Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘management’

The UAW Vote in Mississippi is a Battle for the Soul of the U.S. Labor Movement

Friday, August 4th, 2017

After years of painstaking work by United Auto Workers (UAW) organizers to build support for a union at the big Nissan auto and truck assembly plant near Canton, Miss., the workers themselves will vote today and tomorrow on whether to accept UAW their collective bargaining voice at the plant.

“I think it [union approval] will pass,” UAW president Dennis Williams told a press conference just days before the vote, “but we’re doing an ongoing evaluation. We’ve been thinking about it for six to seven months,” roughly since the UAW held a large march and rally at the factory attended by Bernie Sanders. The union says it is particularly concerned about a surge in the kind of unlawful management tactics to scare workers that brought charges against Nissan this week from the National Labor Relations Board.

The Canton factory is one of only three Nissan factories worldwide where workers do not have a union. Built in 2003, it is one of a spate of auto “transplants,” or foreign-owned factories built with state subsidies for the past three decades, largely in the South and border states.

Many see the upcoming vote as another test of whether unions can thrive in the South, where union membership has historically been well below the national average. However, the battle is far greater. Now the corporate strategies and values of the South have persisted and influenced multinational companies, as well as labor relations and politics in the North. The Nissan campaign is best conceived as a battle for the U.S. labor movement.

Nissan has not yet responded to a request for comment.

Organizing the South

Organized labor, usually prodded by leftists in the movement, has undertaken high-profile campaigns in the South to organize unions across the racial divides. Such drives were especially prominent during the 1930s-era organizing upsurge and the post-World War II “Operation Dixie,” which lacked adequate support from existing unions and was plagued by internal political divisions.

The UAW has, at various times, escalated organizing in the South, especially when General Motors was considering relocating much production there in the 1960s—and when the transplant growth surged in recent decades.

Despite the shortcomings of labor’s campaigns, many union strategists think that unions can only reverse their decline by directly tackling the racist strategy of employers and their conservative political allies. But employers have many tools to divide workers, such as Nissan’s employment of temporary, contract workers to divide a predominately African-American workforce.

In recent years, the South has suffered key organizing blows, including the big defeat in January for the Machinists’ union trying to organize the new Boeing factory in Charleston, S.C., and the limited UAW success organizing a skilled trades union at Volkswagen in Chattanooga, Tenn. against a supposedly neutral employer. Such defeats typically inspire funereal chants for labor rights and unions, but sound like party music for managers and investors.

Yet, some organizers dispute that the South is impossible territory. One veteran organizer with the AFL-CIO, who has overseen many organizing drives in the South and asked not to be identified or directly quoted, said that he thought it was not significantly more difficult to organize in the South. It just took more time and more money.

The organizer cited one success that defied expectations: the campaigns over roughly 15 years to organize 26,000 workers and preserve business at Louisiana’s giant Avondale shipyards for a shifting cast of corporate owners doing repair and rebuilding work mainly on military contracts. Ultimately, a decline in military orders led its latest owner to close the shipyards, wiping out the organizing victory.

“The unions often do not realize it, but they have been winning in the South more than in the Midwest for years,” says Kate Bronfenbrenner, a Cornell University labor relations professor who specializes in research on union organizing. “Because [in the South] there are more women working, more African Americans, and because there’s less high-tech work.” Each of those categories of workers is more pro-union than their counterparts, thus building in a small theoretical advantage in the South.

The South’s poor labor standards are spreading

In the end, it may be that the poor labor standards of the South are spreading nationwide. The ascendant conservative political power of the new Republican Party, linked with the more aggressively anti-worker and anti-union policies of big corporations and financial firms, indicate that, in this country’s long Civil War, the South is gaining ground.

Consider what has occurred from 1983, when Ronald Reagan’s “morning in America” ads were on the horizon, as well as in 2016, when Donald Trump pledged to “make America great again.” Then and now, most people would consider Michigan and Wisconsin as typically northern, in terms of labor conditions and union density. Yet over that period, federal data shows that the percentage of all workers in Michigan who were covered by union contracts dropped from 32.8 percent in 1983 to 15.5 percent in 2016. For Wisconsin, the share dropped from 26.9 percent to 9.0 percent.

Unions are losing members and failing to gain new ones at an adequate rate to avoid the rough halving of the union share of the workforce over the past 15 years in most of both the South and the North.

Assault on workers knows no boundaries

It will be better for workers everywhere if the Canton, Miss., workers vote for the union, but management still has the upper hand. Workers are still weak and getting weaker nearly everywhere, with partial exceptions, like the Fight for 15 movement, which flourishes in nearly all of the country.

“Right to work” laws threaten unions nationwide, by prohibiting them from charging agency fees to workers who do not join the union but benefit from actions it takes. In recent years, the widespread passage of such laws outside of the South—now extending to half of all states—is a clear indication of the decline in union power.

Workers in Canton may win a union for a variety of reasons beyond the basic proposition that they need collective power to counter the power of their bosses. Or they may reject the union due to fear engendered by Nissan and its anti-union campaign, out of conservative political beliefs or for other reasons.

The best union organizers—and some very good organizers have played a major role at Nissan—understand how important it is to involve workers themselves as-organizers in reaching out to workers. In addition, organizers recognize it is vitally important to mobilize the progressive leaders and groups in the community for support, and employ a wide assortment of tactics to minimize the influence of the boss’s war on unions—a war conducted in large part on turf and terms favorable to the employer.

However, if the labor movement is striving to with significant gains for workers, it must create a progressive strategy for politics, workplace organizing and culture that focuses on the working class very broadly construed, including multiple levels of poverty, affluence and job histories. U.S. union organizing will need to strengthen and expand its community activities to develop a broader range of strategies to defeat racism. Within such a political context, union organizing might prosper—and workers might do so as well.

Whether the UAW does or does not win this summer, future successful organizing of workers in their communities and workplaces require an alternative political force that is more supportive and transformative.

 This piece was originally published at In These Times on August 3, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: David Moberg, a senior editor of In These Times, has been on the staff of the magazine since it began publishing in 1976. Before joining In These Times, he completed his work for a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago and worked for Newsweek. He has received fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Nation Institute for research on the new global economy.

A Bizarre Labor Arrangement

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Going all the way back to the Industrial Revolution, the “Us vs. Them” dynamic that defines labor-management relations has remained remarkably intact. And that’s a good thing. Yes, the relationship is tense and adversarial, and, yes, it hasn’t always been productive, and, yes, there have been occasions where debilitating strikes and even violence have resulted, but because each side has its own agenda, conflict should be expected.

Lined up on one side are the men and women who do the actual work, who toil long, tedious hours for a defined wage, and lined up on the other are employers who, while grudgingly recognizing the necessity of workers, are committed to not paying them one nickel more than is absolutely necessary. It’s an economic law. You charge for your product all that the market will bear, and you pay your employees as little as you can get away with.

By and large, this primitive relationship has resulted in an equilibrium. Adhering to the principle that there is “strength in numbers,” workers have joined together to form labor unions, and embracing the time-honored belief that “money talks,” business groups have bribed Congress to pass legislation that crippled the labor movement. By “equilibrium” we’re not suggesting there is anything remotely resembling “fairness,” only that there is a stasis of sorts.

Which brings us to the film industry. To be a movie actor, you must belong to SAG (Screen Actors Guild), the actors’ union. Similarly, Hollywood’s bosses are represented by the AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers). In many ways, contract negotiations between the Guild and the Alliance are not unlike negotiations between any other parties; it could be the UAW going up against Chrysler, the IAM taking on Boeing, or the Teamsters bargaining with UPS.

[It should be noted that SAG is now known as SAG-AFTRA, having recently voted to merge with AFTRA—American Federation of Television and Radio Artists—but that’s a whole other messy issue, which we won’t get into here.]

But there is one very disturbing way in which SAG’s negotiations with the producers doesn’t resemble those of other unions, and that difference involves a profound conflict of interest. Incredibly, some of the most prominent and influential members of SAG are also producers. It’s true. While these “movie stars” are dues-paying union members who, nominally, do battle with the producers, they themselves are also big-time producers.

You can imagine where their interests lie when it comes to mundane (but critically important) rank-and-file issues such as residuals, new technology, and health insurance premiums. As important as these issues are to 95-percent of working actors, they mean next to nothing to these moguls. Indeed, as producers with an eye on the bottom-line, they’re interested in keeping their costs down, and if this results in their fellow actors receiving a smaller slice of the pie, so be it.

During SAG’s 2009 contract negotiations, some of these actor-producers actually took out advertisements in trade papers urging the membership not to do anything so dumb or reckless as to vote to authorize a strike, presumably because they didn’t want to see actors (whom they themselves employ) rock the boat by interfering with future profits. Of course, a public display of union dissension like this is going to badly undercut any talk of solidarity, which it did.

An accomplished actor friend of mine (he’s brave, so he probably wouldn’t mind me mentioning his name, but I shall preserve his anonymity) has recently (in late September) filed charges with the NLRB against these actor-producers. I read his affidavit. It was well-written and compelling. The extent of the alleged “collusion” was mind-boggling.

The four movie and TV production companies (and the executives associated with them) named in the complaint are:

Jersey Films and Jersey Television (Danny DeVito)
The Playtone Company (Tom Hanks)
Smokehouse Productions (George Clooney)
Tribeca Film (Robert DeNiro)

Anyone who believes in the value and nobility of the labor movement is going to root for this NLRB complaint to succeed. Of course, taking on famous movie stars like these guys will be an uphill climb, but it’s certainly worth the effort. And who knows? Maybe the NLRB will provide us with one of Hollywood’s patented “surprise endings.”

This article was originally published on October 31, 2012 on Dissident Voice. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: David Macaray is a playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor”).  His political and entertainment articles have appeared in CounterPunch, Common Dreams,  New York Press, Huffington Post, Utne Reader, Beckett Monthly, LA Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, and various anthologies.

Andy for the Win!

Monday, September 26th, 2011

Jaclyn WestLitigation Value: More fodder for everybody’s negligent retention suit as Dwight shows more predilections toward violence in the workplace, but otherwise, not much litigation expected from this episode – just a host of employee morale issues. I’m sure Robert California will be harassing someone before long, though.

Well, friends, the wait is finally over – last night we met the new Sabre Scranton branch manager! The selection committee chose Robert California, played by James Spader… but after one look at the office he drove straight to Florida and talked Jo into giving him her CEO job instead. That’s one persuasive guy. I guess I can see why the selection committee liked him… well, maybe liked is too strong a word. I can see why they were intrigued. California then chose an internal candidate to fill the manager’s seat – none other than that singing phenom, Andy Bernard!

Of course, California’s reign as CEO gets off to a rocky start. After zeroing in on Erin for an intense small-talk session, California leaves his personal notebook open at the reception desk. Naturally, Erin looks at it and what she finds is a list of all the employees in the office, divided into two columns. Soon the entire office is buzzing – what does it mean? Dwight gathers the employees into two groups and prompts the left side of the column to “Attack!” – starting a minor workplace brawl, which could have been worse if anyone other than Kevin listened to Dwight. I’ll say it again. Between stashing weapons around the office, nearly shooting one of his co-workers, and now trying to start a brawl in the middle of the workplace (which is only appropriate if your workplace is a hockey rink), why is Dwight not fired yet? The guy is a negligent retention lawsuit waiting to happen. Given that he has shown, not signs, but actual acts of workplace violence, it’s only a matter of time until he seriously hurts someone – and then Sabre is going to have a big litigation bill, and maybe even a bigger settlement, on its hands.

When California invites the left side of the list – including Jim, Dwight, Oscar, Angela, Phyllis and Kevin – out to lunch and tells him that he thinks they’re “winners,” the tension escalates. If the left side of the list are winners, does that mean the right side of the list are losers? Well, yes, evidently that’s exactly what it means. The list seems to be some kind of twisted motivation tool, as California urges the “winners” to prove him right and the “losers” to prove him wrong.

As we’ve seen time and time again (i.e. with Michael Scott), so many workplace problems are caused by a lack of common sense. As lawyers, we often focus on the legal ramifications of a particular action. And while the legal ramifications are important, it’s also important to consider things like how a particular action by a manager will appear to employees. Using common sense can avert a lot of problems in the office, while failing to use it can cause them. Union organizing campaigns can often be traced back to an abrasive manager, for example. Employees who feel respected and valued are most likely to work hard, be productive, and perform well. Employees who feel disrespected and undervalued often don’t give their best efforts, and quite a few of them get litigious.

Not a good way to start off your CEO-ship, Robert California. Did you miss the day of kindergarten where you were supposed to learn the golden rule? Think of how you’d respond if you spotted your name on a list made by your boss, and didn’t know what it meant. Would it be a delightful puzzle or a source of added stress? And then, if you found out it was because your boss thought you were a “loser,” would you be trying to prove him wrong, or would you be polishing your resume? I’m not talking about writing a note to the file of an employee you think shows great promise, to watch out for advancement opportunities for the person – that’s fine. But the list was immature, in poor taste, and set up a possibly serious workplace morale problem.

One good thing did come out of the whole debacle, though – Andy got to show what kind of manager we can expect him to be. Although he was understandably nervous around the new CEO, he went to bat for his team and showed California exactly why he shouldn’t leap to conclusions about people before getting to know them. Andy even found kind words to say about Meredith. He showed, dare I say, a Michael Scott-esque commitment to his people. I’ve always thought Michael’s best quality was the way he valued his team, and Andy showed that he values them just as highly and is just as willing to stick his neck out for them. Good on you, Andy. Ezra Cornell would be proud. And so would Michael Scott.

This blog post originally appeared in “That’s What She Said” on September 23, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

“That’s What She Said” is a Ford & Harrison blog about labor and employment issues revolving around themes from the hit TV show, The Office. Ford & Harrison “is a labor and employment law firm with a national practice in all aspects of labor and employment law.  Close to 200 labor and employment lawyers in 21 offices across the country, as well as 3 of counsel affiliate offices, strive to provide clients with sound legal advice, practical counseling and excellent client service.”

About the Author: Jacyln West concentrates her practice on labor relations and employment litigation representing management. Her practice encompasses all areas relating to the counseling, training and representation of management clients in federal and state courts, as well as before state and local agencies and in arbitration.

Five Years of Silence

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011
Image: Bob RosnerA while back Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas achieved a quiet milestone. He has gone five entire terms as a Supreme without asking a question.
Just to put this in perspective, no previous Supreme level judge had gone one entire session without asking a question.
Five years.
Hello darkness my old friend, I’m come to talk with you again, indeed.
(For those a lot younger than me, meaning almost everyone, that is a line from the Simon & Garfunkel song, “Sounds of Silence.”)
To me, this harkens back to a much simpler time. When many of us could take the Fifth Amendment at work and not only keep our jobs, we could leverage our silence into regular promotions. When Casper the Friendly Ghost wasn’t just a cartoon, but a workplace lifestyle.
People got ahead not by taking chances, but just showing up. Leave it up to the Japanese to perfectly sum it up in a catch phrase, “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” Or “Deru kugi wa utareru” if you enjoy quoting things in their original language.
After our second recession in a decade, silence is the antithesis of how to get ahead today. No, these days speaking out and up is the way to go.
Don’t get me wrong, the corporate immune system is still trained to go after anything that threatens the status quo. That will never change. But there are more people in management positions who realize that playing it safe and trying to sit on a lead in today’s turbulent marketplace is often the riskiest thing you can do.
I suggest that we all tip our hat to the old-school Supreme. Even though most of us can’t go silent anymore, we can appreciate his trip down memory lane. Way to keep the stiff upper lip, and lower one too Clarence.
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. 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.

What Is the Best Mindset to Bring to Work

Monday, May 17th, 2010

Image: Bob RosnerLast time I discussed the top “mindsets” that we bring to work. For those of you who like things defined, here goes—mindset is “a habitual or characteristic mental attitude that determines how you will interpret and respond to situations.”

Most of us bring some “habits” to work on a regular basis. After doing a lot of interviews and research, I came up with five. What I like to call the 5 M’s. Machine, military, motivation, measurement and entrepreneurship (okay, that’s not an “M” word. I put it in because that is one of the problems with mindsets, they tend to lock us in to a limited way of viewing the world).

According to your votes, the mindset that you most often bring to work is machine. 35% of you chose it. Next was military with 27%. Followed by motivation, the choice of 17%. Measurement, 15%, and entrepreneurship at 6%.

Each of these mindsets served a purpose at one time. The problem is that they tend to live on long past the point they continue to provide value. Take the top response, machine. A smooth running machine is a very effective way to run a business. The problem? Machines don’t do so well when it comes to creativity and initiative. And those are two things that most businesses can’t do without today.

In addition, all of the mindsets share two basic problems. First, they tend to struggle when it comes to handling complexity. A new competitor, a worker shortage or a lawsuit against your company aren’t things that any of the 5 Ms can really cope with. The problem is that today’s workplace is all about complexity.

But there is an even bigger problem—control. All of these mindsets do best when there is a heavy hand running the show. And that heavy hand may have helped 60 years ago to make the trains run on time, but today many businesses are starting to realize that the brains of their people are a terrible thing to waste. So rather than trying to produce a certain result from people, more organizations are realizing they have to create a place where the best efforts can flow out of people.

So we need to develop a new mindset, one that gives more control to the people who actually do the work. Not for some soft headed share the wealth idea, but because organizations need to extract everything they can from their people’s hands, heads and hearts (okay, that will be the last bit of alliteration for this column).

Ultimately I’m not going to try to sell you on exactly what new mindset to adopt. My point is simply that we need to become more aware of the mindset we bring to work each day. And not forget the creativity and control as we go along our journey at work. Just realizing this should help us all to better navigate our workday more successfully.

QUOTE.
“No more good can be attempted than the people can bear.” Thomas Jefferson

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. You can also hear workplace911 on BlogTalkRadio weekly. If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

The Consultants Have No Clothes

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Image: Bob RosnerThis week’s blog should get me in a lot of trouble. But I think it’s time that someone points out that many of the biggest business consultants, authors and speakers run really crappy businesses of their own.

Okay, I’ve heard all the jokes about consultants. All go basically down the same path—a consultant is someone who borrows your watch and then tells you what time it is. But this is someone much worse. I’ve discovered that many of the biggest advisors to business run shops that are much more poorly managed than many of the corporations that pay them such lofty fees.

Ironic isn’t it?

Take consultant number one—I’ve confided the real names to my editor, but dear reader you’ll have to give me some slack here, because these guys are my colleagues, and in some cases my friends.

Consultant number one has had a series of best selling books, he commands top dollar on the speakers circuit and chances are that you’ve heard or seen him at one time during your career. He is so volatile that he is barely able to hold on to staff for more than a year. He says he’s a great listener, but his staff says to me that he yells far too much to ever hear a word they say. His office might as well have a revolving door on it.

Consultant number two is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. But his company is remarkably dysfunctional. Its top leadership seems to change with the seasons. More than any other, this company almost seems to be dedicated to violating every principal that it espouses in its publications and presentations with its own people. It is a rudderless, often contradictory and cruel place that talks about sharing the credit but seldom does.

Consultant number three has built a company with some of the lowest morale anywhere. It’s hard to sort out where the battle lines are worse, in the executive suites or in the trenches. At one point I actually got to see some of the company’s internal survey results and couldn’t imagine that any of this company’s customers own results were that pathetic. Employees felt that management was more likely to knife them in the back then pat them on it. Although there was a lot of talk about values, the organization seems to only hold one value dear, and that is making the sale.

Woody Allen once said that those who can, do. And those who can’t, teach. Clearly those who really can’t do something become top-priced consultants.

So what can we do about this? I’m not suggesting that anyone throw out the baby with the bathwater. Each of these three people I referred to above has an important message and strategies to share. I just believe that corporations need to do a better job of due diligence with the messengers it picks before it starts ramming the fad of the week down its own people’s throats.

Look at each possible vendor as a little laboratory for their own principals. Ask for proof that they eat their own dog food and practice the very principals that they are foisting on you, and the rest of the business world.

Many of you are probably saying to yourself that this doesn’t really matter. It all goes back to the “Hawthorne Effect”, remember, that’s where a company turned up its lights and found that productive increased. Then when productivity stabilized they tried turning the lights down and found—like magic—that productivity magically increased again. The lesson, is that over the short haul almost anything you do can potentially increase productivity.

So Corporate America do your homework. Just because someone is a brand name, don’t assume that their principles work in the real world. That’s the bad news. The good news, is that the due diligence isn’t that hard to do. You just have to take the pulse of the employees who work for the company you are thinking about hiring. Ask to see recently survey results and staff turnover rates. I can guarantee that often you’ll be surprised by what you find.

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. 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.

Leadership Quiz

Monday, March 29th, 2010

Image: Bob RosnerReady for that corner office and a reserved parking spot? Tired of waiting for your boss to die? As a service to you, my readers, I’m going to give you a much easier path to a fancier office, bigger paycheck and higher quality headaches.

Take the following quiz and you’ll immediately know if you’ve got what it takes to be a leader. The only thing that will then hold you back from making that magical leap from being the delegatee to being the delagator is to convince the management that this test is much cheaper than extensive evaluations and actual accomplishments in determining the “keepers” for your company. But then again, Ms. or Mr. UpWardlyMobile, this is a small price to pay for potentially huge jump up the corporate ladder.

The answers, and what your score means to your career, appear at the bottom of the column.

1. Define “Management by Objective,” “Reengineering” and “Theory Y Management.” 10 points
2. What is the number one employee complaint? 10 points
3. What is your company’s vision statement? 25 points
4. What is the most precious resource for your company? 15 points
5. Which best describes your approach to leadership? 15 points
–a. I deserve my obscene paycheck and options because I make the tough decisions
–b. If indicted, I’m ready to claim that I really didn’t know what was going on
–c. All of the above

1. Give yourself 0 points if you had any clue about what “Management by Objective,” “Reengineering” or “Theory Y Management” means. If you have no idea, give yourself 10 points. You should know by now that old fads are not worthy of the bandwidth of an up-and-coming executive.

2. The number one employee complaint—“it’s too cold.” The second most common employee complaint? “It’s too hot,” according to a study by the International Facility Management Association. Give yourself 10 points if you got either of those answers correct. But give yourself 15 points if you refused to answer the question—because the only employee complaints that should concern you are those of your people.

3. Okay, vision statements from most organizations are forgettable platitudes that should make any sane person wretch. But remember, you want to join the ranks of people who spent days at some fancy resort to come up with this BS. So give yourself 25 points if you can recite your company’s current vision statement. Unfortunately this isn’t hand grenades or horse shoes, so close doesn’t count. To get the points, you’ve got to nail it perfectly.

4. If you answered that the most precious resource for your company are the employees, give yourself 20 points. If you said your boss, subtract ten points from your total. You should know that sucking up should always be focused on the person who signs your paychecks and not a silly quiz at a web site.

5. If you chose obscene paycheck AND claim that you didn’t know what was going on in the company you were running then you must work on Wall Street.

Scoring:
85—Check your pants, I think they might be on fire
70—Get ready to say goodbye to your cube
50—Don’t you have better things to do than take online leadership quizzes?
30 or below—Remember, without followers, there wouldn’t be any leaders

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. 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.

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.

What Is the Best Mindset to Bring to Work

Monday, February 8th, 2010

Image: Bob RosnerLast time I discussed the top “mindsets” that we bring to work. For those of you who like things defined, here goes—mindset is “a habitual or characteristic mental attitude that determines how you will interpret and respond to situations.”

Most of us bring some “habits” to work on a regular basis. After doing a lot of interviews and research, I came up with five. What I like to call the 5 M’s. Machine, military, motivation, measurement and entrepreneurship (okay, that’s not an “M” word. I put it in because that is one of the problems with mindsets, they tend to lock us in to a limited way of viewing the world).

According to your votes, the mindset that you most often bring to work is machine. 35% of you chose it. Next was military with 27%. Followed by motivation, the choice of 17%. Measurement, 15%, and entrepreneurship at 6%.

Each of these mindsets served a purpose at one time. The problem is that they tend to live on long past the point they continue to provide value. Take the top response, machine. A smooth running machine is a very effective way to run a business. The problem? Machines don’t do so well when it comes to creativity and initiative. And those are two things that most businesses can’t do without today.

In addition, all of the mindsets share two basic problems. First, they tend to struggle when it comes to handling complexity. A new competitor, a worker shortage or a lawsuit against your company aren’t things that any of the 5 Ms can really cope with. The problem is that today’s workplace is all about complexity.

But there is an even bigger problem—control. All of these mindsets do best when there is a heavy hand running the show. And that heavy hand may have helped 60 years ago to make the trains run on time, but today many businesses are starting to realize that the brains of their people are a terrible thing to waste. So rather than trying to produce a certain result from people, more organizations are realizing they have to create a place where the best efforts can flow out of people.

So we need to develop a new mindset, one that gives more control to the people who actually do the work. Not for some soft headed share the wealth idea, but because organizations need to extract everything they can from their people’s hands, heads and hearts (okay, that will be the last bit of alliteration for this column).

Ultimately I’m not going to try to sell you on exactly what new mindset to adopt. My point is simply that we need to become more aware of the mindset we bring to work each day. And not forget the creativity and control as we go along our journey at work. Just realizing this should help us all to better navigate our workday more successfully.

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.

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