Thursday, May 31, 2007
Office Mentoring More Valuable Than Ever
The article at the link below was electronically "reprinted" from a Wharton Business School website, and offers a different perspective on how the world of rampant downsizing has affected the white collar zeitgeist. It - quite predictably - exalts the value of having a mentor and, also, of being a mentor. In passing, it laments the ruthless business changes of the last quarter century, which initially discouraged mentoring. After all, what good is it to nurture a protege if your employer will shortly let him or her go? Conversely, if you're a youngster on the make, why befriend an old hand who could be forced into early retirement at a moment's notice?
This article promotes mentoring precisely because downsizing has become so pervasive. It focuses on the networking value that derives from having - or being - a mentor. As a mentee, you will acquaint yourself with a person of influence - and, better yet, a person with connections - who may help you out when it's time to hunt for that new job. As a mentor, you will make friends with one or two of the young Turks who may remember you fondly enough to keep you employed when all else fails. I remember a case at Hewlett-Packard where a young IT division manager kept a man in his sixties who once mentored him employed as a contractor for years. Buddy up across generational lines. If it doesn't turn out that you have groomed a successor or an assistant, you might still have provided yourself with a lifeline to economic survival.
"Establishing relationship of mentor-mentee more important now than ever" from Delaware Online
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Managers And Their Families
Some managers attempt to bring the skills that keep them on top at the office into their homes, but that generally doesn't work. Family life is not the office, according to one CEO, who says, "the whole economic system shifts, from capitalism at work to communism at home." At home, everybody's happiness is at issue, not just the boss's. Although managers who succeed at the office might fail at home, the opposite is rarely true. Managers who know how to handle their own family often do better at the office than those who don't. At least one survey indicates that "employees rate their bosses with dependents more highly than they rate their bosses with none."
Although some sociologists believe that family members are fearful of "borrowed authority from the workplace" and may consciously resist it, others believe that running a family just takes an entirely different set of tactics - like empathy, charm, cooperation and, above all, love.
"How can you lead a staff but not a family?" from AZ Central (Arizona)
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
The Curse Of Cubicle Culture
"Call it the curse of the cubicle culture," says the article at the link below. "The repetitive nature of typing, the constant pressure on the back from sitting, and the often awkward use of telephones are causing painful and debilitating injuries in today's higher-tech offices." Office workers are three to five times as likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome, for instance, than others. The article describes a test cubicle dwellers can perform on themselves to see if they may be "candidates for surgery." The test involves pinching your nose with your index finger and your pinkie. Both fingers should have the same level of feeling as your nose. If your index finger is a tad numb, it's time to see a doctor. Otherwise you might lose pay - or your job. Workers with severe repetitive motion injuries can "miss 34 to 72 days of work" a year.
Headaches and back pain are also major workplace complaints. The article describes how to position your monitor and keyboard correctly, and advises taking breaks now and then to rest your back, your shoulders, your eyes and other essential body parts. See the link below for more detail, including concise ergonomic recipes for survival inside those ever perilous cubicles...
"Computer Injuries" from Proud.com (Central Illinois)
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Book Review Of "The Disposable American"
The New York Review of Books has published an excellent article about three books that shed grave doubts on the benefits of unbridled "managers' capitalism." These books include The Disposable American: Layoffs And Their Consequences, by Louis Uchitelle, The Great American Job Scam, by Greg LeRoy, and The Battle For The Soul Of Capitalism, by John C. Bogle. These books chart the development of the modern "'rootless corporation,' which defines success by financial measures alone, making it possible to 'save' a company by destroying much of what it was."
We learn that Louis Uchitelle's earlier book on the subject, The Downsizing Of America, a compilation of New York Times articles published in 1996 during the dot-com boom, was derided even by Uchitelle's fellow business reporters for its "downbeat" focus on the supposed past. The collapse of the dot-com boom and the arrival of another, even more withering round of layoffs makes his subject even more relevant than ever. Downsizing is now a standard operating procedure undertaken for short-term gains rather than as a last resort, and its popularity heralds a permanent change. Moreover, "the modern layoff is a hidden layoff", often disguised as early retirement or the switching of vendors from one "contractor" (i.e., temporary laborer) to another who costs less. Jack Welch was a major innovator in the brave new world of the "flexible workforce", a concept which has boosted corporate profits enormously but done almost nothing for ordinary Americans. According to Uchitelle, "Permanent disequilibrium... would be a more accurate picture of where we're headed."
Retraining programs, as such, provide little practical preparation for getting a new job - much less starting a new career. Many of these programs are intended simply to "defuse anger and lower expectations" and give the victims of layoffs propagandistic nonsense instead of practical advice. "What they receive, mostly, is airy wisdom about attitude, interpersonal relations, and the inner self; at least one classful gets free copies of the global best seller Who Moved My Cheese?, which warns those in economic distress not to be led into indignation or dismay by the overly complex human brain. Far better, the book suggests, to adopt the existential pragmatism of mice: No cheese in that corner? Check out this corner."
Corporate reliance on propaganda extends far beyond its human resources departments. Advertising fosters a pervasive culture of consumerism, and business-friendly academics and journalists extol the virtues of the "free market" economy - which, as the authors note, is simply "a euphemism for letting the private sector set its own rules." Lobbyists have always attempted to influence Congress on behalf of corporate interests, and continue to do so. But corporate agents also hoodwink state, county and local governments into giving their clients tax breaks ruinous to the local revenue base, often receiving in return a monolithic multinational presence that - as in the case of Wal-Mart - causes local businesses to fail or atrophy.
Read all this and more about these books and their message at the link below.
"The Spectre Haunting Your Office" from The New York Review Of Books
Friday, May 25, 2007
Corporate Hall Of Shame
Here is a website where you can vote for "the most abusive, manipulative and harmful" corporations in America. The top nominees include the following, among whom you will no doubt recognize some of the usual suspects.
1) Coca Cola - for stealing water from thirsty people in India and harassing union activists in Colombia.
2) Exxon Mobil - for helping stall actions to save the planet from global warming.
3) Ford - for impeding improvements on auto emissions, and awarding its CEO $28 million (for four months work) while planning to downsize 30,000.
4) Halliburton - for under-delivering on its government contracts and attempting to evade U.S. taxes by setting up headquarters in Dubai.
5) Kimberly-Clark - for turning the oldest forests of America into toilet paper.
6) Merck - for keeping Vioxx on the market when they knew it caused heart attacks, and for trying to prevent Thailand from using generic AIDS drugs.
7) Nestle - for exploiting child labor in foreign lands, and for making Americans fatter than ever.
8) Wal-Mart - for underpaying its workers while destroying local businesses and condoning sexual discrimination.
"Corporate Hall of Shame 2007"
Thursday, May 24, 2007
More On Desk Rage
Here is a different perspective on desk rage. Whereas some journalists have characterized desk rage as a form of worker behavior that is unacceptable to management and must be suppressed, the article at the link below suggests that desk rage is tacitly condoned as a tool to intimidate employees. According to Gary Namie of the Workplace Bullying Institute, "Employers love desk rage... Most of these bullies have cultivated an executive sponsor ... they get to do this with impunity. The message is, 'Be aggressive. It will get you ahead.'" Corporate managers use desk rage as a terror tactic to increase productivity. Cracking the whip literally is illegal, but cracking it figuratively is not. Not surprisingly, this approach can backfire, producing "hostile work environments [that] lead to turnover, absenteeism and, in extreme cases, lawsuits."
Victims of abusive managers should stand up for themselves, at least to prove that they are not "weak" - but they need to be careful. The bully's own managers may be on his side, not yours. "We are a bullying nation. We not only tolerate that kind of aggression, we reward it with promotion and protection." Abuse can range from sarcastic remarks and teasing to threats of physical violence. In a survey of more than 500 workers, 55 percent said they have witnessed managers raising their voices in anger with an employee, while 17 percent have observed bosses behave in a physically threatening manner. Like desk rage among employees, desk rage among bosses can be attributed to "stress and the pressure to succeed."
The key fact about desk rage is that it occurs along a continuum in the corporate hierarchy - but is often praised as "toughness" at the top, while condemned as "immaturity" or "unprofessionalism" at the bottom.
"Angry at the office" from The Chicago Tribune
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Satisfied Employees Aren't Necessarily Good Ones
Some months ago, I reported on scientific research indicating that creative (and therefore productive) employees will tend to be moodier, and perhaps a tad more rebellious, than the placid worker bees that surround them. Here is another link that restates this finding from a different perspective. According to organizational behavior expert Nathan Bowling, "although job satisfaction and job performance do correlate", satisfaction does not enhance performance, nor does performance necessarily produce satisfaction. Both are outgrowths of the underlying personality of an employee, but one does not cause the other. Individuals affected by depression, anxiety, neurosis or pessimism are unlikely to be satisfied regardless how well they do their jobs. Conversely, an outgoing personality, high self-esteem and a positive outlook may generate satisfaction in individuals, but won't necessarily make them better workers.
The best workers are distinguished primarily by intelligence and conscientiousness. Since the level of worker satisfaction is grounded in one's innate personality, Bowling suggests that "workplace interventions designed to improve performance by exclusively targeting employee satisfaction are unlikely to be effective." In other words, employers should avoid blatantly manipulative propaganda and not-so-subtle coercion in the hope of turning the rank-and-file into smiling drones. Such exercises are utterly pointless. Besides, like anything that insults one's intelligence, these efforts would antagonize the smartest - and therefore the most effective - workers most of all.
Unforturnately, the flip side of these findings is that employers would feel no qualms about dissatisfying their employees in their efforts to get them to work harder. If dissatisfaction doesn't necessarily affect work performance, then who cares how your workers feel?
"Job satisfaction doesn't guarantee performance" from Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
A Treasure Trove Of Anti-Corporate Screeds From The Nation
Here is a veritable treasure trove of articles from The Nation that fall under the rubric "Corporate Accountability and Responsibility" - most of which I've not yet read myself actually, although I hope to soon. The topics covered include legislative control of executive compensation, corporate collusion with national surveillance programs, airline monopolies, public accountability for corporate crimes, the "fencing off" of the Internet, and much else. If you're not by nature a slavish and deluded sycophant of corporate leadership, and have an old-fashioned "pinko" (e.g., liberal) sensibility like yours truly, you will enjoy these articles. Read them even if all your heroes (thus far) are billionaires - they might enlighten you.
"Corporate Responsibility & Accountability" from The Nation
Monday, May 21, 2007
Office Meetings Increasingly Interrupted By Personal Electronics
Here's the scoop from The New York Post - "The BlackBerry revolution has created a civil war in the nation's boardrooms - as a deep divide has opened up between those who want to chat away on their PDAs and those who want no distractions during meetings." And, unfortunately, they don't mean just boardrooms, if you get my drift, but hundreds of thousands of ordinary little conference rooms as well. According to Robert Half, 90 percent of professionals report that business meetings are commonly interrupted by someone whipping out his or her cellphone, pager, PDA, Blackberry, whatever you want to call 'em. 46 percent of those surveyed say emailing or text-messaging during a meeting is okay, while 31 percent decry it as a "breach of etiquette."
Here's some food for thought. They say that yammering away on a cellphone while driving (like that dude who tailgated me on I-95 this morning) degrades the highway skills of the average motorist. Is it possible that meetings regularly interrupted by personal electronics produce less effective results than those that are not? And, if so, what does that bode for the future of corporate decision-making?
"Office Workers' Berry Jam" from The New York Post
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Mixed Signals About Older Workers
Here is a study in ambivalence. One of the links below is an article from The Christian Science Monitor that asserts that, even though older workers may cost more - due primarily to the increased cost in medical benefits - they are worth more, too. They have a "work ethic", and many years of valuable experience. Plus, around 70 percent of older workers - defined as those over 50 - will either want or need to stay working after retirement age. The fact that the proportion of individuals of prime working age is expected to decline in coming years might, you think, make experienced and motivated older workers more attractive to employers. Unfortunately, that is not the case. According to a survey conducted by Manpower, only 18 percent of U.S. corporations have a "strategy for recruiting older workers."
The Monitor article nonetheless cites cases in which employers initially reluctant to take on "over 50" workers extol their talents in retrospect - as well as other cases, sadder ones no doubt, of experienced workers searching for work and getting the old "you're overqualified" excuse. Some of those quoted cast the aspirations of older workers in impossibly roseate terms. "We're right in the middle of an enormous transformation from an ethic that was focused on leisure to one that is focused on work," one author chimes in. "The old dream was the freedom from work – the liberation from labor. The new dream is freedom to work, on new terms." Well, maybe - but I think most retirees hankering for a position as a greeter at Walmart need the money more than the, ahem, "fulfillment." The tone of the article, although oh, so well-meaning, is actually rather fulsome - reminiscent, in its way, of the way "nice people" were thinking of certain minority group members in the very early days of the Civil Rights Era. This resemblance merely underscores how far we have to go to see value of any kind in anyone with graying hair.
The other link is to a no-nonsense report from a human resources rag, and it is all facts and figures. None of which look good. Although 18 percent of U.S. corporations have recruitment strategies for older workers, there are regional variations. The figure is highest in the South, at 22 percent, and lowest in the Northeast, at 15 percent. This difference is especially sobering when you consider how much more expensive it is to live in the Northeast than in the South, and also when you realize that the pay scale is lower in the South. The implication here is that, if you live in New York or Boston, you will need to retire to Florida to remain gainfully employed. Only 28 percent of American corporations have a "formal retention strategy" for older workers, while the comparable figures in Japan and Singapore are 83 percent and 53 percent, respectively. And, again, there are regional variations - with the West leading the way at 34 percent.
The factors that drive the demand - such as it is - for older workers include size of the labor pool, the demographic profile of the labor pool, the perception of labor shortages, and - tellingly - government programs to support and promote the employment of older workers. America's workforce is aging even as the demand for labor is expected to increase, but a survey of 400 U.S. employers indicates that most corporations remain "lukewarm" about hiring older workers. This reluctance is deeply ingrained. According to one analyst, "It appears that most employers worldwide are ignoring the demographic forecasts and evidence of growing talent shortages, and instead, still waiting to see it in their headlights before they begin to think differently about the older workforce." He adds, "By then, it could be too late to avoid the impact of large-scale retirements on the productivity and knowledge base of their company."
"'Age friendly' workplaces on the rise" from The Christian Science Monitor
"Employers Not Feeling the Love Toward Older Workers" from SHRMOnline (Society for Human Resource Management)
Friday, May 18, 2007
Pop Songs About White Collar Workers
The article at the link below states that "the white-collar office may be the best friend the entertainment industry has," citing how cubicle workers tuned into their iPods and the Internet have boosted the consumption of popular music. And yet pop songs about us white collar folks are few and far between. In recent years, there have been "office sitcoms, office novels and office movies", but the office is yet to come up on the radar of popular music. According to Time magazine, "Rock music has never lacked for zillionaires to romanticize farmhands and factory workers. But what of the John Henrys plowing sweatily through PowerPoint presentations? White-collar employees, who make up 60% of the workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, are largely absent from pop lyrics, except for novelty songs and minor works."
There are some exceptions, such as the New Jersey group, the Fountains of Wayne, "who are to accountants what Bruce Springsteen is to refinery workers," and Jonathan Coulton, whose "Code Monkey" celebrates (or bemoans) the misadventures of a computer programmer in love with a receptionist. With office jobs displacing the blue collar toil that once served as the backdrop for many classic songs, songs in office settings are bound to become more common in the future. For those of us who do such work, the office is just a part of life, not something that necessarily defines us or limits our humanity. Musicians and lyricists who sets songs in our world often inhabit it themselves, so they are, in effect, "writing about what they know." Some believe that songs "lashing out at the corporate world [don't] work as well in American pop culture because the corporate world co-opts rebellion so well," but songs about the perennial pursuit of love, respect and identity would surely strike a chord with millions. There's always a demand out there for songs with such universal themes. As Time says, "The most rebellious thing of all may be to suggest that white-collar workers can be complex, sympathetic, even noble. If this idea hasn't broken through in mainstream pop, there's a market for it on the Internet..."
"Officeworkers Need a Springsteen Too" from Time
Thursday, May 17, 2007
It Can Happen Here
Huey Long once said, "When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the American flag." Those words ring truer now than they ever did, what with the snooping and illegal incarceration activities of Homeland Security - indeed, the very name "Homeland Security" - and much else that is happening now in our troubled republic. According to the item at the link below, the American masses not might, but will rebel against the systematic destruction of their economic security by clamoring for a quasi-socialist government. Their efforts may either cause the current government to impose a fascist regime to protect itself from the rebels - or the rebels themselves will unwittingly bring into power a government with socialist pretensions that rapidly mutates into fascism. The author of the item invokes the economic chaos of post-World War One Germany as an analogue for modern America with its polarized society and its collapsing middle class. He claims that our nation has reached the end of the first phase on the road to fascism, and that we will reach that horrific destination soon, if not in our lifetime, then in the lifetimes of our children.
I've heard this sort of argument before - something like it has played out in my own mind many times - and I can't help but agree with it. Read it - not so much for itself, but for what it causes you to think about - and then tell me you aren't worried. It's not that it's even a particularly good editorial, it simply voices what all of us fear despite ourselves.
"Outsourcing Could Lead To Fascism In America" from OpEdNews
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Absurd New Device Turns Office Treadmill Into Fitness Tool
The Mayo Clinic, of all people, has developed a bizarre but innovative work station - or should we say "workout station" - that combines a computer, a keyboard and a treadmill. It can also be customized, providing "storage for personal items such as flower vase, cup holder, pen holder or paper tray" - in short, all the comforts of home! The thought is that workers who are able to walk along on the treadmill while doing their work at the computer could burn an extra 100 calories an hour. It is targeted towards obese American white collar workers whose numbers, as we know, are expanding. The machine's developers claim that "if obese individuals were to replace time spent sitting at the computer with walking computer time by two to three hours a day, and if other components of energy balance were constant, a weight loss of 20-30 kilograms per year could occur." The device could be installed in private homes as well to, say, allow video-gaming teenagers to slim down their butts while engaged in their favorite activities. The combination of computer and treadmill is intended to relieve the tedium of exercise. Unfortunately, installing such a device at the workplace might result only in compounding the tedium of exercise with that of ordinary workaday drudgery. The devices apparently cost nearly 2,000 U.S. dollars apiece. At those prices, it's not likely we'll be seeing cubicle workers on treadmills anytime soon.
"Get Slim On The Office Treadmill" from BBC News
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Worst Times Of Day For Multi-Tasking
Here is some bad news for early birds and/or for go-getters who like to pull all-nighters. Researchers in Germany tested measures of brain function among subjects subjected to 28 hours of "constant wakefulness". These functions included perception, motor ability, and cognitive decision making - all of which performed most poorly in the early hours of the morning. Slowed reaction time affected both perception - especially one's capacity to respond quickly to visual stimuli - and motor ability, including strength, dexterity and reflex speed. The researchers determined that the slower reaction time was ultimately caused by a decline in central processing speed, as indicated by tests of cognitive performance administered at various points during the experiment. These tests focused specifically on the ability of subjects to successfully complete multiple tasks at the same time.
Although cynics might conclude that your mental powers will naturally decline the longer you go without sleep, the researchers linked the declines to the circadian rhythm of the subjects, as measured by "salivary melatonin concentration and body temperature." Circadian rhythms affect human physiology depending on the time of day, whether or not the subject is asleep.
This research suggests that white collar workers who get up at, say, 5:00 AM to go to work should exercise caution during their commute and remain realistic about the limitations of their work performance until later in the day. Ditto for anyone burning the midnight oil. Such findings, if publicized, have the potential to put a damper on the overuse of "flextime" - not to mention on the hopes of those who like to start their workday at the crack of dawn. The benefits of beating the traffic by driving to work early might actually be offset by sleepiness and diminished reflexes.
"Multitasking Is Hardest In The Early Morning" from BrightSurf.com
Monday, May 14, 2007
Exercises For Cubicle Slaves
Here is some, ahem, lame advice on how to exercise if all you do all day is sit around in your cubicle.
1) Take the long way on entering the building from the parking lot.
2) Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
3) Tighten your stomach for 10 seconds while at your desk, then repeat this exercise 15 times.
4) Raise a lightweight object toward the ceiling - like "the Statue of Liberty holding the torch", says the article at the link below, but a stapler or a "hefty paperweight" may suffice. Give the exercise 15 repetitions per arm, three times a day.
Hoooo-ahhh! Me, I remain skeptical of such paltry efforts, sadly recalling a line from William Gaddis' The Recognitions, in which he casts aspersions on the under-muscled bodies of the white collar middle class, as they are deprived of both the brawny labor of the working man and the active sporting life of the rich. I say, lift weights and hike mountains. We have been subjected to the disdain of other classes on this issue for countless generations, and it is certainly time for us to get buff.
"Get In Shape At The Office" from The Wall Street Journal
Sunday, May 13, 2007
70% Of Chinese White Collars Overworked
Globalization extends the benefits - and the disadvantages - of unbridled capitalism even to "communist" nations. According to a survey conducted by Beijing Normal University, 70 percent of Chinese white collar workers put in more than 10 hours a day. This has raised concerns that excess overtime will damage the health of these workers and shorten their lives. Although job stress was apparently a rare phenomenon among Chinese white collar workers just three years ago, millions are now complaining of overwork and lack of sleep. One female office worker at a "foreign-funded company" reported that she had not come home before 10:00 PM in the last three months. In a development that will strike a chord with millions of Americans as well, "most white-collar workers are stressed at the thought of losing their jobs or being able to 'survive' in the fierce employment market."
"Seven in ten Chinese white collar workers overworked, stressed: survey" from People's Daily Online
"Too much toil deprives us of health, humanity" from Shanghai Daily
Friday, May 11, 2007
Cracking Down On Desk Rage
One of the links below defines desk rage as "when a cubicle-confined employee gets so frustrated, so stressed, that he or she (usually he) lets fly a few expletives aimed at a customer, colleague, boss or potted plant." Workplace issues reporter Anita Bruzzese claims that the workplace has become such a "pressure cooker" that the incidence of desk rage is increasing. So have the efforts of employers to crack down on desk rage, which they see as a dangerous harbinger of workplace violence. While employees were occasionally allowed to blow their stack in the past, nowadays "if you have an eruption at work, someone will go to human resources and you're going to be written up for it. You'll be labeled a ‘hothead,' and that will follow you throughout your career." It is most ironic, although entirely predictable, that corporations are cracking down more than ever on responses to the same stress that they are trying so hard to increase.
A survey conducted by a New York consulting firm found that 29 percent of workers admitted yelling at a co-worker. According to another survey conducted this March, 14 percent of workers report incidents of desk rage, 22 percent have been "driven to tears by stress", 16 percent report property damage caused by desk rage, 9 percent report physical violence at the workplace, and 10 percent believe their workplace may not be safe. However, this survey indicated that the incidence of desk rage has remained flat since 2000, although the incidence of "verbal abuse" at the workplace has actually decreased 45 percent. This decrease may be due to the increased willingness of workers to report instances of desk rage to management, although unfortunately this metric - call it "the fink factor" - was not quantified by either survey.
How can business reduce the incidence of desk rage itself? According to The Hartford Courant, "The solution is obvious. Cut back on the workload. Managers need to get off of their employees' backs." The tone of the rest of that particular article is semi-facetious, but that remark at least rings true.
"Workplace Stress Causes Desk Rage in 14% of American Workplaces, Says New Study" from PRWeb
"Hissy fits of old days now warn podmates of violence" from The Ithaca Journal
"It's All The Rage, And It Might Be Wise To Clue In Your Boss" from The Hartford Courant
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Beware Of Messy Desks
A British human resources magazine reports on a survey of "messy desks" among white collar workers at the link below. Here are some statistics:
1) 36 percent of UK workers are doobies with "organized, clutter-free desks" which they clean off several times a day to enable their rise "up the career ladder."
2) 34 percent are "casual" about their desks. They apparently don't mind keeping them clean, but don't put much of an effort into it either.
3) 21 percent see their desks as a "personal messy space" which serves as an expression of themselves. (One is reminded here of how animals urinate on trees to mark their territory.)
4) 7 percent allow themselves to amass those stereotypical piles of paper and other "stuff" that one sees in cartoons and cinematic depictions of messy desks. 61 percent of this subgroup also have "mouldy food" in their drawers, 38 percent have "faulty stationery" (whatever that is) lying about, and 14 percent "admit to having at least 20 documents on their desk that could be thrown away."
Messy desks can apparently hold you back in some cases, as 15 percent of managers said they would be reluctant to promote a worker who has one, while 50 percent say messy desks don't matter.
"Office Recruitment" from Recruiter Magazine (UK)
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
Scott Adams, Creator of Dilbert
Scott Adams has been bringing us Dilbert since 1989 and is a major luminary of the cubicle world. The article at the link below caught up with Mr. Adams a month before turning the preeminently downsizable age of 50. At the time, he was in Orlando to address a human resources convention. When asked how he thought cubicle dwellers were feeling 15 years after the first corporate decimations of the early nineties, he said he thought "workers are happier than they were in the early '90s, but less happy than they were in their cubicles during the dot-com heyday." Then he added, "There's a limit to how happy you can be when you're working in a fabric-covered box."
Adams has suffered lately from an obscure condition called spasmodic dysphonia, which made him literally mute during much of 2005 and 2006. The condition has not prevented him from listening to others, and especially to the inanities of business people. He remarked on "the conversations he overhears between strangers trying to impress each other at business conventions and the like." "'Everywhere you go," he said, "somebody's trying to be official." Although Dilbert has freed him from office toil, Adams - who holds an M.B.A. from Berkeley - still endeavors to enlighten managers on the ways of cubicle dwellers, maintaining a busy schedule on the lecture circuit.
Adams revealed that Dilbert has a real life model who, he believes, remains unaware of his role as a source of inspiration. He also cited the worst management idea he ever encountered - a proposal to offer hefty severance pay, "a pile of cash" as it were, to the worst 10 percent in the company's workforce, thus giving everyone the incentive to underperform enough to make, ahem, the "cut"...
"The Force of Dilbert" from St. Petersburg Times
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
Big Bad Blue
Here is a brief but scathingly comprehensive article criticizing IBM's latest downsizing push - dubbed "Project Lean". The article came from a website run by American residents and citizens of Indian descent whom you might hastily imagine are sympathetic to outsourcing. But think again. Indians, whether they work in America or in India, are workers too - and as such are as vulnerable to layoffs and downsizing as the rest of us.
IBM has laid off 13,000 workers so far this month, and may soon be laying off at the very least another 100,000 - including around half of its U.S.-based Global Services division, or about 150,000 employees. Many of those earmarked to become "dumpies" - the latest argot for "downwardly mobile professionals" - are experienced middle managers and technical professionals, the sort who do a lot of the actual work at places like IBM. IBM also intends to shoot itself in the other foot by cutting off customers who are not sufficiently profitable, eschewing long contracts for short ones with quick payoffs. In other words, IBM will apparently be downsizing customers as well as employees. Moreover, in their impatience to make a profit, IBM executives are "losing touch with reality, bidding contracts too low to make a profit then mismanaging them in an attempt to make a profit anyway, often to the detriment of IBM customers."
It is not that IBM is suffering. Not yet at least. It is financially healthy, with revenue exceeding $91 billion in 2006. It wants only to be more so, at the expense of almost everything else. The author of the article reminds us of a study showing that executive compensation at corporations that had engaged in layoffs within the previous year was 22.8 percent higher than that at corporations of comparable size that had not. That says volumes about where the money saved from downsizing is actually going.
In the meantime, IBM may "eliminate much of [its] traditional wisdom and corporate memory" and expose itself to logistical malfunction due to the loss of skilled personnel. That, predicts the article, could even further alienate its customer base and send this "fat and mean" corporation into a death spiral.
"Fat And Mean - IBM's Layoff Plans and the New Downsizing" from Desicritics.org
Monday, May 07, 2007
More On Email Addiction
I've linked to articles about email issues before - including email addiction - and here is another one. It's worth chuckling about and shaking one's head over, as it does contain some inarguable truths. Email makes us feel important. Yes, indeed - it certainly does. It also makes you look important. My wife, who shared my email account for a while, used to boast to friends about the volume of emails I was receiving - until I admitted sheepishly that I was on the mailing lists of a couple of message boards, and got CC'ed on everything anyone said to anyone else. Much as we may dislike email for dragging us into "work mode" while we're on vacation, we may still check our email when we're out of town anyway - just to stay in touch with our social network. When my wife and I were in Scotland three years ago, I ran down to the hotel lobby every night and chucked pound after pound into a coin-operated web connection just to see what the news was from home - or, rather, from my cyber-home, as many of my correspondents were actually in the UK. (Not that I would ever visit them in person, of course...)
One writer calls email a "silent corporate cancer" that eats away time. According to behavioral scientists, it takes the human mind about 4 minutes to recover from an interruption. If you're at work, and you check (let alone respond to) emails 30 times a day, that's 120 minutes lost to the limbo of interrupted focus. The same author suggests cleaning out your inbox every time you're in there. Um-hmm. As Slate says, emptying your inbox is "like hacking off a limb." Some indulge in the perfunctory effort of deleting a few choice emails out of their inboxes every now and then, an ineffectual sort of pruning referred to as "e-noodling." I plead guilty here.
How else to get rid of email? Having a secretary handle the email is one way - if you have a secretary. But we're not bosses here, are we, folks? Another way is to declare "e-mail bankrupcy", which is when you email all your correspondents, telling them not to expect responses from any previous emails, and to start fresh, as if you've never corresponded with them before. Now bankruptcy is a concept American workers are familiar with...
"The Email Addict" from Slate
Friday, May 04, 2007
Bad Commutes Stall American Workers
Neocons love the population explosion because it provides a ready supply of both eager consumers and cheap labor. The huge number of consumers keeps the demand for goods high, and the equally huge number of workers keeps the demand for jobs high as well. This enables the world's mega-corporations to keep wages low and raise the prices on their products as they see fit, thus generating a form of "stealth inflation" which never gets labeled as "inflation" by the Fed, but looks and smells like inflation to the little guy anyway. Swarming masses are a tycoon's ticket to billions.
Unfortunately, the population explosion also worsens our daily commute, so the tycoons ought to telecommute if they know what's good for them. According to US News & World Report, "The issue [of commuting] mainly boils down to population growth outpacing road building. America has about 70 million more people than it did a quarter century ago, but highway miles have increased by a little more than 5 percent..." By 2050, demand for daily ground transportation will increase 150 percent while "highway capacity is projected to increase by only 10 percent..."
Not only is congestion heavier even if you commute the same distance you did ten years ago. More people than ever have longer commutes. The number of people who travel 90 minutes to work every day - a group called "extreme commuters" - has increased 95 percent since 1990. That only compounds the problem.
Longer and more congested commutes worsen the health of commuters. Traffic jams induce stress "comparable to that felt by first-time parachutists" and double the risk of a heart attack. Incessant heavy traffic discourages people from doing anything but going to work, diminishing their access to cultural events and community activities. It makes them creatures too exhausted to do anything but hump it for the boss. This Treadmill Redux sets the pace for the 21st century.
Some proposals for improvement either favor the affluent or provide yet more opportunities for tycoons to make billions. Variable fee lanes - often called "Lexus lanes" - in which the benefits of a sparser traffic are available for a price, attract the patronage of the wealthy. The spectre of private toll roads providing similar services is also looms in our future. However, as the AAA notes, private toll roads often impede the expansion of the infrastructure by extracting non-competition agreements from the government. In other words, the existence of a private toll road from A to Z may legally inhibit the creation of a toll-free road along a parallel route.
For this and more info about America's growing traffic problem, go to the link below.
"Road Warriors" from US News & World Report
Thursday, May 03, 2007
Going Their Separate Ways...
Here is something short and sweet (or sour, as the case may be) from Robert Reich. He quite succinctly identifies the reasons why the stock market is booming at the same time that the American economy is growing "at its weakest pace in four years." One, the world economy is no longer dependent on our economy, allowing China, India, Japan and Europe to go gang-busters while we languish. Two, the fortunes of American corporations have been similarly decoupled from the fortunes of the majority of the American people. Even when the performance of American companies falters domestically, they are sufficiently capitalized overseas to participate in the foreign economic boom. Corporate tax cuts feed this foreign capitalization, and the people of other countries benefit rather than our own.
"Double Decoupling" from The American Prospect
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
Will The Internet Be The Great Leveler?
Here is a review of a book called Inequality.com: Power, Poverty and The Digital Divide. The book addresses the question of whether the mass presence of millions of people on the Internet will eventually create a more democratic society. It doesn't just look at the Internet either, but at the greatly expanded use of other devices, such as cellphones, iPods, etc. It also considers the negative and superficial effects of this technology. For instance, it suggests that our dependence on it as a medium for much of our behavior may enable a dystopian version of Marshall McLuhan's "global village", in which everyone knows what everyone else is doing - or at least the government and the corporations do, through the agency of digital surveillance. (Anyone familiar with the Bush administration knows this is already happening.) It levels other critiques at the supposed freedom of the Internet, citing the control that corporations like Google have over which websites are seen, and which are not. It also suggests that there is a "bread and circuses" element to the Internet, in which frivolous and superficial content crowd out the worthy and the profound.
Nonetheless, it does see the potential of the Internet to give citizens not only a greater say in the political process, but fuller and more expedient access to information and government services. However, even in the realms of the Internet devoted to politics and social change, a kind of Gresham's Law can apply, where divisiveness and anger overwhelm worthier attitudes and emotions, and consensus is sacrificed for the spectacle of pigheaded opponents haranguing each other in the vast arena of cyberspace. (That is already the norm in, say, talk radio.)
The review is not especially easy to read, but the book itself sounds provocatively ambivalent and could be worth a look.
"Will the digital age bring equality?" from the Time Literary Supplement
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Idol Chatter At The Office
37 percent of American workers say American Idol is the most popular TV show at the office, according to a recent survey of 2,792 "employed adults". 21 percent admit to chattering about the show on company time, and 10 percent fess up to "debating about the contestants." Women are more likely to discuss TV shows at work - or at least to admit it - 27 percent versus a figure of 15 percent among men. (Unless the species has changed dramatically in recent years, most men still prefer to discuss sports more than anything else.)
Some workers appear to think that prattling about TV shows is "good for business". Around 44 percent believe the discussions promote "camaraderie" at the workplace, with the percentage rising to 54 percent among the cohorts aged 18-24 and 30-39. Only 6 percent of workers admit to discussing "The Office" at the office, which may suit their managers just as well. Who wants to hear about a show that mirrors the sad reality of one's life, as opposed to one - like American Idol - that provides the fantasy of deliverance from obscurity.
"Is 'American Idol' Good for Business?" from Inc.com