times via email:

It may come as a surprise or at least run against logic to some readers because even though the workforce is better educated and older, one would expect that more people have good job. Conventional wisdom holds that if a person goes to college and gets a degree they will get better jobs. It also holds that the longer you are in the workforce the better your prospects for getting a good job. But as the report shows this is not the case.

The divergence between the American Dream and American reality has widened as neoliberal policies have assaulted workers under the guise of promoting “personal responsibility.” The belief that hard work pays off has been betrayed by the degradation of public trusts like education and health care, while mortgage and student debt crises and the decline of union representation, hollow out communities from within.

The erosion of public services and social programs is nothing new, but the flip side of a shrinking safety net–a crumbling labor market–pushes self-sufficiency even further out of reach for millions.

The vanishing promise of social mobility may have an even more severe impact across generations. According to the Pew Economic Mobility project’s report on intergenerational prosperity:

  • Eighty-four percent of Americans have higher family incomes than their parents did.
  • Those born at the top and bottom of the income ladder are likely to stay there as adults. More than 40 percent of Americans raised in the bottom quintile of the family income ladder remain stuck there as adults, and 70 percent remain below the middle.
  • African Americans are more likely to be stuck at the bottom and fall from the middle of the economic ladder across a generation.

So apparently the traditional rungs by which earlier generations climbed the class ladder–a bachelor’s degree, a first home, “loyalty” to a single company–are now shakier than ever. Pew researchers uncovered a cleft in mobility over time: in terms of “relative” mobility, people tend to do a bit better than their parents. But the gains often fail to add up to “absolute” mobility, which means people don’t ascend to a significantly better income bracket. Many are actually falling behind relative to the rest of the economy. About 16 percent are “downwardly mobile,” staying put or falling in the class hierarchy. Overall, some 20 percent “make more money than their parents did, but have actually fallen to a lower rung of the income ladder.”

The withering of the middle class is deeply skewed by race, with black and white households moving ahead at vastly different rates. According to Pew, “only 23 percent of blacks raised in the middle exceed their parents’ wealth compared with 56 percent of whites.”

So what’s left for workers who not only face a lifetime of economic hopelessness, but also can’t even give their kids the hope of achieving something more? The CEPR report doesn’t offer policy prescriptions, but does note that the shrinking share of good jobs in the U.S. workforce is not an inevitability. The research connects the decline in quality jobs to the dismantling of the economic supports that make work fair and rewarding, including union power and industry regulations. On a macro level:

the decline in the economy’s ability to create good jobs is related to a deterioration in the bargaining power of workers, especially those at the middle and the bottom of the income scale. The main cause of the loss of bargaining power is the large-scale restructuring of the labor market that began at the end of the 1970s and continues to the present.

The public sector has suffered under privatization, and once-solid middle-class jobs have been lost to the tides of global commerce. Immigrants meanwhile have been absorbed into a precarious low-wage workforce that feeds raging inequality. And meanwhile, political elites are finding new and creative ways to siphon more resources away from the public and subsidize predatory corporate wealth.

The deficit in good jobs can’t be simply chalked up to globalization or a decline in American workers’ “competitiveness.” It’s a reflection of a deficit in power at the bottom, and a surplus of greed at the top.

This blog originally appeared in Working In These Times on August 24, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Michelle Chen work has appeared in AirAmerica, Extra!, Colorlines and Alternet, along with her self-published zine, cain. She is a regular contributor to In These Times’ workers’ rights blog, Working In These Times, and is a member of the In These Times Board of Editors. She also blogs at Colorlines.com. She can be reached at michellechen @ inthesetimes.com.

No Job is Better Than a Bad Job

Monday, June 20th, 2011

Image: Bob RosnerA study out of Australia found that people in poor quality jobs (those with high demands, low control over decision making, high job insecurity and an effort-reward imbalance) had more adverse effects on mental health than being unemployed.

Yep, a crappy job can be harder than no job at all. Holy Fosters.

“The researchers analyzed seven years of data from more than 7,000 respondents of an Australian labor survey for their Occupational and Environmental Medicine study in which they wrote: As hypothesized, we found that those respondents who were unemployed had significantly poorer mental health than those who were employed. However, the mental health of those who were unemployed was comparable or more often superior to those in jobs of the poorest psychosocial quality. The current results therefore suggest that employment strategies seeking to promote positive outcomes for unemployed individuals need to also take account of job design and workplace policy.”

Okay, some of you will take the gratuitous Fosters reference and the Australian sample for the study and blow this off. But you’ll do this to your own detriment.

I believe that this part of “down under” applies perfectly to “up and over” (or whatever words you choose to describe the opposite of “down under”).

Leaving out one important fact, a crummy job allows you to pay your bills in a way that no job usually doesn’t, I’m still reticent to toss this finding into the round file.

I’m not tossing it for one main reason, there is a major belief out there that it is always better to look for a job when you have a job. Because you’ve got both the economic and emotional security to come across better in an interview.

But this finding does cast a shadow on that concept. Because a crummy job can actually deplete your energy to the point that you can’t get hired.

I’m not sure that I’d ever suggest to someone to leave their job to increase the chances they’ll get a new one. But it does suggest that everyone who is unemployed should realize that there are certain advantages that go with the turf. And lord knows, it’s important for anyone who doesn’t have a job to grab every advantage that they can.

Thankfully the researchers didn’t limit their findings to just out of work people. They added a comment directed at employers too. Perhaps employers could be persuaded to be more mindful of the mental health of their workers — happier employees are a benefit to their employers. “The erosion of work conditions,” the researchers noted, “may incur a health cost, which over the longer term will be both economically and socially counterproductive.”

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winningworkplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

Upward Assessment of Darth Vader

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

Image: Noel S. WilliamsA recent survey by The Conference Board, a not-for-profit organization that disseminates information about business management and economic trends, showed that job satisfaction in America hit a record low in 2009.  Part of the problem is managers who run roughshod over morale.  Part of the solution is employee surveys that provide an underpinning for managers’ performance appraisals.

Formal grievance procedures against miscreant managers are a drastic option, and often bring adversity to the whistleblower.  But so-called “upward assessments” empower subordinates by giving them input into management performance appraisals.  Measuring management behavior, not some nebulous notion that “the company cares about its people,” will rein in abusive managers simply because once something is measured, it generally improves.

I don’t need to refer to the human resource trend du jour — I already know this because my previous manager was Darth Vader reincarnate.  Recognizing the threat to his evil little empire, he usurped the survey process, twisting it to the dark side.

Published norms, articles about workplace bullying, quarterly process meetings and retreats were all his decoys, but his ultimate subterfuge was the employee survey.   He cunningly constructed this devious document to shirk responsibility and shroud his malice.  His dastardly plot recognized that direct surveys represented a powerful check upon his unfettered malevolence.

When I started this job I was bemused that our 25-person department had its own set of norms:  ten principles that basically boiled down to the golden rule.  Everyone else in our large organization was content to operate under organization-wide principles.

On the surface, our department was a group of top-notch professionals working in accord.   It seemed we had struck the optimal balance between efficiency, effectiveness and employee moral, but why did we have a special set of norms, I wondered?   Why were they plastered everywhere:  on the conference room walls, on our manager’s door, in meeting rooms?  One could not walk more than a few yards without encountering them.

I was new, but no one on our team seemed capable of belittling, intimidating, disrespecting or otherwise mistreating a co-worker.  Was this because of the norms?  Or was something more sinister at play that the norms were hiding?

A few months after I started it was time for my first quarterly “process” meeting.  As far as I could tell, this was rare, if not unique to our department.   Part of the unusual agenda called for a discussion of our norms and a potential employee survey.  An extra copy of our norms was posted on the meeting room door, almost as if there had been a recent breach of etiquette.  There had been, many breaches, the perpetrator ambushing her victims then squirming to our manager Darth for refuge.

As I ventured more frequently into various domains within our organization I noticed people wincing when I told them where I worked.  But I was new, an innocent wookie oblivious to the dark side of the force.  I went about my merry way even as my day or reckoning drew closer.

Our next departmental oddity was our yearly retreat.  Wait a minute; retreats are for dysfunctional teams, aren’t they?   I remembered from business school they might be an appropriate venue for an organization that manufactured widgets even while marketing was promoting screws and operations was into nails.  Clearly, they needed a retreat, but not our small, laser-focused workgroup; unless, of course, this was part of the elaborate charade.

It was, and my days of blissful ignorance were ripped asunder back at H.Q. when I fell into the crosshairs of Darth’s personal assistant.  Apparently, my tendency to ponder nuances annoyed her.  For daring to suggest that inventory items need to be entered into a database for proper tracking I was publicly excoriated.  Such was her venom that several witnesses were quite shaken, a 12-year veteran of salty Navy language, I was even taken aback but maintained enough composure to suggest she read our norms.

I was beginning to connect the dots.  Our department’s public image was but a cover up, all a happy face on a veil that concealed the twisted anger of an ogre who was mollycoddled by lord Vader himself.

I was but the latest victim of a long line of rapacious rampages where employee pride and self-confidence were laid waste.  No wonder everyone was so compliant and cooperative, they had succumbed.  After each devastating raid, our resident ogre sought respite in Darth’s chamber.  Job done, she then retreated to her cube to suddenly transform into the public image of serenity beneath her conspicuous copy of our incongruous norms.

Now I knew why everyone winced, everyone except unaware upper-level management.  Job satisfaction is good for productivity so they must be informed.   Not through formal grievance procedures,  but by eliciting employee input into our manager’s performance appraisals, Darth could be redeemed, and the ogre laid bare and slain.

By attempting to hijack it, our manager had shown his repressive regime’s soft underbelly: the employee survey.   His rendition was an utterly corrupt and deceitful document that deliberately avoided questions about management, misdirecting potential blame to feeble droids.  The sham demonstrated that a targeted survey could be powerful straightjacket on managers disposed to running amok.

An employee survey designed to elicit upward feedback would shine light into the dank crypt where he and trusted assistant conspired to wreak havoc.  Executives could then expose the tyranny lest another promising career be dashed.  Powerful energies aimed at self-preservation could be unleashed toward productive ends, and that represents a big disturbance in the force for good.

About the Author: Noel S. Williams currently enjoys work as an Information Technology Specialist.  While he also holds a master’s degree in Human Resource Management, it is his training as Jedi Knight that gives him the fortitude to delve into the dark side of workplace unfairness.

Meaningful Work, The Ultimate Oxymoron?

Monday, August 17th, 2009

It’s a question that I probably am asked more than the average person. And given my line avocation, workplace advice columnist, it shouldn’t be surprising.

“What is the key to a satisfying career?”

For most of my work life, I would have really struggled to answer that question. It would be as close to an imponderable question as why laundry detergent companies continue to call the little scoop that comes inside their box a “free” scoop, like you could use it after all the detergent is gone to serve soup when company comes to visit. Okay, maybe it’s time for me to get a real job and stop contemplating such questions.

The obvious way to tackle the satisfying career question is to not answer it. To decide that everyone is different and therefore must find their own answer.

But after a decade of writing this column I’ve decided that this question is too important to be left to answers such as, “I can handle the commute,” “My boss mostly leaves me alone,” or “If work were satisfying, why would they call it a job.”

Dear readers, I wish I was creative enough to come up with those answers on my own. But I’ve actually had people write those exact words to me through the years.

Outside of a few artists or entrepreneurs, most people seem to approach work as something not to be enjoyed, but to be tolerated. In fact, there was one guy who really got in my face at a speech a few years ago. “Work sucks, and if you think differently about it you are only going to be disappointed.”

This is where I must disagree. The “S” word of work doesn’t have to rhyme with stuck. Work can provide a sense of meaning, contribution and joy in your life…I’ll give a minute’s pause to allow most of you to stop laughing at that last sentence before I continue.

Work can provide meaning, contribution and joy AND a lot more. But it takes the blood, sweat and tears to find the right job for you. Which isn’t based just on your degree or boss or job title. It takes a good hard look in the mirror to sort out what you were really meant to do in your time here.

But that is just the first step in the journey. Just because you’ve found the right vocation doesn’t mean anything until you find the right place to practice your gift. The right company, the right team, the right boss and the right circumstances.

This is not science fiction. I’ve met people who’ve found the promised land at work. And I would count myself in this category.

As they say, a journey of a million miles begins with the first step. And I heard the best first step to a meaningful career in an interview with actor Peter O’Toole. He was asked about the best role he’d had in his amazing career. His response was simple, “The best role is always the next one.”

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.

Memo to CEOs: Your Employees Just Aren't That Into You

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

A few years ago Workplace911 did an online poll. It asked, “Which movie title best describes your relationship with your boss?” Sure, the question was light-hearted, but the results weren’t:

Little Shop of Horrors: 20%

It’s a Wonderful Life: 24%

But the #1 movie title describing the relationship between employees and bosses?

House of Games: 56%

To all the bosses out there, I have some bad news. In the “good old days,” your people didn’t like you that much. Given today’s economic meltdown that occurred on your watch, I’m sorry to say, it’s really hit the fan.

Welcome to “Velcro” management. Where every stupid statement uttered by the former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain, sticks to YOU. Where every corporate jet sticks to YOU. Where every million dollar bonus payment sticks to YOU. Think about it, who was the enemy in the last movie you saw? Odds are it was a corporate villain. Is it fair? No. But populist anger against you is growing exponentially.

I discovered how angry people are on a recent flight to New York City to appear on OTM. I asked my seatmate if he minded if I practiced some of my observations on him. After doing a riff on the $35,000 executive commode, I paused and asked if I’d gone too far. He said, “NO. That is exactly what I’m feeling and so are most of my friends. Please speak up for all of those of us who don’t have a voice.”

Wretched CEO excess isn’t reserved for just “a few bad apples” anymore; it’s the norm in the eyes of most of the people that I hear from today. I’ve got six words to help any CEO who is ready to lead and wants to really escape being tarnished by other CEOs: “One dollar a year in salary.” Only truly bold action will separate you from the tawdry norm that has become the CEO standard operating procedure.

And you ain’t seen nothing yet. According to a recent Associated Press poll, almost half of us now fear losing our jobs. And almost two-thirds of us are now concerned about being able to pay our bills. And more than seven in 10 of us know someone who has been laid off.

Mr. and Mrs. CEO, it’s time to smell the coffee. This economic mess didn’t happen despite your best efforts. It happened because of them. Same-old-same-old layoffs and lecturing everyone about tightening their belts won’t work anymore. You either need to lead, or you need to leave.

As more of us lose our jobs, I think we’ll start to see this anger spilling out into the suites, and the streets, if for no other reason than people suddenly have time on their hands to make their feelings known and little left to lose. It’s our job to speak out. Start with your next corporate proxy statement. That’s safe and won’t threaten your job. Anonymous blog postings are next. Look for every opportunity to add your voice of displeasure about our current crop of leaders.

However, there is a white knight out there for all of us: Donald Trump. When the peacock and The Donald are done with celebrities, the Apprentice needs to take on CEOs. Imagine the huge ratings as Trump says, “You’re Fired!” to executives from the banking and auto industries. The people are ready for someone to say those two magic words that you’re famous for to corporate leaders across the land. You go guy!

Bob Rosner is a best-selling author, award-winning journalist and contributor to On The Money. He has been called “Dilbert with a solution.” Check out the free resources available at workplace911.com. You can contact Bob via bob@workplace911.com.

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