Saturday, September 30, 2006


Some Thoughts On United Professionals

When I recently googled "United Professionals", the first website that came up was a dotcom rather than a dotorg. Apparently, there is a consulting firm in Florida with the same name. Therein lies the problem...

The United Professionals website is a little like a brand new office building. Very sleek and, dare I say it, "professional" in its appearance, but very generic as well - and also as yet largely unoccupied with substance. The lack of material to be found on the website is no fault of United Professionals. They just started, after all. Besides, there is a web page featuring books about the white collar world. I consider this to be the best resource available thus far from the site.

But I have some misgivings about that aforementioned "generic" quality. There is a rotating slide show of color photos showing individuals of all different ages, sexes and ethnic affinities. That is as it should be - any organization would do well to court diversity, and especially to recruit the young. The problem is that United Professionals presents itself in a manner indistinguishable from the countless bland websites of consulting firms, temp agencies and other human resources firms that are entirely corporate in their nature and intentions.

The UP motto, "Professionals deserve to earn a good living", could just as easily be the advertising come-on of an IT consulting agency. Believe me, I've seen a million such websites, and I know. Cultivating this resemblance is unwise in a number of ways. For one, it prevents United Professionals from standing out - even if it were a conventional HR firm. For another, it appears to place almost no distance whatsoever between what white collar "professionals" should really be working for and what corporations cynically believe would satisfy them.

For white collar workers to call themselves "professionals" is mildly grandiose. We are not, after all, doctors, lawyers, college professors, etc. We are not part of a fraternity with rigid entrance requirements that jealously protects its own interests. We are at the mercy of those who employ us, not the other way around. I understand that this collective self-inflation is a "dignitarian" approach - in other words, an attempt to dignify and even "empower", as it were, a group in jeopardy. The irony is that this touching self-assertion might suggest to corporate leadership that we are vulnerable to flattery, that we would become docile and compliant if we were merely assured that we, too, were "professional" - that we, too, were like those manage us and control our lives. Yet this is the lie that corporations have been telling us for generations - they want to us to aspire to their condition of gray flannel superiority so that we might identify with their interests and never with our own.

My own belief is that white collar workers should present themselves first and foremost as "workers". The image to which we should adhere should not be the image of "corporate success" to which we might aspire. That is the same image that those who oppose us have of themselves - except in their case they do not aspire, they have already arrived. No cause can defend itself from the vantage point of wishful thinking. We need something different, something that reflects the reality of our lives as they are lived now, and underscores as clearly as possible the distinction between the white collar Us and the corporate Them.

Just as union labor in mid-twentieth century America reveled in its own identity as "working class" - e.g., folks who went to ballgames and had cookouts in the backyard - so should white collar workers revel in who they are now, not in what they dream to be. We should, for instance, focus on our families and on the futures of our children - for surely we toil in the tedium of our cubicle-ized careers to put our children through college, not because we love our jobs. We should wear our own unique sense of humor as a kind of armor against the temptations of mendacious corporate flattery. We should not be ashamed of expressing our own anger and dismay. United Professionals would be do better to publish outrageous anecdotes of bad bosses rather than pose as if they thought they deserved to become bosses themselves. They would do better to give us trenchant Dilbert cartoons rather than empty slogans.

United Professionals Website

Friday, September 29, 2006


What Color Is Your Collar?

Here is a lighthearted take on the catch-phrases used to define whole sectors of the working world, all of them referring to the color of one's collar. The different variations are summarized below:

1) Blue Collar - Working class, union labor, assembly workers, telephone linemen, plumbers, repairmen, carpenters, etc.

2) White Collar - Office workers and salaried professionals.

3) Pink Collar - Dead-end jobs in the service sector, most often held by women - e.g., waitresses, maids, stenographers and perhaps even nurses.

4) Green Collar - Workers in environmentally friendly occupations (forest rangers? ecologists? sanitation engineers?)

5) Gold Collar - High income professionals such as doctors, lawyers and investment bankers.

6) Gray Collar - Workers in their 60's or older.

7) Red Collar - At the link below, someone implied this might refer to redneck occupations - such as farmhand, cowboy, and hunter? I would have thought "Red Collar" had something to do with Commies, or at least the radical left - something like pamphleteer, union organizer or anarchist. It's a sign of how far to the right we've all shifted that a phrase like "red collar" no longer even has that connotation.

"Rainbow of collars" from the Post-Tribune

Thursday, September 28, 2006


Health Care Costs Rising Twice As Fast As Inflation

According to a new survey, the cost of employee health insurance rose 7.7 percent this year - while wages rose only 3.8 percent. Believe it or not, this is almost good news to some. The rate of increase is actually declining. The cost of health care rose 9.2 percent in 2005 and 11.2 percent in 2004. Nevertheless, "while premiums didn't rise as fast as they have in recent years, working people don't feel like they're getting any relief at all, because their premiums have been rising so much faster than their paychecks," says Drew Altman of the Kaiser Family Foundation, which conducted the survey. He adds, "The cost trend is moderating but nobody is celebrating."

Employees of smaller companies, which typically offer preferred provider (or PPO) plans, pay an average of $3,497 in premiums out of a total of $11,793, while those who work for larger companies pay slightly less - an average of $2,628 out of $11,752. The employers kick in the rest. The average premium for an individual is about 16 percent, while it is 27 percent for families. The bottom line is that the ones who suffer most from the increases are those good American folks with mouths to feed, kids to raise, and college costs looming on the horizon - which are also now sky high. That is if those folks are insured through their employer. Those who need to pay for their own health care insurance take the full brunt of the increases. With fewer corporations able to pay for expensive employee health benefits, more and more of us will be joining that overburdened group in the future.

Rich Morrison, a VP at a Florida hospital, is not sanguine about the years to come. The survey "doesn't bode well long term for the affordability of health insurance...This is one of the few times I can't see the light at the end of the tunnel." He continues, "This can't go on. Every year we're compounding the problem, and the spread (between health care costs and wages) will grow."

Becky Cherney, head of the Florida Health Coalition, agrees, emphasizing that even a 7.7 percent increase "is not sustainable. Health care simply can't keep taking a bigger and bigger bite out of people's incomes."

"Health Care Costs Rise Twice as Much as Inflation" from The New York Times (Registration may be required)
"Health premiums climb 7.7%" from the Orlando Sentinel
"Salaries lag behind health care costs" from the Register-Guard (Eugene, Oregon)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


"Cutting Costs" Often Little More Than A CEO Reflex

A recent article in Slate lampoons executives whose cost-cutting measures are more often than not reflexive and arbitrary. The vastly successful investment bank Credit Suisse has cut back on color Xeroxes (that specifically) and deal-closing dinners. Yahoo, in a variation of Scroogian stinginess that cunningly masquerades as its opposite, plans to give its employees the week off between Christmas and New Year. Without pay, of course. And, by the way, this "vacation" is mandatory, not optional. According to Yahoo's HR boss, this is so that workers might "enjoy guilt-free time off while helping Yahoo reduce unused vacation time". Unh-huh... I'd rather keep the money, thank you - I need to buy Christmas presents. J.P. Morgan Chase, as another example, likewise cuts costs in a random fashion - pretty much the way mortarmen drop their shells on unsuspecting troops. CEO James Dimon has been applauded for closing employee gyms and depriving its minions of free cellphone privileges. It is enough to make one believe that corporations throw perks to their employees just so they can take them away when the time comes to "economize".

According to Slate, "what ends up infuriating employees is that the scrimping on minor employee perks co-exists with a pay-any-price attitude for so much else". Million dollar bonuses to top executives are rarely suspended, and CEO salaries are almost never cut. Not only are these scattershot attempts to control costs nit-picking to the point of neurosis - they are also completely hypocritical.

Here's a tidbit for those who support Our War Against Islamo-Fascism: A Saudi prince named Alwaleed bin Talal, a major shareholder at Citigroup, has recently demanded "draconian" cost-cutting actions to be taken against the firm's employees - many of whom happen to be American. Hypocrisy is too mild a word when an Oil Sheik, of all things, starts gettin' medieval on the pocketbooks of the company serfs...

Slate suggests that the many "mindless, ultimately meaningless cost-cutting actions by gigantic corporations" are one of the first signs of a slowing economy. The canary in the mineshaft, so to speak. And that "we've reached the moment that occurs in every business cycle, before the new gets very bad, when successful companies start turning their employees upside down in hopes of shaking out a few pennies". In other words, gird your loins against the onslaught of the ludicrous and the unexpected - the worst is yet to come.

"Pinching The Penny Pinchers" from Slate

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


More White Collar Pros Working Vampires' Hours

According to Circadian Technologies (great name!) of Stoneham, Mass., half of the 24 million Americans who work the night shift hold white collar jobs in IT, finance and health care. "One of the trends we've seen is that businesses that weren't quite 24-7 before are getting that way and the number of white-collar jobs at night are increasing," says Circadian's president, Dr. Martin Moore-Ede. Working at night can adversely affect both your personal life and your health, expose you to more crime and hazardous driving conditions, and is definitely not the thing for anyone who needs managerial guidance or continual personal interaction. Nonetheless, the demand for white collar professionals who will work at all hours has increased, which is at least partly due to globalization. With so many customers and vendors located overseas in wildly different time zones, not to mention the outsourcing of call centers and IT staffers to India and elsewhere, it is more imperative than ever that workers are at the office 24/7.

As white collar workers join other denizens of this workanight milieu, such as police, nurses and security guards, the demand for other nighttime services also increases. Restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores and call centers (even call centers that serve other call centers) are expanding their hours of operation and their nightshift payrolls to keep pace. We wager that it won't be long before globalization creates a whole new world of nocturnal workers from all walks of life, parallel to the daytime universe but separate from it. It will be interesting to see what the social and political consequences will be from yet another Balkanization of American culture.

"Around the clock" from the Orlando Sentinel

Monday, September 25, 2006


The Dictionary Of White-Collar Crime

Here - from a legal public relations consultant, no less - is a light (although perhaps not lighthearted) piece about the euphemisms commonly employed to describe "white-collar crime". These tend to "whitewash" (no pun intended) the crimes committed by well-showered men in expensive suits. Did I say "committed"? Actually, only violent crimes are "committed" - white-collar crimes are merely "carried out". Here's another one that I sure as hell never heard of. If some scruffy miscreant acquires illicit access to your mail or e-mail, that's called "identity theft". If a corporation - like, say, HP - does something similar, it is called "pretexting". What, you ask, is that? It sounds like something your Blackberry might do.

The article goes on to give examples of what various common criminal activities might sound like if they were described using the vocabulary of white-collar crime:

Armed robbery - "Forced financial acquisition"

Drug possession with intent to distribute - "Recreational substance pre-marketing"

Prostitution - "Erotically assisted aerobics"

Armed bank robbery - "Financial-institution property removal"

Mugging - "Sidewalk-based personal property removal"

These are mildly amusing, only medium clever, but I think you'll get the point. I was certainly enlightened (er, I mean, "got wise").

"The white-collar Webster's" from the Philadelphia Daily News

Sunday, September 24, 2006


The Latest On Corporate Spying

Hewlett-Packard's scandalous efforts to spy on its own executives raise more general questions about the ethics of employee surveillance. At the link below, the Christian Science Monitor reveals that corporations routinely engage private investigators to clandestinely monitor - and sometimes even to deliberately entrap - their employees. In HP's case, for instance, investigators gained illegal access to personal phone records and orchestrated an e-mail "sting" operation in which a hidden code embedded in an e-mail message allowed it to be traced to all the employees to whom it was forwarded.

With the increasing sophistication of surveillance technology, it is inevitable that employee spying will itself increase, and the law has not caught up with all the possible ramifications of this enterprise. As one expert says, "The bar of ethics is higher than the bar of the law" - and few corporations will restrain themselves from potentially unethical activity while it is still legal.

While corporations will engage private investigators only for critical measures like guarding trade secrets, they routinely use computer software and video cameras to observe and record a wide range of employee behavior.

Here are some stats on the prevalence and results of corporate snooping, based on a survey of 526 companies:

1) 76 percent monitor their employees' website connections.

2) 26 percent have fired employees for abusing their Internet privileges.

3) 6 percent have fired employees for abusing their phone privileges.

"The changing rules of corporate spy games" from the Christian Science Monitor

Friday, September 22, 2006


White Collar Workers Of The World Unite!

The Nation weighs in on Barbara Ehrenreich's new white collar union, United Professionals. The response is unequivocally positive - which, I guess, means that even the radical left now accepts the American middle class as downtrodden workers. It is sad that it has come to this, but perhaps being down and out can garner us allies.

They quote Jared Bernstein, a fellow at the Economic Policy Institute and a United Professionals board member. "The rap among policy elites is that once you're college educated your problems are over," he says. "You are now officially insulated from any of the pressures of the global economy, the health care problem, job insecurity. Unfortunately, that's wrong, and white collar workers recognize that these challenges no longer only befall those in the factory sector, who've been getting whacked by globalization for years". That is important news for the folks at The Nation, who may be relieved to learn that the white collar middle class has finally been disabused of its snooty illusions of superiority.

The Nation agrees that a white collar union of some kind - preferably a creative mutation of the old union model that introduces many new features without incorporating the shortcomings of the original - is necessary. According to polls, more than half of white collar workers believe they would benefit from an organization that can effectively perform collective bargaining on their behalf. They quote Bernstein again: "While white collar workers may not have a union orientation, many recognize that forces such as global offshoring have diminished their bargaining clout".

Everyone seems to agree that universal health insurance is the place to start. As a man on COBRA waiting to get struck in the face by The Snake of Fate, I heartily agree.

"United Professionals, Unite!" from The Nation

Thursday, September 21, 2006


Pink Slip By E-mail

Brace yourself for a new trend called "cyber-firing", in which you receive your pink slip via e-mail. According to a survey conducted by the International Association of Business Communicators, 37 percent of the respondents still fire their underlings in person, but 29 percent do it with the Send button. "It's disrespectful of the employee," says the association president, Julie Freeman. "Losing one's job is a very difficult circumstance in almost every case. The very least you can do for the individual you're laying off is have the courage to meet face to face."

The main rationale for e-mail firings is, of course, their extreme expedience. One wonders, however, whether or not the reliance on impersonality in performing corporate dirty work reflects something else as well. Cowardice might be a factor, but I believe the larger motivation for using such tactics is so managers can minimize the accountability for their actions - or at least their own perception of that accountability. It is easier psychologically to cleanse yourself of your sins if you commit them through the intermediary of technology rather than through messy "personal interaction". Sort of like the difference between pressing the button on a bombsight and cutting the enemy's throat up close and personal. Depriving the fired employee of the opportunity to confront the firer is also much easier on the latter. After all, we don't want those who fire us to come down with PTSD, now do we?

Ironically, while the "pain of firing" may decrease for those at the top, the pain of being fired will only increase as this trend continues. So will the anger. Receiving the sudden news that one's livelihood just bit the dust through e-mail or even through a cellphone text message is far ruder than the classic primal scene of getting called into the lair of the boss and being told that one is no longer needed. One may no longer experience the terrifying moments of anticipation leading up to the inevitable, but the new way is ruder nonetheless. As the article at the link below reports, "that kind of cyber-approach leaves workplace specialists aghast". One such expert, himself a veteran terminator, claims, "There's no reason you can't do it with class."

"You've got mail: 'We're letting you go'" from the Christian Science Monitor

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Blood Money For Real - The War Profiteers

When I think of "blood money" in corporate terms, I think of the dollars that are made on stock shares when the price is enhanced by downsizing. Here is some info on a much more literal form. Dozens of American companies are making fortunes off our crusade to make Iraq safe for corporate globalization - oops, I meant for "democracy". It's not just Halliburton, which is still a major player among the contractors in the Green Zone. (Just as an aside before we go on, it is interesting, to say the least, that the Vice President is the former CEO of one of the firms that is benefitting most from a war he helped create. Don't you think so? Congress thought so, and gently questioned Shady Dick about his connection with Halliburton. At least until Shady Dick flung profanity at them - at the representatives of the people, no less. It's not them he said "Fuck you!" to, you know - it's us.)

Again, that was just an aside. What do I know about politics? I am a mere white collar imbecile. My mandate is simply to do or be downsized... Check out T. Christian Miller's new book, Blood Money: A Story of Wasted Billions, Lost Lives and Corporate Greed in Iraq. Miller, an LA journalist who has investigated his story on-site in Iraq, pillories the administration for granting "illegal and immoral Iraqi invasion-related contracts to corporations such as Halliburton" and recounts "his firsthand knowledge of waste, fraud, abuse - and needless death..." As Miller himself says, more than 30,000 contractors have been operating in Iraq since 2003 and so far only two criminal cases have been prosecuted in relation to their activities. Clearly, there is more going on, but the administration chooses to ignore it.

The "untamed flame of freedom" is fueled by oil, needless to say, and the achievement of "democracy" anywhere on the planet these days simply means the establishment of business-friendly oligarchs acceptable to our friend - our boss - the President. Another interesting note - is it, or is it not, a coincidence that the most foolish and destructive President we've ever had is the only one who ever attended Harvard Business School?

Below are several links that address this troublesome chimera of a news issue - half political, half business-related, and 100 percent ugly. One of them lists the 10 most over-the-top partakers in the Iraq free-for-all.

"An angry look at the war delivers on its promises" from The Boston Globe
"The 10 Most Brazen War Profiteers" from AlterNet
"Iraq For Sale: The War Profiteers"
"Wasted Billions, Lost Lives and Corporate Greed in Iraq" from the Huffington Post

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


More On Barbara Ehrenreich's New White Collar Union

Barbara Ehrenreich was inspired by her experience writing Bait And Switch to found a group to help white collar workers. Using as her model the women's movement of the 1970's, she envisioned the group as both a forum to air the grievances of white collar workers, and as a meeting place where members could share their experiences and lend each other support. The new group is named United Professionals, and its chairman is Bill Holland, a former HR executive and the author of a book entitled Are There Any Good Jobs Left? Holland expects the group to establish chapters in all fifty states within a year, and anticipates that it will reach its most proactive constituency through the Internet.

Ehrenreich believes United Professionals may eventually grow strong enough to lobby Congress for universal health insurance and mandatory severance pay for laid-off workers. "Our employer-based health insurance system doesn't make any sense," she says. "It may have made sense years ago to have health insurance attached to one's job, but nowadays one's job is not attached to you. So when you lose your job, there goes your health insurance."

The author of the Times article coyly suggests that United Professionals may serve as a vehicle for the authors involved to sell their books, as several of its leaders have written on work-related issues, including Tamara Draut, author of Strapped: Why America's 20- And 30- Somethings Can't Get Ahead, as well as Ehrenreich and Holland. That's okay, even if it were true. We at the White Collar Warrior see nothing wrong with a little self-interest mixed in with the altruism. After all, Christian evangelists blatantly enrich themselves through the word of God, and conservative pundits like Bill O'Reilly make no secret of their stellar book sales.

With dues of $36.50 a year, or only ten cents a day, United Professionals certainly seems worth the expense of joining. In addition to lobbying for health insurance and providing support to its members, United Professionals will provide legal and financial advice. Sounds good to me!

"From Author, Help for White-Collar Workers " from the New York Times (Registration required)

Monday, September 18, 2006


Ford Model D Minus

Rumors, angst and black humor rule at Ford as the company plans to axe one third of its white collar workforce by the 1st quarter of next year. 4,000 are already gone, and another 10,000 are doomed. The casualties will include engineers, designers and sales staff. Longtime employees will not be spared, although some may receive relatively favorable early retirement "buyouts". The rest are toast. "We are going to be focusing on the voluntary separation programs first and will only resort to involuntary programs if it becomes necessary," said a company spokesman.

"White-collar workers lose sense of security" from the Detroit News

Sunday, September 17, 2006


Modal Curve Monkey Business

The lazy and complacent neo-con idealogues at Tech Central Station are engaged yet again at their favorite intellectual tricks - sophistry and casuistry. For the vocabulary-challenged among us, this means that TCS is bullshitting us once more. In an article entitled "Census and Sensibility", some dorkwad named Jerry Bowyer begins by sniping at the brain cells of concerned liberals - "When levelers (people obsessed with income inequality) used to call my radio program, I would typically debate statistics with them. But that took too long..."

He goes on to compare the rising bank accounts of the rich to the distribution of high IQ's in a large population. The more people you have, the larger the number of geniuses among them - but also the smarter the top geniuses will be. Likewise, the more people, the more billionaires - and, of course, the richer the top billionaires will be. Notice the sly insinuation that billionaires are geniuses he makes simply by comparing the two phenomena. Excuse me, but this, ahem, "argument" does nothing to explain income inequality.

Modal curves plot the distribution of natural phenomena, by and large, and there is nothing "natural" about income inequality. Those with the most money have the most power, and so can influence legislation and the market to ensure that they make even more money by what are essentially "non-random means". With more money comes more power, and the vicious circle intensifies. As the income and assets of the rich steadily increase, the greater the distance they will put between themselves and the contemptible middle class. If everyone's real income was rising - as might naturally occur in any but the latest "economic boom" - the modal curve would be expanded, but with minimal distortion. Suppose the poorest family earned 1 dollar in year X, the richest family earned 1 billion dollars, and the average family earned 40,000 dollars. Suppose, between year X and year Y, the income of the richest family increased to, say, 2 billion dollars. The poorest family might still only earn 1 dollar, but wouldn't it stand to reason that the income of the average family might increase at a rate proportional to the increase for the wealthiest - say, from 40,000 dollars to 80,000 dollars? In fact, that is not happening. The richest are gaining their increase by consciously and deliberately suppressing the income of the average family. The effect of this is that, while the richest soars to 2 billion, the average family staggers upward slightly to 42,000 - and while the richest ascend yet again to 20 billion, the average family stumbles down to 41,000. Keep in mind that the very richest are not exactly an anomaly either. The income of the entire top percentile is expanding at a similar rate. Although we may have started out with something that resembles a modal curve, what we have increasingly is an unnatural distribution skewed towards the bottom, with a big hump at the left side of the spectrum, and a long dragon's tail of artificially engineered affluence stretching out towards the right. And I do mean towards "The Right" in more ways than, if you get my drift.

Oh, oh, oh...wait! Now I understand. The modal curve of income distribution is retaining its natural shape after all. That's because so many poor and middle class slobs are in the red that their collective debt is becoming as vast as the wealth of the top dogs (the "geniuses" of wealth, so to speak). The lefthand tail of the curve has not been contracted at all. It has merely shifted past zero down to, say, minus 20 billion dollars - and that's where the poorest and unluckiest of us are increasingly sequestered, indebted unto the far reaches of eternity, never, ever to buy themselves out of slavery. Only such a distribution could balance out the vast gains of the top percentile and allow the income chart to retain that "Bell Curve" shape of which the snooty neo-cons are so enamored.

No doubt, with my ingrained liberal imbecility, I have grossly misrepresented the science of statistics. I am sorry, Mr. (or Dr.) Bowyer, but I am willing to learn. Even, perhaps, able... Here are the GRE scores of my alter ego and bodymate, also a die-hard liberal. I ask, on his behalf, whether he might be worthy of your tutelage...

"Census and Sensibility" from Tech Central Station

Friday, September 15, 2006


It's Good To Fire The King!

No act of downsizing can improve a corporation's stock more dramatically than the removal of a bad CEO. A recent article in Slate reported that recent CEO firings at companies such as Ford, Viacom, Hewlett-Packard and Bristol-Meyers not only did not adversely affect the stock price - in half the cases, the stock price actually rose. According to the article, "bad CEOs act as multibillion-dollar drags...the market has determined that Ford Motor Co. is worth $2.2 billion more (now) than it was with a Ford as CEO". Last month, James Cramer of the TV show Mad Money gleefully produced a list of companies whose stock would jump 15 to 25 percent if their CEOs were canned. These included Bristol-Meyers, Marsh & McLennan, Avon, Bausch & Lomb and Home Depot.

It is heartening to note that, while investors traditionally abhor the kind of instability introduced by a change in management, they embraced the recent firings with an optimistic confidence in the future. This is despite the fact that the future for these companies is scarcely guaranteed. The new head of Ford, for instance, has no auto industry experience, and there has yet been no replacement for Bristol-Meyers' Peter Dolan - whom James Cramer called "the absolute single worst CEO in America today". Apparently, even an unknown harvest promises to be more bountiful with the biggest of the bad apples thrown out of the basket.

Now that the genie of downsizing has been unleashed upon the world, we can expect its application to be ubiquitous and protean from now on. It is our sincerest hope at the White Collar Warrior that it will be applied as ruthlessly to the guys who invented it as it has been to everyone else.

"Dump That CEO, Today!Your stock price will rise." from Slate

Thursday, September 14, 2006


Screening New Hires For Emotional Intelligence

The next new thing in the Human Resources sphere - or perhaps the latest resurrected old thing - is screening for emotional intelligence. EQ, say the experts, is at least as important as IQ. Honesty, empathy, reliability and general interpersonal skills are are at a premium now in the corporate world, which itself has ironically become notorious for its mendacity, insensitivity and inconstancy. It could be that corporations have sensed their own shortcomings and are seeking to mend their ways, but I very much doubt that. Emotional intelligence is one of those traits that can only be judged subjectively, and subjective judgment has ruled business hiring ever since Wall Street bigwigs would take on some swell just because they liked "the cut of his jib". If emotional intelligence is used as an explicit hiring criterion, it would very likely result in a diminishment of workplace diversity rather than the reverse. We tend to judge social skills - when to speak, what to say, how to say it, when eye contact is appropriate and when not, how to cross or uncross our legs - based on specific cultural norms, and people from different cultures may fare unpredictably despite their best intentions. The taste and personality of the interviewer would also have a significant impact. One person's Charm Boy, after all, can be another person's Social Imbecile. The overriding tendency would be for like to choose like, and EQ assessment might only serve to consolidate "group-think" within an organization rather than nurture the open-mindedness that accompanies true caring.

It would also serve us well to remember that those who are likely to do best in an informal EQ assessment may simply be those who are most skilled at dissimulation. Such folks are otherwise known as sociopaths. Who wouldn't prefer to work with the smiling and witty Ted Bundy rather than the homely and obnoxious Bill Gates, if they were both twenty-one and their future actions were unknown? Turning to written EQ tests may seem like a sound tactic to some, but this strategy is scarcely a new one. It is comically anachronistic, and evokes the Orwellian subjection of job candidates to MMPI tests and the like during the 1950's. There is nothing new under the sun. The very fact that such tests are no longer so commonly administered should be a red flag to anyone who wishes to use them again.

Looking for "emotional intelligence" in those we choose to work with, as well as in those we wish to love, is something we all do automatically, whether consciously or not. To elevate it to an official policy reeks of the deification of bullshit.

"`Emotional intelligence' a new hiring criterion" from The Boston Globe

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


Invention Of The "e-break"...

Tea breaks may have been the hallmark of civility in the heyday of the British Empire, but in today's lean, mean, would-be "Saxon Tiger" the "e-break" is likely to take over. After noticing that a large number of its employees shopped online during work hours, Virgin Money, a financial services firm in Norwich, England, introduced a 15 minute break period during which employees can scratch their Internet itch. 15 minutes is scarcely enough for anyone but Superman, but - so far as officially sanctioned time goes - it is a start. The break period is scheduled to begin at 11:00 AM, except for those handling customer service calls, who must take their turns on the web at different times of the day. Worthy of The Office, eh what?

"White-collar workers in Norwich are wasting hours of office time on the internet. Only hours? Amateurs!" from the Guardian Unlimited
"E-breaks take over from tea breaks" from icWales

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


The 401(k) Shell Game

Writing in The Nation, Nicholas von Hoffman skewers the movement to substitute 401(k)s for pensions with some well-aimed invective. He notes that, while Congress passed a pension act that enables the dismantling of pensions for the privately employed masses, they exempted themselves. They and our other civil servants are among the few folks left in our society who still have healthy pension plans.

He also lambastes the folly of imagining that a 401(k) is an adequate substitute for any pension, much less Social Security, the point of both of which has always been "security". "The stock market disasters of six years ago should have warned the country off reliance on individual private investment accounts for retirement. Those not blessed with the mind of a hyena are in grave danger of arriving in their 60s to discover there is scarcely a farthing left for them to live on," he says. "Untold thousands or hundreds of thousands whose 401(k)s were decimated by the market swoon are available as walking warnings of what lies ahead."

On the privatizing Social Security, he is similarly scathing: "The think-tank doctrine has it that we proles have enough business savvy to manage our retirement accounts so that they will 'outperform' Social Security. In a pig's eye! The odds are that most people managing their retirement accounts will earn less money than you'd get on a low-interest government bond." It is hard not to agree with him. Those in power are looking at the world through business-colored glasses, and seem to imagine - or, more likely, pretend to imagine - that everyone in America has the wherewithal and the inclination to pore over the financial pages of the Wall Street Journal all day long, and then make the correct decisions. He stresses that investing "is a job for professionals, who are not always any better at it than the rest of us." He goes on, "Which is why they cheat and break the law so often."

Nicholas von Hoffman has been around for decades, at least since the early days of 60 Minutes, and he has lost none of his iconoclastic fire. It is bracing to have the buffoons who bilk us worked over by such a master of the zinger. Enjoy...

"Your 401(k) Won't Help When You Need It" from The Nation

Monday, September 11, 2006


In Remembrance Of 9/11

Regardless of the pitfalls of the white collar identity, and of whatever happens to white collar workers during their work lives, time spent working is still time spent living - with all the impressions, emotions and memories that such time conveys. For a few years in the late 1980's, I worked off and on in the World Trade Center, at a British investment firm on the 30th and 31st floors of the South Tower. The company that employed me was converting their portfolio trading system, and I was one of the programmers involved. I remember the people I worked with, most of whom had long since left the towers before 9/11 - or at least so I assume, or hope. I remember the blood red carpeting at the base of the elevators, the bronzey, almost gold-colored gleam of the elevators themselves, and the strangely Arabic contours of the towers' facades. I remember sitting in the plaza in front of the towers on a cool bright autumn day, waiting for my girlfriend, the towers epitomizing the bright promise of the future as they thrust into the blue sky overhead.

Yet once, on a Saturday afternoon while I was working overtime, I felt - or imagined that I felt - the tower sway in the autumn wind. I was mildly disconcerted, but I consoled myself with a complacent trust in American engineering. They planned for it to sway, I thought. The towers could never really be in danger - could they? For years after I worked in the South Tower, I commuted through the World Trade Center every working day. I shopped for suits and ties at Alexander's on the concourse, I enjoyed cocktails and pretzels at the Commuter Bar, I climbed up the escalators from the PATH and walked underground through the Chambers Street station. I worked in a building on the corner of Broadway and Duane, and the fire station that was featured in the film made by those two French brothers was right outside my window. When the company I worked for began to fail in the first "white collar recession" of the early 1990's, I was laid off and had to leave New York. I didn't want to go. On my last evening in the city, in the middle of July, I strode down to the World Trade Center and wandered about the complex. As I stood watching a fountain glitter in the twilight, the red glow of the sunset gathered around me like the very warmth of reminiscence, and I thought to myself that this city was incomparably beautiful. I will never work in a place like this again, I told myself - and I was right, I never have.

Years later, I brought my wife to New York. I was no longer a "worker" in this city - no longer someone who "belonged" here, who had "business" here - but just a person with the transitory and slightly ridiculous identity of a tourist. This was 1999, and New York itself was pretty much the same. The towers still stood. I took my wife to the plaza, and she told me that she wanted to go inside, all the way up to the top. But workaholics on vacation are still workaholics, and I had a tight schedule of what to see. We had MOMA to visit, and we could not linger. "Next time," I told my wife, and smiled. "Next time we're in The Big Apple we'll go inside." I raised my eyes, squinting while I smiled, and thought to myself that this place with its towers, unlike my house, my neighborhood, or some garden variety office park, would last forever, unchanged. I was certain it would outlive me, and I was utterly at peace with that notion.

The towers would never survive the ages to become the pyramids of New York. Fanatics destroyed them, but I know why they did it despite their fanaticism. They hated wealth, capitalism and globalization - all as crystalized in the towers and in the culture of the American people. I am an American, and I know firsthand how greed and materialism have corrupted our society, but I deplore the destruction of the towers as much as anyone else. I think of all the people who were killed, and realize that I could have been one of them. That is the one irreducible and ultimately frustrating paradox of striking against any power you despise. You will not destroy the power, you will only kill its servants - the very people whom you wish to liberate. Violence is the never the right path. Peaceful change and compromise always trump annihilation.

Sunday, September 10, 2006


New Organization Founded For White Collar Workers

Author and social activist Barbara Ehrenreich has founded an organization called United Professionals. According to its website, its purpose is to "to protect and preserve the American middle class, now under attack from so many directions, from downsizing and outsourcing to the steady erosion of health and pension benefits. We believe that education, skills and experience should be rewarded with appropriate jobs, livable incomes, benefits and social supports."

Barbara Ehrenreich timed the start of the new organization to coincide with Labor Day. "We waited until after Labor Day because UP represents the next step in the mobilization of wage earners. While working on Bait & Switch in 2005, I met many white collar workers who are unemployed or underemployed and anxious about outsourcing, downsizing and their increasingly futile pursuit of the American Dream. I realized these professionals needed their own network."

The focus of the organization is on college-educated professionals, with an apparent special interest in young white collar workers. Tamara Draut, author of Trapped: Why America's 20-and 30-Somethings Can't Get Ahead, is one of UP's advisors. Among the troubling statistics cited by UP's founders are these - 31 percent of college-educated workers have no health insurance, 39 percent have no employer-funded retirement plan, 17 percent have not been able to fully utilize their skills in the job market, and gains in real wages have been stagnant - having risen only 1.3 percent from 2000 to 2005, while they had risen 11 percent in the previous five years.

United Professionals Website
"United Professionals: New National Organization for White Collar Workers" from PR Newswire

Friday, September 08, 2006


Facts And Figures For Labor Day

Here are some neat statistics on workaday America from the Labor Day edition of the Christian Science Monitor. Of particular interest are the figures on income inequality. Women earn only 77 percent of what men earn, Hispanics earn 63 percent of what whites earn, and the top median income - over $55,000 - is in Washington, D.C. Kinda makes you think that all those lobbyists and lawyers and government bureaucrats are feathering their own nests at the expense of the rest of us, doesn't it? "Government cuts" means cutting what it does for you, rather than cutting what it pays itself...

Other figures to note are the 12 percent who stay home from work because of "stress", the 71 percent of big companies that monitor employee email and web use, and other piquant bits of miscellaneous info that might allow one to "read between the numbers".

"Backstory: Office hours by the numbers" from the Christian Science Monitor

Thursday, September 07, 2006


Interesting Articles At American Prospect

The online version of American Prospect has consistently offered concise and thoughtful pieces about business, government and the middle class. In the last few days, several articles have appeared that I would like to recommend.

"Another Year, Another Wage Loss", by Robert Kuttner, decries the erosion of middle class earnings while corporate heads and their gilded minions only get richer and richer. The median income has dropped for the fifth straight year, and that for persons under 65 has dropped 5.4 percent since 2000. Even though the economy has grown, all the rewards have gone to top earners and corporate profits, and less than ever to the average worker. A recent public opinion survey revealed that, "The public thinks that workers were better off a generation ago on every key dimension of worker life...wages, benefits, retirement plans, on-the-job stress, the loyalty they are shown by employers". And this is no mere perception. Statistics bear it out. Productivity has jumped 33.5 percent in the last ten years, while real wages have declined since 2000. Corporate health coverage has dropped from 69 percent in 1979 to 56 percent in 2004, while the share of interest, dividends and capital gains among the richest one percent rose from 37.8 percent to 57.5 percent in the same period. That's one out of a hundred owning more than half of everything. Ownership society, my ass. Ownership oligarchy is more like it. Kuttner, who sits on the board of the Economy Policy Institute, wonders why the middle class is taking all this lying down. The unbridled selfishness of the rich and powerful absolutely controls Congress, while the rest of us sit back and do nothing. Kuttner reminds us that all the government programs that have helped the average American - such as Social Security, Medicare, the GI bill, etc. - did not happen on their own. Voters made them happen by electing the officials who believed in their cause.

In "Don't Look Back", even Matthew Yglesias - who has friends at the Cato Institute (which is sort of like having a buddy in the Nazi party) - argues that universal health insurance is a "good idea", even if it was introduced by the "liberals".

Meanwhile, in "The Cost of High Costs", Maggie Mahar ridicules the notion that the American healthcare industry should cast itself as an engine of profit when the point of healthcare to begin with is to preserve and improve human life. "The healthcare industry has become addicted to revenue growth - and it's crowding out the things we care about," says Alan Sagar of the B.U. School of Public Health. We spend 16 percent of the GDP on healthcare, and only 4.7 percent on grade school education - a gain of only 1 percent since 1970, even though there are 13 percent more children in the United States. Despite the vast expenditure on healthcare, the United States ranks a pitiful 31st in longevity worldwide, and 40th in the prevention of early childhood mortality.

Much of healthcare expenditure arises from excessive prices for drugs, materials and procedures that cost far less in other nations, and expensive procedures continue to be promoted and performed even while low-cost therapies yield far more reliable benefits - at least in the case of cardiac medicine.

Turn to the articles at the links below, and read them in detail. Then visit American Prospect as often as you can, and you will get a better picture of what's happening in our nation than the bloviating neocon apologists at the National Review and Tech Central Station can provide.

"Another Year, Another Wage Loss" from American Prospect
"Don't Look Back" from American Prospect
"The Cost of High Costs" from American Prospect

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Live Man Walking...

A new survey found that being a mail carrier was the most active occupation, with mail carriers putting in an average of 19,000 steps a day. Secretaries, lawyers, police officers and teachers, in contrast, all put in less than 5,500 steps a day. "Tens of millions of Americans are too sedentary and unfit for their good," asserts Steve Blair, who conducted a survey on fitness for the Surgeon General in 1996. "Because fewer and fewer jobs are inherently active, people are not getting sufficient physical activity on the job, or off." Office jobs have always been sedentary, of course, but modern technology maximizes the time we're all able to sit on our butts. Offices abound with labor saving devices that are the workaday equivalent of the couch potato's TV remote. Files that once had to be physically extracted from file cabinets in some distant corner are now stored electronically, and can be retrieved with a few keystrokes.

Public health officials have established a 10,000 step optimum - or about four miles - for daily exercise, and urge Americans to aim for that ideal. Just 30 minutes more exercise everyday can burn as much as 165 calories, and cut 17 pounds from the average American waistline over a period of a year. So if you're one of those white-shirted doughboys of the office world, get out there and start humpin'.

I've heard that, when a certain CEO got wind of these guidelines, he nodded his head in sage self-satisfaction and harrumphed, "I'll say this for downsizing - it sure gets folks out pounding the pavement." Our Republican congress - that fraternal order otherwise known to some as "The Friends of The Layoff" - have traditionally supported legislation that makes it easier to get workers back on the street, and have no plans to mandate any further exercise programs.

"It pays in many ways to walk on the job" from Newsday

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


White Collar Hypertension Yet Again

Recent studies about white collar workers and hypertension have attracted the attention of high profile news folks, however belatedly. ABC's Diane Sawyer has tackled the issue. We should consider ourselves blessed - nay, not merely blessed, but enlightened. Here are some details this blog has not reported on before.

1) Hypertension is associated with overwork: People who work more than 40 hours a week are 14 percent more likely to develop high blood pressure.

2) Hypertension is worse among white collar workers than blue collar workers: Researchers believe this difference can be attributed the nature of blue collar jobs, which provide more physical exercise.

3) Jobs with mental stimulation can help offset hypertension: Those in clerical white collar positions suffer more from hypertension than professionals. This suggests that having mentally engaging work can help forestall hypertension. (However, this can also be interpreted simply to mean that underlings are more stressed than the top dogs.)

Access the link below for the full story.

"ABC's Sawyer: 'We're Working Ourselves To Death" from the Business & Media Institute

Monday, September 04, 2006


Should A CEO Be Allowed To Violate The First Amendment?

I am no fan of Tom Cruise, but I don't believe Sumner Redstone has the right to cancel his contract because of what the star says in public. All the guy did, really, was jump on a couch, dis psychiatry, call Matt Lauer glib, and criticize Brooke Shields for taking prescription drugs. Oop... Prescription drugs? Tom doesn't like those, does he? And yet the pharmaceuticals industry is one of the most powerful and price-abusive industries in the world. Perhaps the canny Sumner, in his Passion To Win, so to speak, kicked Tom out the door not because of the declining (if still vast) profits from his latest movie, but because Tom's remarks might someday damage the ability of his movies to sell lucrative advertising spots to drug companies when they are shown on TV. I don't know what percentage of TV ads are plugs for drugs, but they appear ubiquitous. Try to think of a movie or a TV show you saw in the last month or so that didn't have a spot for something like Zocor, Ambien, Prilosec or whatever. Viewed in this light, Sumner's clamp-down on the star's First Amendment rights seems not to arise from an offended sense of decorum at all. Nor did it arise from artistic differences or even the star's box office appeal. Tom criticized an industry, a vast cohort of advertisers with fabulously deep pockets, and for that he must die.

This is an ominous trend. If it grows, it will not only make celebrity reporting much less scandalous and amusing, it will create a ripple effect that will muzzle even the well-considered opinions of serious artists and intellectuals. What would happen if a journalist cannot even publish - much less discuss on a talk show - any book that portrays a corporation, an industry, a product class - or just business in general - in a less than flattering light? As a matter of fact, that is probably already happening.

It is one thing to control speech in the office, but quite another for a corporation to censor the remarks of its employees or vendors in the world at large. I am reminded of a boss I had back when I lived in North Carolina. Although he was merely the proprietor of a third-rate mail order house for women's clothes, he behaved like one of the more paranoid and, dare I say it, imperious of the Roman emperors. He once explicitly warned us not to talk about the "company" - and I mean in any context - when we were in public. He even engaged some of his lesser managers to act as spies. I caught one of these brown-nosers one night while I was entertaining my fiancee and my future in-laws at a local restaurant. There he was, all six-foot-eight of him, with a physique as sadly Coke bottle-shaped as Billy Pilgrim's in Slaughterhouse Five, "pretending" to read flyers on a wood-paneled wall behind us. On noticing him, I extolled the "company" with radiant praise until finally he got the message and huffalumped off to an undisclosed location. I could actually have been fired if I'd said anything even obliquely critical. Now - you tell me. Is that right?

Yet, as corporations displace the state as the real government of America, we will see this more and more often. Your voice will longer be your own - not just on television, but in your local watering hole, on the golf course, even on street corners. Anything you say could be held against you and used as the pretext for your expulsion, on the grounds that somehow, somewhere, and no matter how tenuously, it could have an effect on "profit". The anal retentive pursuit of profit, writ as large as the planet Uranus, will command our silence from here on in.

Sunday, September 03, 2006


What Do Bloggers And Serial Killers Have In Common?

The man pictured here is not me or any other blogger - although he might as well as be, considering how bloggers are generally envisioned. Homely, unprepossessing, ordinary in all the bad ways. In fact, this man is the notorious serial killer BTK. Yet that, too, makes him ordinary in all the bad ways, because the accusation of ordinariness is the cruelest punishment society can give him. When a serial killer is caught these days, it is not enough simply to call him "evil" or a "monster". To envelop anyone in such an aura of melodramatic otherness will inevitably make that person appear special, magical and larger than life. It is the ultimate backhanded compliment.

What both the press and law enforcement officials do instead is to remind us of the serial killer's fundamental averageness. He is portrayed as a little man, a loser, a total obscurity who accomplished nothing worthwhile in his life and would never have drawn our attention if it hadn't been for his unspeakable crimes. We are reminded, in other words, that he is just like us. We are told implicitly that, if we keep our heads down and do our jobs without complaint, pay our taxes, obey the laws and raise our children - and never, ever attempt to do anything else - we may not achieve either fame or wealth. But we will be rewarded with the hypocritical false reverence of our betters, who will flatter us with phrases like "good hard-working folks", "fellow Americans" and "solid citizens". These fulsome sobriquets accentuate the good side of ordinariness, while "loser", "little man" and "total obscurity" illuminate the dark side. In the final analysis they describe the same condition. The worst public humiliation that our society can impose on us is to reveal what it really thinks of us, and had always thought of us even when we were obeying its laws. The best reward it can give us is simply to hold that judgment in abeyance.

If such criminals have any positive social function, it is to elicit the secret contempt that our society feels for the vast majority of its members. The nature of this contempt is identical to that which is often shown when one of the "little people" without the proper education or connections starts a business, or runs for office, or tries to create art - in short, if any one of us aspires to anything beyond the suffocating and tiny circuit of the family, the neighborhood and the cubicle. We, like serial killers, are castigated as "little men with big dreams". As in the noir movies of the 1950's, we are derided for the hubris of not knowing our place.

American journalists, with their belief that they hold exclusive rights to the English language and an elite franchise on an understanding of human nature, are content to write about us, and talk about us, and vivisect our spirits even as we live and breathe in their presence. We are the animal and they are the naturalist - but in our case the animal, too, is capable of thought and language. Yet when we try to speak out in our blogs, even if we acknowledge our debt to the journalists, they will rail against us as if we have forced the sun to revolve around the earth. They will do anything to belittle us, as that littleness is where we belong. We are all lazy, paunchy dilettantes tapping away on our keyboards as we sit in our pajamas, munching on midnight snacks. We have violated the supreme law of knowing one's place, and our punishment is a contempt as profound as that imposed on any serial killer or child molester. By humiliating us, they are showing you what they would do to you if you tried to speak out as well.

Friday, September 01, 2006


Plus Ca Change, Plus C'est La Meme Chose...

The article at the link below might have you LOL [:-)... At least if you have a sense of humor. It seems that twenty-somethings in the workplace communicate through instant text messaging, using their own little language of abbreviations, special characters and emoticons. Horrors! They even make personal use of company email. Horrors ditto! Some even show up at interviews in T-shirts. In fact, the latter might actually be de rigueur in places like Silicon Valley, and I don't see the issue with their doing it, so long as they bathe. Me, I like to dress up, but it's been so long that I've even been allowed to wear a tie at work, much less needed to, that I've grown as ignorant of tying a Windsor knot as I was when I was little and my Dad had to do me up for church.

I am fascinated by languages of all sorts, being both a software designer and a former English major, and I welcome the challenge of parsing out IM script. I see it now and then on Internet message boards and I can make both heads and tails of it, but it frankly strikes me as illiterate - especially when the author of such messages reverts to his or her version of "standard" English, which is usually pretty bad. Anyone with a historical perspective on business communication knows that IM scripting is just the latest incarnation of shorthand, which has been a standby of the stenographer's trade ever since executives wore hats and took three martini lunches. It is no doubt a highly efficient form of communication for those who use it, so long as they don't text-message each other while they're driving.

However, if you are a stodgy old Baby Boomer of a business manager and wish to squelch the instant messaging of your minions, just invoke its resemblance to shorthand and liken them to 1950's secretaries. The very thought of being compared to such pathetic denizens of a bygone sexist era might actually kill the habit for good.

"Text-message generation entering workplace" from

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