Friday, August 17, 2007
Vacation In Ireland
Tomorrow I leave for a fortnight of fun (or at least what I hope will be fun) in Ireland - one week in Dublin, and another in Donegal. Posts to The White Collar Warrior will cease until after Labor Day, but I can't even think about my trip without having my imagination sullied by thoughts of lost business opportunities and corporate annoyances. The pilots of Aer Lingus intend to strike on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, and I sure hope the strike does not extend much beyond that. Otherwise I'll be trapped on the Emerald Isle. Aer Lingus, like all other airlines, is no doubt raking in the cash by underpaying and overworking its employees, and cutting costs at their customers' inconvenience. I also think back to when my father's last remaining paternal uncle passed away in Donegal 35 years ago. This elderly gentleman was a bachelor, and my father inherited his farm as the sole surviving heir. My father, an academic, was nonplussed by this legacy and immediately fumbled it like a hot potato into the mitts of the next relative in line. Me, I'm a wily if embittered veteran of the business world, and I know that if I had inherited a piece of property in a prime resort area, I would have turned it into a B&B or at the very least sold it to the developers of a golf course. Alas, I will never have such a chance. Such are the breaks for the perennial white collar drone...
Thursday, August 16, 2007
A Rustic Ode To Cube Farms (Or A Rant, Take Your Pick)
Here is a well-written "op ed" piece in The Korea Times by a white collar worker of Indian descent. That should give you an indication of the subject's international nature - which is cube farms, a phenomenon we have worldwide. The author laments how, in the old days in India when office floors were open spaces, colleagues would gather to discuss "football and cricket matches" - but all that started to change in the late 80's, as it did elsewhere, to the familiar expanse of cubicles known by its inventor, Robert Propst, as the Action Office. He believes that cubicles, intended to boost productivity, have atomized office workers, converting the bantering communities of old to a sea of isolates sitting in their cubes with earphones clapped to their heads. Our world has shrunk to the scale of our cubicles, he says, over which we imagine we have complete dominion. There's nothing new here, but I thought it was a good read - and it certainly underscores the universality of what one might call "the white collar condition".
"Cube Farms" from The Korea Times
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Would You Fire This Man?
Here are a couple of articles about the value of eccentric (or even obnoxious) but highly capable "employees" whose implications are somewhat ambiguous. The Boston Globe presents us with the following scenario, in which an "employee" who while "having made major contributions to the team in the past, and while brilliant and witty, he's moody to the point that he misses work and might be manic-depressive. He's also fat, speaks with a bit of a lisp, is a heavy drinker and something of a loose canon, expressing with gusto radical views, some offensive to minorities." The article asks what you would do with such an individual, then concludes that most managers would consider him a liability and give me the heave-ho. It turns out they would end up firing Winston Churchill.
Interestingly, the Wall Street Journal article which inspired the Globe article discusses the crackdown on executive behavior - which is not really employee behavior. It critiques the recent move to cashier those high-level managers who are delinquent in sexual, financial or criminal ways. The fact is, a lot of these executives are bosses, and dismissing them for bad behavior would be in the same spirit as the monitoring of executive compensation. The point is that you should want to out the abuses of the big boys at the top, and to let them know they won't be tolerated - not to let them get away with hijinks that betray their employees, their shareholders or the reputations of the companies they represent. Some folks, of course, think otherwise. Winston Churchill himself was a boss, and what's good enough for him should be good enough for Dennis Kozlowski and Donald Trump. Right? It is part of the libertarian mindset that the peccadillos of "geniuses" should be not only tolerated but indulged, and this attitude has wrought havoc with the American economy and the morale of the average worker. The overweening greed of top executives is one eccentricity they share more than any other.
The sobriquet of "genius" is generally applied by inference. If you are on top, you got there because you were a "genius". Although the recent indulgence of corporate kingpins has been very generous, it runs side by side with an entirely different trend. Mere "employees", because they are "employees", cannot be "geniuses" by virtue of their humble status, and their quirks need not be tolerated in any way, shape or form. In fact, the more we forgive the wayward behavior of boardroom "geniuses", the more we worship rank for its own sake, and the less likely we are to indulge mere workers no matter how brilliant they might be. Perhaps even the act of allowing yourself to be bossed around by someone else forever robs you of "genius" potential despite your IQ. If you happen to think you've got what it takes, you might just be better off working for yourself.
"Eccentric geniuses worth the trouble they cause" from The Boston Globe
"Personal boundaries shrink as companies punish bad behavior" originally from The Wall Street Journal
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
A Scottish survey found that "some" workers check their email inboxes up to 40 times an hour, leaving them "tired and frustrated - as well as unproductive." Women are more prone to this practice than men, and it is apparently driven by a sense of obligation to answer emails promptly. Psychologists urge victims of this malaise to, in essence, "lighten up" and not take the onslaught of emails too seriously. They ask, "How many of those e-mails that you send need to go exactly right now? Probably very, very few indeed." Only 38 percent of the 200 respondents to the survey "felt relaxed enough" to wait a day before answering emails, causing one expert to opine, "E-mail is the thing that now causes the most problems in our working lives... It's an amazing tool but it's got out of hand." The simplest solution is not to check your email so often - but that advice may be lost on those of us who have become email addicts. For us, reading and answering email is not just an obligation - it's a drug.
(As a sidenote, one wonders whether the survey responses were solicited by email - in which case those most compelled to answer promptly would have been vastly overrepresented among the respondents.)
"Workers 'stressed out' by e-mails" from BBC News
Monday, August 13, 2007
40 Hour Work Week Reconsidered
According to an online survey of 10,000 American workers, the average white collar worker wastes 2.09 hours a day. Surfing the Internet was their top time-wasting activity - as in, for instance, answering that survey. Other time wasters included "socializing, conducting personal business, spacing out, running errands, making phone calls, applying for jobs, and arriving late or leaving early." The survey concluded that all this dawdling costs American companies $759 billion a year.
However, as the article at the link below admits, the weekly demands of most salaried jobs can be completed in considerably less than 40 hours a week. Although it seems to me that employees may need to be at work, or at least available to their employers, on a daily basis - even seven days a week and around the clock in many cases - they may not need to spend all that much time actually working. It is possible that corporations, using flex-time and rotating schedules, could save a considerable amount of money by allowing their employees to work 30 hour weeks. This might put less strain on corporate resources and infrastructure, and a far higher percentage of employees' time at work could be committed to their jobs. Just as improved technology has allowed corporations as a whole have become more productive, it has allowed their employees to become more productive as individuals. If they are not allowed to reap the rewards of expanded responsibility and a commensurate increase in income, they should at least be allowed to cash in the profit of a few extra hours a day which they could then devote to family, friends, personal fulfillment and - yes - even earning a little money elsewhere on their own time.
"Is it time to reinvent the 40-hour workweek?" from HeraldNet (Everett, Washington)
Friday, August 10, 2007
Bad Bosses Ascend
According to a recent survey, one way to get ahead in business is to make your subordinates miserable. Reuters reports that "almost two-thirds of the 240 participants in an online survey said the local workplace tyrant was either never censured or was promoted for [his or her] domineering ways." This result, which may not be surprising to many of us, nonetheless unsettled the survey's authors, who said "The fact that 64.2 percent of the respondents indicated that either nothing at all or something positive happened to the bad leader is rather remarkable -- remarkably disturbing". The authors blamed senior managers for condoning such "bad leaders", and "advocated immediate intervention by industry chiefs to stop fledgling office authoritarians from rising up the ranks."
Yeah, methinks, when pigs fly... Oh, wait, they do!
"Bad bosses get promoted, not punished?" from Reuters
Thursday, August 09, 2007
The Internet Is The "Water Cooler" Of The 21st Century
The article at the link below addresses the place of the Internet in the lives of contemporary office workers, particularly those of the "web generation". Here are some stats from a study conducted by a San Diego company:
1) 61 percent of office workers surf the net for an average of three hours a week (or 19 days a year).
2) 81 percent of men and 70 percent of women consult web sites on the weather.
3) 42 percent of men and 18 percent of women visit sports sites.
4) 15 percent of men and 6 percent of women read blogs at work.
5) 16 percent of men and 8 percent of women look at pornography online in the "privacy" of their cubicles.
Although many companies will block access to pornography and gambling web sites, most are reluctant to eliminate web access altogether. According to one source, "Balancing the personal and the productive when it comes to employees using the Internet is one of the biggest problems business is facing right now." Cutting off Internet access altogether will cause many disgruntled employees to seek jobs elsewhere, but allowing them to spend too much time on the net would obviously affect productivity. A laissez-faire attitude tends to prevail, with most companies tolerating at least some web surfing if those who indulge in it complete their assignments in a timely fashion. Experts prefer careful monitoring over outright restriction, and suggest defining which types of web sites are okay to visit from the workplace, and which are not. Above all else, employees should be informed that their web behavior may be monitored, as well as why some web sites must be blocked.
The Internet is an essential work tool for millions of workers, and its presence is virtually irresistible. Besides, if employees really want to visit the Internet, they can do so from their iPods, iPhones and cellphones even if they are blocked from using on their office PCs. Corporations can no more prevent web surfing than they can eliminate small talk or sexual attraction, but some control is better than none, and the illusion of even more control is better than either.
"Workplace bends to theWeb generation" from Financial Post
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
IT Folks Among UK's Unhappiest Workers
According to a survey of 22,500 British workers in 81 different occupations, IT professionals - who make a substantial share of white collar workers in any nation - ranked a mere 66th in worker satisfaction. This is despite the (supposedly) higher compensation for those in the field. The researchers attributed IT worker blues to a number of factors. For instance, "because IT moves so fast, [IT workers] live in constant fear that the skills they have at a given moment will suddenly go out of date, and they'll become much less valuable." They are also required to work a little too much, making themselves available via email and pagers around the clock.
In contrast to IT folks, hairdressers - who work with people, not flowcharts and source code - came in second, just behind "fat-cat corporate managers". Teachers, once ranked at 54, are now ranked at 11, due in part to improved pay as well as to the traditional satisfactions of mentoring the young.
Here is yet more evidence that corporate white collar life - with its focus on the abstract and the trivial, its arbitrary bureaucracy and its lack of opportunity for either self-expression or authentic human contact - is dispiriting to millions, despite its occasional economic rewards.
"Hairdressers have jobs to dye for, study says: They're a lot happier than IT professionals, U.K. researchers find" from Times Colonist(Canada)
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
A Canadian office worker, said to suffer from "environmental hypersensitivity", was once given a "chemical filter mask" by her boss as an aid to surviving in their office. Research now shows that such individuals are "the office equivalent of the canary in the coal mine" and can cue in managers to the dangers of a toxic workplace.
Did you know that "laser printer emissions are as bad for the lungs as a lit cigarette", that ventilation systems circulate "noxious gases", that mold can infest cubicle walls, that office copiers can give you headaches, or that too many hours in office chairs can transform your body into a "distinct pear shape"? Apparently they can, and the article at the link below will inform you of these and other environmental hazards that besiege the office. It notes that office workers are a captive population, hundreds of "living, breathing and sweating bodies in a sealed room eight hours a day" who are "as dependent on good air circulation as airline passengers."
"Breathe easy? Not when the office may be toxic" from Globe And Mail
Monday, August 06, 2007
Poorly Regulated H-1B Program Hastens Outsourcing
The H-1B program and its even less restrictive sister program the L-1 are widely abused by American corporations to fill low level IT jobs with temporary foreign workers with minimal qualifications. Its effect is less to "drain the brains" of India and other developing nations than to facilitate sweat shops that, in turn, ease the transition to full-blown outsourcing. Although Bill Gates, for instance, has claimed that H-1B visas bring into the U.S. uniquely skilled professionals worthy of making $100,000 a year, the average such worker makes only a quarter of that, and the "salary" of an H-1Bs at the 75th percentile is only $60,000. This reliance on not only a cheap, but a rudimentarily skilled and fearfully compliant, labor force precludes Americans from being hired for entry level IT jobs and is used to justify the elimination of "older workers" - which, in the IT business, can mean everyone over the age of 35.
According to The American Prospect, here are three reasons why H-1Bs accelerate outsourcing:
1) H-1Bs allow outsourcing firms to bring foreign workers to the U.S. to learn their jobs - often from the same American workers they are intended to replace.
2) H-1Bs provide outsourcing firms with an "on-site" base of operations from which they can more easily coordinate activities both in the U.S. and abroad.
3) The training H-1Bs receive in the United States allows them to do their jobs back home better than they could have without American training.
Here are three loopholes in the existing legislation that allows H-1Bs to flourish.
1) Although H-1Bs are supposed to be hired only when a shortage in IT workers arises, American employers can skip over abundant U.S. labor resources to hire H-1Bs without formally demonstrating that any such shortage even exists.
2) Although H-1Bs are supposed to be paid the "prevailing wage" for their resources - which, in theory, would allow American workers to remain competitive - corporations justify paying below par salaries to H-1Bs by claiming that these are the wages the H-1Bs would "accept".
3) Requirements for documentation - the process of "labor certification" to which H-1Bs applications should be submitted, as a "safeguard" on the labor market - are rarely applied. This is a failing that "permeates nearly all aspects of the H-1B program [and] leads to a program with pages of regulations that are essentially ineffective and toothless."
Check out the excellent article at the link below to learn the rest.
"How 'Guestworkers' Promote Outsourcing" from The American Prospect
Friday, August 03, 2007
Job Stress Causes Depression In Younger Workers
A New Zealand study called "the first of its kind" psychologically assessed a group of 1,000 people and found that 1 in 20 ran the risk of depression or severe anxiety every year during the early stages of their careers. The authors consider this study supplemental to previous European and American studies that have shown "cases of depression" to have risen in the last twenty years as the result of work stress. Bosses should perhaps reconsider the next time they crack the whip, as depression and anxiety cost 12 billion pounds (or 24 billion dollars) of lost revenue every year in Britain alone.
All of the subjects were 32 and participants in a longitudinal study of mental health. According to the link below, the "study revealed a marked increase in cases of major depressive disorder and generalised anxiety disorder among people in highly demanding jobs, with 14% of women affected and 10% of men." Nearly half of these cases were attributed to workplace stress. Study director Dr. Maria Melchior said that "work stress appears to bring on diagnosable forms of depression and anxiety in previously healthy young workers; in fact the occurrence is two times higher than among workers whose jobs are less demanding."
Not all of these "highly demanding" jobs were in the white collar world. Apparently, head chefs suffered most, "probably because they had to cope with constant inflexible deadlines, and very public failure for any mistakes they made." Shades of Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares!
"Stressful jobs double risk of depression for young workers" from The Guardian
Thursday, August 02, 2007
A car dealer in Georgia shot to death two employees because they asked him for raises, according to MSNBC.com. Apparently, he was having financial problems and just "snapped". All three were Lithuanian immigrants. One wonders if the boss's behavior was unconsciously influenced by an exaggerated foreign notion of what American businessmen are supposed to be like. If so, this absurd murder is a mirror to how we are seen overseas.
"Boss allegedly killed workers who wanted raises" from MSNBC.com
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Newspapers: Ready For The Trash Heap In The Land Of Profit?
In a review of two books about newspapers and the "new media", Russell Baker touches on the recent move of Rupert Murdoch to acquire The Wall Street Journal and focuses on the remarks of former LA Times editor John S. Carroll. According to Baker, Carroll "was especially alarmed about the breakdown of understanding between owners and working journalists and about the loss of common purpose that once united them. This has come about, he said, because the functions that were once the realm of strong publishers have been taken over by Wall Street money managers." Sound familiar? This is precisely what has happened in every corner of American commercial life where MBAs have replaced pride in what one produces with an obsession with the bottom line. "The breakdown at the top began some forty years ago when local owners began selling their papers to corporations. As the nature of markets changed, power shifted from the corporations to investment funds, which make money by investing other people's money in ways that make it multiply." Again I ask - does that sound familiar?
Baker further recounts Carroll's experiences as yet another editor in a series of editors who had been pressured to cut back - to cut back on staff, to cut back on reporting resources, and to cut back even on quality - to boost his employer's profits. He eventually ended up quitting, and his successor - also, inevitably, an editor - would also quit for the same reasons. "Journalism was being whittled away by a Wall Street theory that profits can be maximized by minimizing the product," Baker tells us. "Papers everywhere felt relentless demands for improved stock performance." The familiarity of these laments are so reverberant they are like an echo across the Grand Canyon.
Extreme cost-cutting in journalism hamstrings its practitioners and destroys the quality of the product - but that is equally true of every enterprise in which something needs to be made by other human beings before it can be sold. Carroll, and Baker himself, tend to take an exceptionalist viewpoint on what's happening to the newspaper industry. They should not. What is destroying newspapers is destroying everything else. While the modern image of a journalist has been transformed from a reporter seeking the truth to a millionaire bigshot angling for ratings, so too has the image of every other occupation been eclipsed by the spectacle of ruthless stars exploiting their businesses for material gain. If nothing else, this should remind journalists to pay a little more respect to the non-millionaires everywhere around them who are just trying to do a good job, and a little less to the mercenary titans who are thwarting their lives as much as anyone else's.
"Goodbye To Newspapers?" from The New York Review of Books