Monday, April 30, 2007
America's Funniest CEO Perks
Inflated salaries that make the hot air balloons of billionaire hobbyists look like pimples are scarcely the only compensation CEOs get these days. One must consider their perks as well. And, my goodness, how they percolate up through the ground of their misbegotten corporations like gushers of oil.
The article at the link below considers several categories of perks:
1) Booze - Wine and tobacco giant UST Inc. awards $200,000 pay packages and $5,000 wine allowances to its "independent" (read "part-time") directors. $5,000 is enough to pay my way through two bottles of Talisker a week. The CEO himself gets a $6,500 booze package, in addition to $6 million in salary. Anheuser-Busch offers "unlimited free beer" to its top execs, who already earn between $2.5 and $10 million in salary. Change enough to finance more than the occasional foray to the local packie, don't you think? I wouldn't be surprised if these glorified moonshiners offered their top drunks free liver transplants as well, the organs extracted on demand from downsized employees.
2) Air Travel - In these days of global warming, during which Eco-puritans are shaking their fingers at Mom and Pop Vacationer for taking that once-in-a-quarter-century jaunt to Europe, some CEOs spend enough time on company jets to cover the earth with their golden contrails. The CEO of i2 Technologies racked up $942,000 in private travel costs, in addition to $5.7 million in other compensation. The CEO of United Technologies spent $612,000 of the company's money "for his personal use of the company jet", in addition to $27 million in overall pay. The finance czar of Time Warner commutes from Atlanta to New York City via the company jet at a cost of $512,000, even though he makes $9 million a year and could well afford his own pied-a-terre in The Big Apple. The CEO of American Express never gets a chance to use his bonus points to fly, as the company foots the bill at $405,000 a year, in addition to a whopping $29.1 million in "regular" pay. He's flying first class at your expense, on the back of your credit card finance charges.
3) Living Expenses - Corporations who grant "housing allowances" to massively well-paid personnel include Carnival (of Carnival Cruises), which pays $142,000 a year to shack up a chairman who's already raking in $3.1 million, and Bluefly, which forks over $4,000 a month to help put up an indigent CEO who only makes $6.1 million a year. Why should your company pay for your housing expenses when you're already rich enough to afford a castle on every continent?
Check out all these perks and more at MSN.com.
"The Worst CEO Perks" from MSN.com
Sunday, April 29, 2007
More On The "Say On Pay" Bill
The CEO makes more money on January 1st than most of us make the entire year, asserts The Christian Science Monitor. Here is another article about the recent move by Rep. Barney Frank and the House Financial Services Committee to impose restrictions on executive pay. Rep. Frank hopes the new measures will retard [the] rate of growth... substantially" for executive pay. Rep. Frank also claims that there is no correlation between CEO pay and CEO performance. According to Harvard Law School professor Lucian Bebchuk, who testified before the committee, excessive executive pay is not merely unjust - it can have severe "macroeconomic consequences" and the revolt against it is "not merely symbolic but rather of practical significance."
Skeptics of the effectiveness of these measures may note that, since the United Kingdom passed a "say on pay" bill in 2003, it has had "a real impact on executive compensation in the island nation."
“Congress pecks away at CEO pay” from The Christian Science Monitor
Friday, April 27, 2007
White Collar Pratfalls
Here is our offering for Casual Friday - which is based on some amusingly lame advice on how to handle embarrassing mistakes at the workplace. The various scenarios appear below, with my comments and annotations:
1) You're making a presentation and you find out you misspelled something. MSN.com suggests that you confess your mistake. That's if they notice. I see ludicrous misspellings on the TV news all the time. Somehow they made it through the editors and ended up on the screen anyway. If CNN can screw up, so can you. In fact, if you are caught in a misspelling, just shrug and tell the assembled that you were a copy editor for Ted Turner in a former life.
2) You're in some hoity-toity meeting with a lot of super-self-serious executives, and your stomach grumbles. MSN.com suggests you make a remark about going for lunch after the meeting. I say you ought to announce, "What can I say? I have fire in my belly." Who knows? It might net you a promotion. If the sounds you make with your digestive organs fall into an even more embarrassing category (e.g., the whining of one's bowels), you won't need to say anything, because there will always be some boss somewhere crass and cruel enough to say something for you. Allow them to do so. Even blush. It will mark you temporarily as a victim and may earn you a flicker of empathy from your colleagues, unconsiously or not. You shouldn't have to apologize just for being an animal anyway, even in a corporate boardroom.
3) You email a friend or colleague a "raunchy email", and it accidentally gets forwarded to some unintended recipients. MSN.com at first suggests "Assign blame" - then inexplicably back-pedals from that and says you should apologize. I don't send raunchy emails to people, but I could conceivably be caught with anti-corporate propaganda. In that case, I would lie (see yesterday's post) - not grovel.
4) You dis the boss and he hears your remarks. MSN.com says, "Start a dialogue." If you have that much chutzpah, you should be the boss. I say pretend it never happened. Many bosses are just this side of clinical paranoia to begin with, so if you make like the poor doofus has been hearing things, he might think so, too.
5) You dis some grand poobah just after you've been on a phone conference with him, and you assumed - incorrectly, as it turns out - that he'd hung up. MSN.com essentially suggests, once again, that you should start a dialogue. I say you should immediately edit your remark in midstream to make it seem that you meant it in reference to somebody else - like, say, Jack or Michelle.
The five scenarios above fall into two categories. First, there is the crime of Human Imperfection, as represented by numbers 1 and 2. Second, there is the crime of Honesty, as represented by numbers 3, 4 and 5. Our humanity and our honesty are the two traits most likely to alienate the corporate system, so the message here is that you should suppress them whenever possible - or cravenly excuse them away once they raise their ugly heads.
"Five Embarrassing Work Gaffes" from MSN.com
Thursday, April 26, 2007
The Corporate Value Of Untruthiness
The focus of the article below is not only on how much you have to lie to get ahead, but also on how much you may need to schmooze. David Shulman, author of From Hire To Liar: The Role of Deception in The Workplace, tells us "Everyone lies on the job. From the secretary on up to the highest executive, lying and deceiving is absolutely necessary to get your work done." He contends that deception is not "automatically counter-productive" and that it may even enhance productivity. The main point of lying is to put an upbeat face on everything you connected with. Shulman advises new hires to pretend that they learn more quickly than they really do, and never to ask a question even when the boss says, "Does anyone have any questions?" The pretense of having grasped the issue at hand will not only make you look good - it'll make your boss feel like a Master Explainer. Always present the status of any ongoing project in an optimistic light, and eschew the details.
If you need to ask questions of somebody - and you will - ask them of a colleague, but make sure to butter up that colleague so that he or she won't dis you to the boss. Or get defensive. "Blatantly kiss his ass," Shulman urges. Manipulate more experienced colleagues into doing the actual project for you (more or less) under the guise of simply teaching you the ropes. If anything goes wrong, pin the blame on the office scapegoat.
Shulman, a sociology professor at Lafayette College, apparently wrote this book to, ahem, "shine a light" on the value of untruthiness in any corporate career. As he says, "Everyday stuff like kissing up, taking too much credit, inventing problems just to create the impression that you're indispensable - these aren't big white-collar crimes. These are how people get ahead."
"LYING IS AN ESSENTIAL WORKPLACE SKILL, SAYS PROF" from The New York Post
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Cutting Off Your Nose To Spite Your Face
Not so long ago, there was a truism among corporate leaders that the stock price of a company rises seven percent after a major layoff. Without fail. They may now be starting to learn that this truism is, after all, only a truism. Both Circuit City and Citigroup tried to rally their falling stock prices with recent layoffs, but without success. Circuit City's stock price fell four percent after it downsized "thirty-four hundred of its most experienced sales associates" and Citigroup's stock price remained stagnant after a decimation that cost 17,000 jobs.
According to The New Yorker, "This may have surprised the executives who had planned the cutbacks, but it shouldn’t have. Over the past decade, many academics have looked at how layoffs affect stock prices, and they’ve found that the seven-per-cent rule is bunk. Instead of rising sharply, the stock of companies that trim their workforces is likely to fall. A recent meta-study that surveyed research from several countries, covering thousands of layoff announcements, concluded that, on average, markets had 'a significantly negative' reaction to job cuts. Individual companies, of course, sometimes see stock prices jump after layoff news, but there’s no evidence that downsizing is a guaranteed hit with investors."
Sometimes CEOs forget that the people who work for them are anything but overhead. These people manufacture and distribute their products, deal with customers and vendors - they even crunch the numbers their bosses use to justify their own dismissal. The stock market has gotten wise to the fact that downsizing can just as easily damage the infrastructure of a corporation as save costs. Layoffs typically render short term gains at the expense of long term organizational health, often destroying worker morale and the capital of human experience required to keep the corporate machine running smoothly. The real benefits of owning stocks come from owning them for the long haul, over which they will tend to rise, slowly but surely - but that won't happen if short term gains compromise their future viability.
One study "looked at more than three hundred firms that downsized in the nineteen-eighties and found that three years after the layoffs the companies’ returns on assets, costs, and profit margins had not improved." Why do CEOs still fall back on downsizing? The New Yorker suggests that they do it for the same reason that folks play Powerball, or flock to Hollywood to become movie stars. They are swayed by the publicity surrounding exceptional cases where downsizing has worked wonders, ignoring the hundreds of cases where layoffs had no positive effect at all. Every CEO believes deep down that he can be the next Jack Welch as deludedly as any tone-deaf wannabe imagines he will be discovered on American Idol. Even if they know that the gains layoffs provide are strictly temporary, the average tenure of a CEO is just six years - so they are compelled to get results fast, and the bad effects of their rash decisions won't materialize until long after they have made their bundle and walked out the door. Finally, the reliance of downsizing boils down to simple conformity - a craven and unimaginative tactic to keep up with the Joneses in the office tower across the street.
If a CEO does wish to leave a long term legacy he can be proud of, downsizing is like cutting off his nose to spite his face. He will end up like Ozymandias, boasting, "Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!" - when all he ever presided over has been reduced to dust.
"It's The Workforce, Stupid!" from The New Yorker
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
How To Build A Better Email
Professionals editors Will Schwalbe and David Shipley have published an email etiquette book entitled Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home. This is a much needed resource, long in coming.
Here are some typical do's and don'ts:
1) Never send a message in all caps. Email naifs (such as myself, once upon a time) may assume capital letters make a message more readable, but to others all caps is the email equivalent of screaming.
2) Mimic the style and tone of your boss's emails when you send your reply. If anything, make them more formal (and, of course, better written). Avoid vernacular phrases and familiar forms of address (such as "Old Buddy" or "How's It Hangin'?").
3) Use precision. Vagueness will perplex your colleagues, annoy your superiors, and terrify your subordinates.
4) Remember that emails are not an impermanent form of communication. We have the technology to store them forever, so behave accordingly.
5) Remember also that emails are devoid of the context of tone of voice, body language or face-to-face contact. Here is another reason for being clear and precise. Good writing can make up for the lack of affect that plagues email communication.
6) Don't be afraid to use emoticons - especially friendly or smiley-face emoticons that may prevent your emails from inadvertently appearing antagonistic. (That's their suggestion, not mine. Emoticons strike me as way too cutesy for use on a regular basis.)
7) Watch your diction. Try to be merely cordial. According to the authors, using the word "please" may seem very proper, but ultimately it conveys petulance and sarcasm.
8) Don't try to canvass the opinions of your team or attempt to reach a consensus using email, as this may inaugurate a voluminous exchange that goes on forever. Call a meeting instead.
9) Use increasingly brief replies - such as "Great" or "Agreed" - to signal the natural end of an email exchange that otherwise might needlessly drag on.
10) If you don't need a reply from the recipients of your email, let them know explicitly.
11) To quote Eliot Spitzer, governor of New York, "Never talk when you can nod. And never write when you can talk. Never put it in an email."
"WRITING THE BOOK ON HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR E-MAILING" from The New York Post
"Does your e-mail make you sad?" from Canada.com
Monday, April 23, 2007
Guidelines For The Laid-Off
The Bureau of Labor Statistics says mass layoffs - defined as "the elimination of 50 or more jobs in one move" - are increasing. The number of people filing for unemployment in the wake of mass layoffs went up 14 percent in February. The brutal rat-a-tat-tat of Bushonomic life-destruction continues apace, as ever.
Here are a few guidelines about what you should do when the ax falls.
1) Ask for severance pay - but don't expect it. Only a third of American corporations, in a survey of about one thousand firms conducted in 2005, offer severance pay. The general level of such, ahem, "exit compensation" is about a week's pay for each year of service. CEOs, no matter how spankingly new or stunningly inept, get golden parachutes. You're lucky if you get a wet hankie.
2) Apply for unemployment benefits. Temp workers and contractors, this means you too if you work on a W2. Always inquire to see if you are eligible.
3) "Pare back discretionary spending" - i.e., give up shopping for sport and forego that Starbucks mochaccino if you can. Don't cut back on necessities. Not yet at least. Come to think of it, unemployment may give you time to figure out just what your necessities are.
4) Take a few days off. This seems like redundant advice to me, as you have already taken a few days off if you just got laid off. Few of us find a new job that quickly after all.
5) Spruce up the resume. You will at least be adding an end date to your latest assignment.
6) Extend your tentacles to your contacts and start squeezing leads out of them.
"A working strategy for the laid-off" from The Sante Fe New Mexican
Sunday, April 22, 2007
White Collar Workers More Likely To Be Depressed
A survey of 17,000 Australians found that nearly 10 percent of white collar professionals "reported moderate to severe depressive symptoms" - as opposed to 6.3 percent of the general population. Lawyers were the most depressed, with a rate of 16 percent. Accountants and insurance underwriters had a rate of 10 percent, and IT workers, engineers and architects also had high rates. So did students. Those who were both depressed and under 30 were the most likely to "'self-medicate' with drugs and alcohol."
It is perhaps telling that both students and white collar professionals have high rates of depression, as both groups are compelled to place high expectations on themselves which they cannot always meet. The effect of high expectations is compounded by work pressures imposed by employers. The legal profession is particularly bad in that respect, and the authors of the survey construe the average age of pregnancy among female lawyers in Australia - 39 - as evidence of the "all-or-nothing pressure" placed on those in the field.
"White collar workers 'more depressed'" from Nine MSN (Australia)
Friday, April 20, 2007
Some Tips For Cubicle Decoration
According to the little item at the link below, "The office cubicle can be a window to an employee's personality." But, with cubicle decoration, as with, say, the consumption of alcohol, moderation is the key. Here are some of the rules from the article, paraphrased and annotated by yours truly.
1) Postcards are okay as they suggest that you have "a life outside of work." Not too many though. After all, you don't want people to think you have too much of "a life outside of work." They should also be sent to you from someone else. (In other words, it is okay, perhaps even better, if you just know someone who has "a life outside of work" - it doesn't have to be you.) The postcards themselves should not reveal too much "personal detail", and you would be prudent to restrict them to the visual muzak of landscape photography.
2) Photos of friends, family and pets are super-okay! The cuter the better. However, if the dweeb in the next cube has photos of relatives and pets that strike you as so, ahem, "cute" that they look like something that fell off The Ugly Tree, please keep that opinion to yourself.
3) Your cubicle is not the bedroom you had as a teenager. No pictures or posters of rock stars, action heroes, sex goddesses or the like. No famous people... (However, what if you want to put up a big brother-like head shot of your billionaire boss? Should that be restricted as well? Please advise.)
4) The rule of thumb for screensavers appears to combine elements for the rules on postcards and those banning pictures of celebrities. Screensavers should ideally fall in the same category as the bland "landscape photography" visual muzak that you will find in the "My Pictures" folder on your desktop. You know the images I mean - the ones that come with the machine. There should be no images of anything that would evoke an extreme (or even a mildly visceral) response - nothing sexual or violent or otherwise depraved. If you don't like landscapes, upload some family photos, and that should do the trick just as well. You want to emphasize that you are first and foremost a "people person" of the most innocently tasteful and non-confrontational variety. It must seem as if you made the leap from child to parent without ever experiencing the upheaval of adolescence or the scuzzy experimentation of early adulthood.
5) Plants are all right, so long as they neatly circumscribed, like a bonsai tree - the perfect decorative analogue of a cubicle dweller's stunted life.
"casual friday the cubicle MAKE STATEMENT(THE RIGHT KIND)" from The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, MD)
Thursday, April 19, 2007
Corporate Insider Slams Globalization
A former Senior VP at IBM, Ralph Gomory, has been tentatively hailed as a possible Martin Luther in The Church of Free Trade. During his tenure at IBM, he watched formerly backward nations like Singapore vault their way to international prominence by doing low-level factory work for U.S. companies first, then gradually invading and taking over more high tech domains. The experience caused him to doubt whether or not unrestrained free trade was in the best interest of his homeland. With economist William Baumol, he published a book in 2000 entitled Global Trade And Conflicting National Interests. After receiving little attention for years, this book and its ideas have become a topic of discussion among politicians and executives.
Gomory contends that to outsource manufacturing to developing nations to take advantage of cheap labor will ultimately provide a springboard from which such nations can rapidly evolve more sophisticated economies that will compete directly with the most advanced industries in the United States. So long as labor remains relatively less expensive in those nations, U.S. corporations will continue to outsource the development of products that require increasingly more complex skill sets. In the beginning, the influx of goods manufactured more cheaply overseas will generate wealth for American corporations, and provide more diverse and affordable products for American consumers. But eventually, when all products and services can be provided more cheaply - and of comparable quality - overseas, the commercial power of the United States will decline both domestically and internationally. What is worse is that the price of imported goods and services will inevitably increase at a time when both the earning power of Americans and the level of their own skills are falling, putting the nation in a double bind. According to Gomory, the end stages of this process are happening now.
Gomory emphasizes not only that action needs to be taken promptly, but that such action must be orchestrated on multiple fronts. Imposing changes to the tax code that penalize corporations for outsourcing will only force corporations to transfer their headquarters overseas. Tax penalties on outsourcing must be combined with restrictions on imports that will, in effect, penalize American corporations if they attempt to shield the profits of outsourcing from higher taxes by hiding themselves behind the cloak of foreign ownership.
These ideas may be as hard for some to take as the concept of global warming was, say, five years ago. They also fly in the face of both global ethics and corporate expedience. Many might say that for poor nations to grow richer while the United States grows poorer is cosmic justice. Maybe so, but it is not in the best interest of the United States, and that means you and me. Corporations will say that they have a mandate to earn the highest profit possible at any cost. And that, as it turns out, is not in the best interest of either the United States or cosmic justice.
"The Establishment Rethinks Globalization" from The Nation
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Wage Insurance Is Just A Bandaid
The American Prospect offers some pertinent criticism of the $3.5 billion wage insurance bill that the Democrats are trying to push through Congress. Trade unions and unemployment activists don't like the bill, and the article at the link below explains why. One big complaint is that wage insurance will do nothing for the unemployed, only for those 15 or 20 percent of the 2.5 to 4 million Americans who lose their jobs every year, but find new ones earning at least 20 percent less than what they used to make. These individuals are suffering for sure, but so are the unemployed.
Wage insurance is itself little more than a bandaid. It is intended to supplement half of the lost income for these underemployed workers up to $10,000 dollars (a year?) for up to two years. That's five thousand for each of two years for a worker who used to make $50,000 a year, but has been kicked down to $40,000. If he's lucky, that might be enough to pay for his family's health insurance - which he might have had at his old job, but probably doesn't have at his new one. He is still exposed to other increased expenses, such as trying to recoup for the period during which he was unemployed and earned much less - if anything at all. He might also have a longer commute than he used to have - which is a fairly typical situation for an unemployed worker grasping at any job that comes his way - and correspondingly higher gasoline and car maintenance costs. If, like many white collar workers, he earned more than $50,000 a year - and/or lost much more than 20 percent of his previous income - the coverage of the wage insurance bandaid grows smaller and smaller.
The American Prospect contends that throwing a little money at people for taking jobs that pay less than their old ones is dangerous. It is tantamount to "subsidizing downward mobility", a way to habituate American workers to their reduced circumstances. The author of the article also suggests that wage insurance is meant to appease critics of globalization without attacking globalization itself, and as such is more valuable as a political expedient to a Congress addicted to compromise than as a social policy.
A better approach would be to fund training programs for both the underemployed and the unemployed that would allow both to acquire new skills that would increase their income, not ease them more gently into the sad routine of being paid less for out-of-date or underappreciated skills. These training programs would cost about $10,000 per person per year - in addition to financial aid that would help support workers and their families with daily expenses and health care during their training. This would require "tens of billions of dollars", but it would most likely have a far more positive effect for both displaced workers and the future of the nation. As it is, Congress has tightened its belt on training programs, committing to them only $220 million - enough to retrain only 38,000 workers. $3.5 million could retrain more than 600,000.
"Subsidizing Downward Mobility" from The American Prospect
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Landmark Ruling Nets Worker Back Pay
A San Francisco clothing store manager was awarded two years back pay by the California Supreme Court in a landmark ruling that will affect "hundreds of thousands of white-collar workers in industries such as retail, food service, insurance and banking who are called managers or assistant managers but who spend much of their day ringing up sales, stocking shelves or sweeping the floor alongside the workers they oversee." Since the manager spent most of his ten hour days performing non-supervisory duties such as "covering the sales floor, processing markdowns and emptying the garbage," the court agreed that he had been "misclassified" by overly restrictive rules intended to disqualify managers from overtime pay. He was also denied the 30 minute unpaid meal break per each five hours of work, and the 10 minute paid rest break per each four hours of work, that are mandated by California law - and he was compensated for these as well. Like many of us, he was compelled to gobble down his midday sustenance while answering office email and voicemail. On at least one occasion, he was denied a break even to go to the bathroom.
According to The Los Angeles Times, "class-action lawsuits by employees seeking back pay for overtime and missed breaks have risen dramatically over the last decade, and lawyers predicted that Monday's ruling would encourage more suits and possibly lead another attempt to change labor laws and regulations." Many of these lawsuits have resulted in settlements. Last year, IBM paid $65 million to settle a lawsuit claiming that 32,000 computer technicians had been denied overtime pay by the corporation. RadioShack, Bank of America, Rite-Aid and AllState have all paid settlements in similar lawsuits to compensate employees for lost overtime pay due to misclassification as "managers."
"Employees win major ruling on pay regulations" from The Los Angeles Times
Monday, April 16, 2007
The Knights Who Say, "Gimme, Gimme..."
This item from The Huffington Post aptly contrasts the "knights" of the Business Roundtable with their Arthurian counterparts and finds them sorely wanting. They lack two of "seven knightly virtues" in particular - Justice and Generosity. They are pusillanimous poltroons if they dare to gainsay that truth. These pencil-jousters make the crew from Monty Python And The Holy Grail look like Richard The Lionhearted in comparison.
When Sir John Castellani - a knightly name if ever there was one, conjuring images of machicolated ramparts overlooking the medieval Mediterranean - objected to Barney Frank's bill to give shareholders an advisory vote on executive pay, he remained true to his cavalier roots, braying "Corporations were never designed to be democracies." Verily, sirrah, but methinks that shareholders ought to have a say. Shareholders aren't your employees, you velvet-butted dumbass. They actually invest your companies with the princely lucre to do your dastardly deeds. In fact, according to Robert Reich, "nonbinding advisory votes" on executive pay will have only a "modest effect" on the belching dragon of executive greed. Changes to tax codes and procurement policies are required to sink the lance deeper. But, as assuredly as in the reign of King John, the tax man nestles in the very codpiece of the monarch.
The Business Roundtable has been instrumental in pushing "an empty suit of armor" into the top position at the SEC, a certain Commissioner Cox who's leaning Tower-of-Pisa-like in the direction of the rascals most of us expect him to control. The CEOs continue to feel entitled to their inflated pay, but why should they? "By now the objection is usually made that top earners deserve what they get, so long as the rest of us reap the benefits of the broad prosperity that results from their leadership. That might be true if we were, but that's just it -- we aren't. CEO raises last year were much bigger than those received by average American workers -- 10.6 percent versus 3.7 percent for typical white collar workers." The Huffington Post cites the CEO of Merck who, true to the alchemical roots of the drug business, has been able to convert the corpses of 7,000 jobs into a 167 percent pay hike for himself. His name is Richard Clark, and he is a member of the Business Roundtable. Below are some other knightly knaves blissfully massaging piles of unearned gold at their places at the table:
1) Baron of Anadarko Petroleum, James Hackett, increased his ducats 78 percent in the last year, during which his company's stock tumbled at least 20 percent.
2) Michael Cannon, Marquess of Solectron, netted a 173.9 percent increase in salary even while his company's stock "lost a quarter of its value."
3) Douglas Sotlar, Duke of Con-Way, nearly doubled his tributes while his stock performance remained as flat as a bog at Agincourt.
It is one thing to increase one's gains proportional to those of the kingdom, if not of its subjects, but what sense does it make to increase them at the expense of both one's subjects and the realm? It it time for new Cromwell to decapitate these errant kings.
"Knights of the Business Roundtable: A Circle With Few Virtues" from The Huffington Post
Sunday, April 15, 2007
A Zoological Perspective On The Rich
I have been reading a book recently that I would like to recommend. It is entitled The Natural History of The Rich, and was written by Richard Conniff, who has published nature and wildlife articles in magazines such as National Geographic and Smithsonian. The rich are indeed a rara avis, and Mr. Conniff describes their habits and habitats with humor and erudition. In an interview with the online literary journal Identity Theory, he said that the rich weren't smarter than the rest of us - but they are "bolder", at least those who made their own millions. They can also be more reckless.
Lots of us are bold though, and courageous, but few of us have either the wherewithal or the inclination to direct their courage and energy towards amassing fortunes. If that were so, then how come so many decorated combat veterans of, say, the Vietnam War ended up on the streets or in homeless shelters. The truth is, I think, that the self-made rich have a specific talent that is no more intrinsically worthy than any other talent a human being might have. The only difference is that this talent is more vastly remunerated than all the rest merely because it consists in acquiring the one commodity that capitalistic society uses to reward all talents - money. Their talent, in essence, rewards itself, and seems all the greater because of it.
Conniff also harps on the "dominance" of the rich, which is at once amusing and depressing. I can't remember the last time I had the occasion to square off with a tycoon, and was forced to slink away in submission. I never encounter such people, and for that I thank God. Their effect on my life is more like that of the weather than like that of an alpha male baboon. They generate the storms that drive the vicissitudes of economic life, the demand for my skills bobbing up and down in the wind. As a matter of fact, considering that global warming is a direct result of modern industry heedless pursued, the storms generated by the superrich are as much real as figurative. And on this windy, rainy day I feel buffeted by them both. Tycoons could just as well be typhoons to me.
"A Natural History of The Rich: A Field Guide" by Richard Conniff (at Amazon.com)
Friday, April 13, 2007
Revenge Of The Blobs
The Business Roundtable, composed of 160 of America's fattest CEOs, lobbies for the interests of corporate executives in Congress. Together, these dudes employ 10 million people, earn an average of $9.9 million a year, and helm companies that "account for 'nearly a third of the total value' on U.S. stock markets." When they stomp their feet, Congress listens.
The Business Roundtable "publicly supports" new SEC rules on the disclosure of executive pay. According to the article at the link below, they can well afford to do so because the disclosed pay figures "actually understate the real pay gap in today's Corporate America. [They], for instance, don't count the value of the towering stashes of deferred pay and pension dollars that await top execs on their retirement day." The Business Roundtable is, of course, dead set against any extension of the disclosure rules to cover these huge fortunes being made under the boardroom table.
Meanwhile, the Senate has passed a change to the tax code that will place a $1 million cap on all executive compensation that can be deferred or otherwise shielded from income tax. This has the Business Roundtable hopping mad. Business Roundtable head honcho John Castellani has protested the deferred pay cap, and that is only the beginning. The Business Roundtable is one of most powerful and potentially dangerous groups in Washington. Predictably, they don't exactly want to play ball with the rest of the American people. As the article below says, "This enormous Business Roundtable clout on Capitol Hill, if truly focused on ending the corporate pay abuses that have average Americans upset and alarmed, could make a real difference. That's a difference that CEOs in the Business Roundtable, so far at least, apparently don't feel they can 'afford' to make." Let us pray that our Senators can emerge from the squeeze play of the fat boys with their moral character unflattened.
"Fat CEOs Strike Back At Congress" from AlterNet
Thursday, April 12, 2007
U.S. Corporations Oppress Chinese Workers
Chinese workers don't have the right to strike or to organize their own trade unions, but some officials in China thought they deserved a break nonetheless. These officials spearheaded a handful of modest labor reforms. They didn't really have anything too earthshaking in mind. They wanted to give workers the right to a written contract from their employers and the ability to change jobs within their industry and from one region to another. They also wanted to require employers to bargain with worker reps on basic health and safety conditions. None of this sounds too radical to me, but even these wispy intimations of the "untamed flame of freedom" that George W. is always going on about raised alarm bells in the firehouse of American greed.
The American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai and the U.S.-China Business Council mobilized a campaign to squash these reforms, enlisting the approval of 1,300 U.S. corporations - among them GE, Microsoft, Dell, Ford and others. American interference on the behalf of, ahem, non-freedom won over those impressionable Communists, and the initial reform was watered down to the consistency of a pot of lukewarm tea in a Seattle poo-poo platter palace. Communist China has been accused of oppressing workers in the past, but this time U.S. corporations and their billionaire masters - which George W. so fondly calls his "base" - have stepped in because China was not oppressing its workers enough.
As the article at the link below points out, the workers of China compose 25 percent of workers worldwide, and any legislation that affects them affects us all. Not to mention that it resoundingly belies the insincerity of the Bush administration's stated intention to import democracy to the rest of the globe. What it is really importing is its own brand of worker oppression. How dare Bush's corporate darlings block democratic reforms in the nation that needs them most? I concur wholeheartedly with The American Prospect when it asks, "since preserving our national security should require executives at companies such as GE to answer for their conduct, where's the House Un-American Activities Committee now that we really need it?"
"Democracy's Enemies" from The American Prospect
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Vivisecting A Health Care Nay-Sayer
For those Americans who care about the welfare of their fellow citizens, there's nothing more enfuriating than reading the devil's advocates of Tech Central Station. At the link below, you will find a guest bloviator launching one plummy argument after another at the straw man of that "single payer" health care system we will probably never have.
He responds to the well-known statistic that Americans spend more than any other Western democracy on health care, but our life expectancy is no greater or even less than that of other such nations. True enough. He appears to protest this statement by lamely agreeing with it, citing a study that demonstrated that each 1 percent change in health care spending improved a nation's collective health by just 0.03 to 0.05 percent. Meanwhile, a similar increase in leisure improved health 0.25 to 0.65 percent. However, the nations that experience that leisure are - quel surprise! - the same Western democracies that have socialized medicine. Both socialized medicine and longer vacations stem from the same source, a wise culture that is not as insanely focused on the profit motive as the United States of America. The rat race, the treadmill, the crack of our masters' whips - whatever you choose to call it - is making us sick. We grind away out of fear, because we have no safety net. Whether our life expectancy suffers more from a lack of socialized medicine or from not enough vacation time, our hypercompetitive, dog-eat-dog capitalism is still to blame.
He responds to the contention that a single payer system will spend much less on the same amount of health care than do private insurance companies by, again, lamely agreeing with the statement. But, he says, we would pay for health care with our income taxes. Horrors! Considering that we all still pay for our health care one way or another - if we can afford it - I fail to see the difference. Our fearless author, on the other hand, believes that supporting health care with taxes constitutes a "deadweight loss", apparently because the money is being paid to a government bureaucracy and not into the pockets of an oligarchy of billionaires. According to him, 20 percent of tax dollars are lost in the bureaucratic process of simply determining how the money should be spent. According to me, an even larger proportion of corporate profits end up in the offshore bank accounts of greedy executives who make no effort to determine anything other than when they will take tee-time in Bermuda. Once again I ask, what is the difference?
He also makes the laughable mistake of comparing socialized medicine to HMOs, which are simply another type of profit-making organization that makes its money by selectively denying its customers treatment. He says that customers who have expressed dissatisfaction with HMOs would be equally dissatisfied with "single payer" health care. True enough, a good single payer system would strive to keep costs down and impose some restrictions. But true socialized medicine does not support the rampant conflicts of interest that have resulted in some of the worst abuses of the HMO system. The current system compels doctors, clinics and hospitals to become profit-making entities that milk the HMOs by billing them for whole rafts of unnecessary treatments, tests and procedures, while the HMOs themselves, even more dedicated to making a profit, pass on the expense to their customers by increasing premiums and denying coverage. The ideal single payer system would be literally that - one single, cohesive, integrated system in which more restrictions would be placed on how much money each part of that system could make off the others than on what treatments the patient was allowed.
The author continues to focus on "customer demand" for more and more health care, claiming that American consumers will be dissatisfied if they get less. He seems to think this is a good thing, or at least something that originates from the authentic needs and desires of the consumer. Health care in the United States is to a large degree driven by marketing, just like everything else in this country. Corporations and institutions with a vested interest in making huge piles of cash convince Americans that they need more than they really do. Pharmaceutical companies bombard the media with exhortations to spend hundreds of dollars a month taking pills to cure restless leg syndrome or to make yourself less shy at public gatherings. The nightly news devotes as much air time to medical maladies as to foreign affairs, and the commercials try to reap profits from the anxiety the news has sown. It is sophistry to claim that the American consumer will necessarily be disappointed by a health care system that is not profit-centered, as the current profit-centered system is largely responsible for creating the demands it satisfies. What we need ultimately is not more "products", but better health. A health care system that focuses more on fundamental prevention in the form of improved fitness and diet is infinitely preferable to leaving our health in the hands of profit-mad sociopaths that offer us overpriced drugs with one hand and bacon-cheese-and-sausage burgers (or video games for sedentary children) with the other.
"Health To Pay" from Tech Central Station
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Your Home Can Be A Ball And Chain
The recent housing slump, unlike previous slumps, pervades the entire nation. That means that, wherever you live now, you will have a hard time selling your house to take a job in another part of the country. If you bought your current house just a few years ago, it will be harder for you to break even if you do find a buyer. Many would-be mobile Americans are facing financial loss if they take a new job elsewhere, and few corporations are willing to help pick up the tab. "Many Fortune 1000 typically pay closing costs," says one relocation consultant in Virginia, "as well as giving employees payment for money they lost by selling their house quickly." But smaller companies can't afford to shell out that kind of cash. Relocation reimbursement is becoming rarer all across the board. Many companies may still help out high-level new hires, but not people in the rank and file, who increasingly have to fend for themselves.
Renters have it a little easier. According to one source, "the average cost [in 2006] to transfer a current employee who owns a home was $64,235... For a renter, the cost was $18,736." Ironically, taking on new hires costs a business less than transferring some loyal, longtime employee from one office to another. The solution for many corporations has been to hire local workers at the new office, while downsizing veteran workers at the old one. The housing slump therefore scores a double-whammy on the average American white collar worker. It not only depletes the equity that constitutes a large portion of his nest egg for retirement, but imposes a burden on him that makes it easier for his company to lay him off rather than take him along when it reorganizes.
The increased volatility of the corporate world in general often means that the job you take a thousand miles away may be pulled out from under you almost as soon as you get there. This, plus the difficulty of selling one's current home, has induced many workers to rent their old houses out while renting a new house at their new - and perhaps highly tentative - work location. This introduces a level of instability and logistical complexity into many workers' lives that most would prefer not to deal with, but they often have no choice. Needless to say, rents remain high and renting offers no equity and hence no financial future.
There may be a bright side to this crisis. As the article at the link below notes, it is cheaper for a corporation to equip employees to telecommute from their current homes than to help them sell their old ones and find new ones. Telecommuting has been gaining credibility for years now. It has become an increasingly acceptable option for many employees, and is part of a growing trend towards flexible work environments of all varieties. Nonetheless, many executives and managers have clung to an anachronistic and slightly irrational need for face-to-face meetings and on-site supervision of their employees. Come on, people, your employees are adults! Adults with money invested in houses they don't want to lose. It used to be that you weren't allowed to vote unless you owned some land. I mean, if you can't trust property owners, who can you trust? It's about time that corporations acknowledged the maturity of their employees by allowing them to telecommute from wherever they happen to live, especially if they've already proven that maturity by setting down roots.
"US workers saddled by houses that won't sell" from The Christian Science Monitor
Monday, April 09, 2007
Screen Out Office Chatter!
The links below briefly describe a software product that screens out the sounds of conversations in nearby cubicles so that you can focus on your work without being distracted. The product is called ChatterBlocker and it costs only 19.95 USD. Employing a "soothing blend of nature sounds, music and background chatter", ChatterBlocker blows away the intelligibility of nearby conversations without merely substituting one source of distraction with another. It has versions that run on both Mac and Windows operating systems, and is reputedly less distracting than listening to music in your cube, "especially music with lyrics". The product offers a selection of sound tracks, including some especially designed for "meditation". Users can mix the sound tracks themselves to find the best ambient sound, and even incorporate sounds of their own to produce a wholly customized result.
(Methinks any product that scrambles nearby conversations would be applauded by managers as well, as it would provide greater security to conversations that should really be kept confidential. It would also help prevent employees and colleagues from eavesdropping on conversations about them, or which they might misinterpret as being about them, thus reducing conflict in the workplace.)
"ChatterBlocker curbs confusion caused by chatty co-workers" from iTWire (Australia)
"ChatterBlocker blocks unwanted conversations" from Macworld
Sunday, April 08, 2007
Here is a "confession" from a Financial Times columnist that she lies all the time. I lie all the time as well. I would never survive in the corporate world if any of my employers knew that I kept a blog like this, or if I ever truthfully expressed my attitude toward bosses at the workplace. I'll wager you're a liar, too. If you're not, then you are either a fool or you're simply lying to yourself.
Columnist Lucy Kellaway says that we lie when we suck up to our bosses, or talk down to our underlings or even treat our colleagues like equals and partners. We lie when we try to sell anything, including ourselves. Our bosses give us goals and deadlines they don't for a moment expect us to meet, and we tell them that we are on track even when we're not. We claim to like the drudgery that comprises our daily grind - indeed, as Kellaway reminds us, "we claim to be 'passionate' about what we do, when in fact we barely tolerate it." But lies are inescapable in any workplace. "Lies are so deeply woven in the fabric of office life that if you took them away," claims Kellaway, "the whole thing would unravel."
This, ahem, "truth", if you'll excuse the expression, exposes the lie - or outs the folly - of any movement in the direction of corporate "transparency." The best thing we can do is not to always tell the truth - as that is impossible - but simply never to believe the lies we tell.
"Commentary: Lying is essential to doing business" from NPR Marketplace
Friday, April 06, 2007
No Such Thing As A Free Vacation?
Netflix is offering unlimited vacation time for its full-time employees, although not for its temp workers and contractors. Nor does anyone appear to monitor whether or not these employees show up at work, when, where or how often. According to CEO Reed Hastings, vacation limits and "face-time" are "relics of the industrial age." He believes that so long as employees complete their work, they can take as much time off as they like.
Netflix workers apparently take advantage of this generous perq, the average salaried employee taking off 25 to 30 workdays a year. The typical American worker gets 10 days off after one year on the job, and 15 days after five years. Yet, even with these modest allotments, one in three American workers don't use all their vacation time. Given this knowledge, one might assume that offering "unlimited" vacation time is simply a recruitment gimmick, not something most workers will take full advantage of. The nebulous definition of when one actually completes one's work will always keep most ambitious (and/or anxious and paranoid) workers chugging away in their cubes. Judging from my own experience, the faster you get your work done, the more work you get to do, and the more work you get to do, the comparatively less expendable you become. The same factors that would earn you more time off than the next guy would also increase the amount of work expected from you, so the amount of vacation time you get would eventually level off. Those with the least to do would get the most vacation, but at the same time they might become the most expendable.
Offering unlimited vacation for getting all your work done might simply be an underhanded tactic for pacifying - and eventually winnowing out - the least ambitious people in your workforce. It would clear the field for the real workers who, by their very nature, would prefer work to vacation and stay on the job - and consequently rise in the ranks. For a while, many workers - especially the young, naive and carefree - will no doubt take advantage of all the time off, cavorting like Eloi in the sunlight. Meanwhile, the Morlocks remain at the desks, toiling their way into the inner circle. The Eloi will for a while extol the visionary generosity of their employer, but eventually they too will see the light, so to speak, of staying out of the light - and the fad of "unlimited vacation time" will fade.
If a vestige of "unlimited vacation time" remains at Netflix in the future, it will be as a surrogate for maternity or paternity leave or will be apportioned out in many brief chunks as "flextime" for soccer moms and hockey dads.
"Vacation policy at Netflix: Take as much as you want" from San Jose Mercury News
"Netflix Vacation Policy: All You Can Eat" from Yahoo! Tech
Thursday, April 05, 2007
Like A Bull In A China Shop
Richard Conniff, the author of The Natural History of The Rich: A Field Guide, presents evidence that having too much money and power can impair judgment, causing the rich and the famous to do all kinds of foolish things.
He cites an experiment conducted at the University of California Berkeley "devised to test the hypothesis that power makes people stupid and insensitive" or, as the researchers so tactfully put it, "disinhibited". The study brought groups of people into a room, put them through the paces of a sham social survey while assigning one member of the group the role of leader - the "power role". During the midst of the sham survey, the researchers brought in a plate of cookies. "Care to guess which volunteer typically grabbed an extra cookie? The volunteer who had randomly been assigned the power role was also more likely to eat it with his mouth open, spew crumbs on partners and get cookie detritus on his face and on the table." Yum! The behavior immediately reminded the researchers of the powerful people they had encountered in real life. "One of them, for instance, had attended meetings with a magazine mogul who ate raw onions and slugged vodka from the bottle, but failed to share these amuse-bouches with his guests. Another had been through an oral exam for his doctorate at which one faculty member not only picked his ear wax, but held it up to dandle lovingly in the light."
The researchers concluded from this experiment that those with the power concentrate so intensely on the potential rewards that could increase their sense of privilege that they ignore the people around them. This makes them act, in short, like reckless boors. Worse yet, the people around such individuals are often their underlings. So, instead of protesting the behavior of these alpha boors, the underlings abet them, only increasing that heedless sense of power and entitlement. As Conniff says, "As power increases, it fires up the behavioral approach system and shuts down behavioral inhibition."
Conniff adds, "The corollary is that as the rich and powerful increasingly focus on potential rewards, powerless types notice the likely costs and become more inhibited." We ordinary middle class folks, in other words, do not feel so entitled. We don't take the world so much for granted, and are more cautious in our actions and more mindful of their consequences. But that doesn't mean we couldn't change. "The bottom line: Without power, people tend to play it safe. Given power, even you and I would soon end up living large and acting like idiots. So pity the rich — and protect yourself."
Protect yourself, indeed. That is my main take-away from this article. It doesn't require a huge leap of the imagination to infer that the vast increase in money and power falling into the hands of our so-called "business leaders" is only intensifying the selfish and reckless behavior that so enhanced their wealth to begin with. The more money the CEO gets, the more money he wants, and he will do anything to get it. The richer he is, the more ill-considered his corporate decisions become. He will slash away vital elements of the corporate infrastructure, downsize away valuable personnel, even indulge in accounting fraud to make himself ever richer, ever more famous and, ahem, admired. Bernie Ebbers is simply the "cookie monster" of the Berkeley experiment writ large. From the halls of academic psychology comes yet another urgent reason to curb executive pay now.
"The Rich Are More Oblivious Than You and Me" from The New York Times
"Natural History of The Rich: A Field Guide" by Richard Conniff at Amazon.com
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
Yet More On Workplace Bullies
I've often touched on the subject of workplace bullying in this blog, and here it rears its ugly head again. One might uncharitably characterize this as a tired subject - ready prey for pop psychologizing, on a par with "depression" or "infidelity", and therefore facile filler for the business pages of the daily papers. On the other hand, its frequent reappearance may indicate that it's happening more and more often.
The article at the link below cites a study of 400 workers which found that 30 percent "have endured a punishing boss or co-worker." The composition of the sample was slightly biased towards women, and white collar workers between the ages of 35 and 44. To be identified as a bully, the offender had to subject his or her victims to at least two negative acts a week for a period of six months or more. The study found that incidents of bullying caused both the victims and the witnesses to suffer increased stress and "overall dissatisfaction with their jobs."
It is often difficult to acknowlege that one is a victim of bullying because the phenomenon is associated with schoolyards, and "can make a person feel weak and childish." The study also stated that bullying is difficult to stop because it escalates by degrees, drawing the analogy between bullying and differing degrees of sunburn, some negligible in their immediate effect while others become so severe that scarring occurs. The authors suggested that certain types of workplaces foster bullying, perhaps especially those where the competition is most intense.
"Office bullying a widespread problem" from MSNBC.com
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
Surviving Office Life - An Anthology
Here is an amusing selection of Office Life oddments from New York Magazine. It is divided into following departments that include:
Boss Science: The psychopathology of the modern corporate leader (you may or may not be surprised to learn that there is little overlap between Climbers and True Leaders, or between Charisma and Performance, but that Narcissism might get you into the corner office anyway)
Rooms to Work: Inner sanctums of Marc Jacobs, Martha Stewart, Michael Bloomberg, and other type A’s (i.e., the surprisingly messy offices of the rich and famous)
Code of Conduct: Office horror stories, and how not to become the star of one (don't ask...)
The Successful Tantrum: How to win by losing it (i.e., winning by being a baby - how tyrants are born)
The Cubicle Bard: "It" novelist Joshua Ferris gives us the nonfiction on his working life (the reality is as pathetic as the fiction)
Taxonomy of Office Creatures: A guide to exterminating the office pest
"Office Life: A Survival Guide" from New York Magazine
Monday, April 02, 2007
Strange (Hospital) Bedfellows
Here is an article from The New York Times Magazine about the tentative alliance between business and union leaders to provide universal health care to Americans. It focuses on the efforts of Safeway CEO Steve Burd, along with Service Employees International Union head Andy Stern and Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, to come up with a workable health care plan. The article takes a historical overview of the health care situation, touching on past trends that I have discussed before in this blog.
Dramatic medical advances in the 1920's pushed up the cost of health care beyond the reach of many patients, especially during the Great Depression. Franklin Roosevelt rejected including universal health care in his New Deal program, reputedly because he anticipated opposition from "organized medicine". Yet organized medicine itself pioneered group health insurance, through Blue Cross-Blue Shield type coverage plans. Inspired by the success of such plans, which were initially non-profit, entrepreneurs began to turn to health insurance as a profit-making activity. The cost of insurance inevitably rose. Organized medicine later introduced managed care - as in HMOs - to reduce costs, but when these, too, were co-opted or copied by commercial providers, costs started to rise once again.
When the Clintons attempted to introduce their own plan for universal health insurance, they sought the support of business leaders to help shoulder the burden by contributing to a universal health care fund. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce initially supported the plan, but opposition from small business organizations help shoot it down. Unlike large corporations, which had provided employee health care coverage in the past, small businesses often provided little or no coverage. For them to contribute to a mandatory universal fund would impose costs on them they had not been forced to absorb before.
Steve Burd, as CEO of Safeway, ran a "low-margin" business, a nationwide chain of grocery stores that required a minimum of overhead to survive commercially. Safeway was, in other words, a big corporation that faced the problems of a small business, which gave Mr. Burd insight into how the health care issues faced American businesses at both ends of spectrum. Burd concluded that universal health care was necessary all across the board, but that overly "generous" benefits should be replaced by slightly less coverage with more emphasis on fitness and prevention. According to the article, "even though employers would no longer be insuring their employees, they would get financial incentives to set up wellness and fitness programs, while employees would get insurance discounts for enrolling in them." This would reduce the tax on business to support universal health care for the poor, and help reduce the strain on the entire health care system. Employees, in the meantime, would receive the cash currently withheld to pay for corporate health benefits and spend it on private health care programs whose costs would be regulated by the government.
The plan introduced by Burd, Wyden and Stern remains leary of single payer health insurance. Nonetheless, the article concludes by stating that the single payer system may actually be more economically efficient than a multitude of private insurers. It would eliminate the need for marketing costs to remain competitive, as well as the duplication of administrative costs when all health care is provided by a single entity.
"What’s the One Thing Big Business and the Left Have in Common?" from The New York Times (Registration may be required)
Sunday, April 01, 2007
WorldBlu is a "business" (sic) based in Washington, D.C. that specializes in workplace democracy. It gives Democracy in the Workplace awards to corporations that run their shops in a suitably enlightened way. It recently honored Continuum, a design firm near Boston that "eliminated most interior barriers, creating a vast open space." Personally, I am skeptical how this might further "workplace democracy". Note the "most" qualification above. That alone is enough to make one suspicious. Most companies knock down "interior barriers" merely to save costs, filling the resulting "vast open space" with cubicle farms and the like. WorldBlu could simply be awarding Continuum for its spin. Continuum vice president Freda King trumpets, "We do not have doors... It's structured that way to stimulate conversation and to allow people to work collaboratively. Anyone from the chief operating officer to our interns shares space and sits next to each other. You can stop in and have a conversation with anyone, anytime you want."
Mmm-hmm... Sure. Somehow I've heard this all before.
According to the founder of WorldBlu, Traci Fenton, 20th century corporations were "typically based on a military, command-and-control model that often remains today." (That is undoubtedly true. Decimation is a military concept, too - all the way back to Roman times - and it lives on in the practice of downsizing.) Fenton asserts that The Information Age changed things. The Internet empowered the little people by giving them the facts, arming them with the means to demand "workplace democracy." (On the other hand, one must also realize that The Information Age made business ever more bureacratic, and bureaucracies have never been a friend of democracy.)
WorldBlu's Fenton insists that managers can spread their own power across an organization, as well as empower others, by delegating as much as possible to their subordinates. (Then again, there is the school of thought that believes in the Law of the Conservation of Power, which states that the more power you give to others, the less power you keep for yourself.) Other hallmarks of "workplace democracy" include "self-managed teams" that apparently control their own billing, "open town forums" where employees and managers can share ideas, and "hiring as a collective activity."
The article warns that "even advocates of democratic workplaces agree that they do not work for everyone." Some people need "structure". (What the article does not mention is that some people are allergic to bullshit as well. I am at least glancingly familiar with all of the democratic - or shall we say pseudo-democratic - corporate tactics above. The blend of collectivization and semi-autonomy bred by this approach often takes itself way too seriously, and more closely resembles the defunct Soviet Union than it does the good old U.S. of A. One thing I've noted is that, the more "democratic" a corporation imagines itself to be, the more quickly you will be ostracized if you make an even mildly iconoclastic remark about the system. Groupthink is the lifeblood of such organizations. The purported "democracy" thrives only by infusing the rank-and-file with the same authoritarian mindset as their masters. Sometimes there is more camaraderie among corporate underlings when they are all aware that the management sees itself as neither their ally nor their equal.)
"Democratic principles making businesses more transparent" from The Christian Science Monitor