“They Pretend to Pay Us, and We Pretend to Work”

Older readers will remember the title as a punchline from the declining days of the Soviet Union. Looks like forty years of Reagan-blessed kleptocracy is reducing America to the same level. Timothy Egan, in the NYTImes, on why American workers are “Checking Out

… [A]n exhaustive and depressing new study of the American workplace done by the Gallup organization. Among the 100 million people in this country who hold full-time jobs, about 70 percent of them either hate going to work or have mentally checked out to the point of costing their companies money — “roaming the halls spreading discontent,” as Gallup reported. Only 30 percent of workers are “engaged and inspired” at work.

At first glance, this sad survey is further proof of two truisms. One, the timeless line from Thoreau that “the mass of people lead lives of quiet desperation.” The other, less known, came from Homer Simpson by way of fatherly advice, after being asked about a labor dispute by his daughter Lisa. “If you don’t like your job,” he said, “you don’t strike, you just go in there every day and do it really half-assed. That’s the American way.”…

You would think the usual suspects were to blame for this sea of seething in the cubicles of America. While productivity per worker has soared over the last two decades, pay has remained flat or gone down. The gulf between those at the very top and those who do all the heavy lifting has never been greater. Too many corporations, especially in a tight job market, promote a view that everyone is replaceable; the workers are mercenaries with bottom-of-the-bin benefits. Take it or leave it.

All of that is certainly at play. But here’s the surprise: the main factor in workplace discontent is not wages, benefits or hours, but the boss… The survey said there was consistent anger at management types who failed to so much as ask employees about their opinion of the job….

Ed at Gin & Tacos doesn’t have to search for journamalistic ‘balance’:

Business schools have spent 30 years churning out people who believe in motivation by intimidation – work hard or else we will fire you, replace you, move to Mexico, and so on. And yes, an employer certainly has a right to expect employees to fulfill their obligations. This is where we see the large gap between fulfilling the requirements of a job – i.e., doing the bare minimum – and doing a good job. “Work hard and you will get promoted / get a raise” is the natural response, but in many of our workplaces I think we discover fairly quickly that the raises aren’t coming no matter how hard we work (or they come, but with a truckload of additional burdens that vastly outweigh them).

That’s the end result about all of this “Woe is us” from the owner and manager classes – we’re constantly told that we can’t be paid more (“We just can’t afford it! We’re barely breaking even!”) but we’re not expected to react strategically. The rational thing to do, if you know you can’t profit from working harder, is to figure out the minimum amount of work you can do under the terms of your employment.

Of course, when certain people in our society do what is rational, it’s “smart”. When the rest of us respond rationally to incentives, we’re lazy.

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118 replies
  1. 1
    Chris says:

    All of that is certainly at play. But here’s the surprise: the main factor in workplace discontent is not wages, benefits or hours, but the boss… The survey said there was consistent anger at management types who failed to so much as ask employees about their opinion of the job….

    Of course, this simply proves that Americans are getting sinful and disobedient. Because as we all know, our wealth and success in the past came from obeying the boss and never questioning him.
    /wingnut

    I agree with this article completely, though. We’ve spent over a generation raising a CEO class by encouraging them to believe that their shit doesn’t stink, to blame all their failings on “the government,” “the unions” and weirder things like “political correctness,” and to think that literally everything worthwhile in this country comes from them and their employees are just along for the ride. Of course it would create a class of disconnected, oblivious, entitled bastards.

  2. 2
    pokeyblow says:

    I just had a Skype conversation today with a friend recently relocated to Germany. She is dealing with some bureaucracy, and was wondering how the Germans, with their strict habits against working overtime, weekends, and so on (that’s her perception, not a statement of fact by me), could have a strong economy.

    I guessed something about a cultural identity involving a significant “pride in craftsmanship” component, which might be lacking in an increasingly marginalized and insulted American work force, but really didn’t have anything useful to say.

    Any thoughts?

  3. 3
    Punchy says:

    As evidenced by common 100+ comments per thread, with mulitple BJ threads per day, I’m guessing there’s a LOT of peeps checking out of work and into their intertoobz.

    This would be the most boring blog in the world if we were all nose stone-grinders and actually cared about our jobs.

  4. 4
    Auguste says:

    Peter Gibbons: The thing is, Bob, it’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I just don’t care.
    Bob Porter: Don’t… don’t care?
    Peter Gibbons: It’s a problem of motivation, all right? Now if I work my ass off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don’t see another dime, so where’s the motivation? And here’s something else, Bob: I have eight different bosses right now.
    Bob Slydell: I beg your pardon?
    Peter Gibbons: Eight bosses.
    Bob Slydell: Eight?
    Peter Gibbons: Eight, Bob. So that means that when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. That’s my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.

  5. 5
    BGinCHI says:

    Add to this that executive pay is often pegged to “efficiency.” Which means that they get paid and promoted based on making working conditions worse.

    And in education you can rise the fastest by not only fucking over the workers (teachers) but by fucking over the customers (students) and the product (knowledge).

  6. 6
    pokeyblow says:

    @Auguste: Well, Peter can take comfort in recent steps by the managerial class to define “supervisor status” down so narrowly that no one is in charge (when bad things happen).

  7. 7
    gwangung says:

    Hmph. From my business education, that’s just BAD management; they SHOULD ask employees what’s going on, and they SHOULD know what the effect of rising management wages and stagnant worker wages would be.

  8. 8
    BGinCHI says:

    @pokeyblow: You know who else had “pride in craftsmanship”?

  9. 9
    pokeyblow says:

    I have a top-school MBA, admittedly in Finance (not management), and it’s been a while, but I’d almost go so far as to say the topic of employee motivation never came up.

    It sure as hell wasn’t a cornerstone of what we were taught. Not by a long shot.

  10. 10
    pokeyblow says:

    @BGinCHI: The Amish?

  11. 11
    sunny says:

    In this years fiscal year in review presentation our tiny little division of a MNC blew revenue expectations out of the water by 9 million in net profit, queue to the last slide with the goals for next year and the header said “Priority #1 for FY14 is to manage costs and increase efficiencies”. Not. Very. Motivating. I don’t need to tell you how compensation is managed based on that tone deaf statement.

  12. 12
    KG says:

    my personal favorite response to this is “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” yeah, and it’d be great if we could all play center field for the Yankees or point guard for the Lakers or spend our time writing the next great American novel or be movie stars. In real life, most of us have bills to pay and mouths to feed.

    what amazes me more than anything is that big companies apparently don’t see the value in treating employees well. my folks have been self-employed for almost 40 years, they’ve got employees that have been with them for close to 15 years now because they treat them well. They’ve had employees leave and come back because it’s a good place to work and they get paid well and have benefits and all that kind of stuff. is it so hard to figure out that your employees are also your customers, or at least your customers’ customers? because that seems pretty fucking blatantly obvious to me.

  13. 13
    Rustydude says:

    I work for a big IT company and almost everything being inferred in these pieces and polls is present here at the office. However, I should note that rank and file employees have also, for the most part, given up being discontented with the boss. The only boss we have any significant access to is our First Line Managers. They hold no power to improve job conditions, pay, etc., for the rank and file, and in fact, these managers also have stagnated wages and an appalling lack of opportunity for promotion. Upper executive management has created a system whereby 2nd, 3rd or higher level managers are purposely insulated from the employees who do the work. The first line managers are the buffer. In many ways, their jobs are the worst.

  14. 14
    BGinCHI says:

    @pokeyblow: Exactly.

  15. 15

    All of that is certainly at play. But here’s the surprise: the main factor in workplace discontent is not wages, benefits or hours, but the boss… The survey said there was consistent anger at management types who failed to so much as ask employees about their opinion of the job….

    My fucking ass.

  16. 16
    kindness says:

    Maybe it’s just a response. What if the boss is a sociopath who makes 2 & 3 times more money than they actually should by what they produce? There could be lots of maybes and reasons. They can’t all be because the workforce is now bound by slacker Gen (fill in the generation you are not)ers.

  17. 17
    PaulW says:

    I had gotten management training courses back in 2000-01 that went the opposite way: to lead not by intimidation or a top-down political environs, but by allowing for feedback, input, and teamwork. A lot of it was geared towards customer service, but with an eye to the fact that our employees were customers as well.

    It sounds like our business masters decided to go another route. It might also explain why customer service has fallen into the toilet across the wide range of industries.

  18. 18
    jo6pac says:

    Yes in today corp. management I venture that about 85% are cycle-0-paths and this doesn’t make for a healthy work place. The place I worked at that was the only people they hired or gave in house management jobs to. If you were a top manager and your employees liked you then you were handed you walking papers. The company is now run by fear just like Amerika.

  19. 19
    PaulW says:

    @kindness:

    Maybe it’s just a response. What if the boss is a sociopath who makes 2 & 3 times more money than they actually should by what they produce? There could be lots of maybes and reasons. They can’t all be because the workforce is now bound by slacker Gen (fill in the generation you are not)ers.

    As a Gen-Xer, I am slightly miffed about that generalization… but part of me just don’t care, so I’ll let it slide.

  20. 20
    Tone in DC says:

    Stuff like this reminds me of the stories of company towns, company stores, starvation wages and strikes.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludlow_Massacre

  21. 21
    scuffletuffle says:

    I worked my ass off for 13 years at a major retail chain with rave reviews from my immediate supervisors. The last year I had new mgt and got nothing but grief. When they finally fired me–for violations of “company values”, it was a relief. I’m not anxious to go back to work after my unemployment runs out… part of me hopes I can’t find other work. I’m fucking exhausted and fed up at 53.

  22. 22
    Suffern ACE says:

    @Rustydude: Yup. And you get the benefit of having to be responsible for the morale while communicating all of the bad policies. Too many people leave? What’s wrong with you? You obviously didn’t communicate the policy in the right tone.

  23. 23
    Mino says:

    Government employees through all departments have a new cause for concern, too, with “Insider” paranoia encouraging fuck-your-neighbor just for the fun of it.

  24. 24
    gwangung says:

    @pokeyblow: Wow. I though Demerest was still required reading, and I thought he had a fair bit about teams and employee management.

  25. 25
    pokeyblow says:

    @Mino: Good point. “Is your colleague going through a divorce? That means he/she might be a traitor!”

  26. 26
    pokeyblow says:

    @gwangung: Do you mean Deming?

    I actually took a “TQM” course (Statistics Dept) which was in vogue at the time, and the emphasis was purely on statistical process control. Deming was mentioned, but the class was not about making employees happy.

  27. 27
    VodkaGoGo says:

    @Auguste: I went to IMDB to get the exact same quote you just posted. That movie so perfectly illustrated what is wrong with corporate America that if they re-released it today, the only thing that would tell you it’s 15 years old would be the cars in the parking lot.

  28. 28
    Eric S says:

    @KG: “what amazes me more than anything is that big companies apparently don’t see the value in treating employees well.”

    I only half joking say it all went to hell in a hand basket when they changed the department name from “Personnel” to “Human Resources.”

  29. 29
    ruemara says:

    I dunno. It’s like that around me now. I can’t blame others for feeling that way, but at some point, doesn’t being a scared worker rabbit get tiring? I know I’m exhausted by the issues that should be dealt with. But no, it’s mope through the day and watch everyone else get burned, hoping that they won’t come for you.

  30. 30
    p.a. says:

    from my place of employment:
    one of the first things I was told as a newbie: you’ll go from good attitude to bad attitude to no attitude.

    Old timer with a week’s worth of t-shirts stenciled DILLIGAF (pronounced dilly-gaf) Do I Look Like I Give A Fuck.

    T-shirt that no longer fits me: I give 100% at work. 17% Monday. 21% Tuesday…

  31. 31
    scav says:

    Rule of thumb where I was was basically not to trust bosses above a certain level ever (or only with great experience and trepidation) and the lower level ones maybe (avoid those with aspirations). HR was be treated as higher level bosses, no matter the pay-grade. They were just the happy face stickers on the shitwich, the pom-pom girls for all officialdom. As we were a firm formely family owned (low-turnover, etc) and later invaded by rolling vulture funds (with the usual slash-and burn MBA churn at upper levels), there was an entire underground system of trusted relationships that managed to get needed things done. Surreal.

  32. 32
    Forum Transmitted Disease says:

    They have the rights to expect us to fulfill our obligations, and we have the right to expect nothing but curses, kicks, and epithets.

    I pray for justice, though we will certainly get none.

  33. 33
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    As a representative of the oppressor class, the survey results are in line with what I experience from company to company. In addition to a living wage, people need to feel important like what they do matters. My two golden rules in the workplace are “The job a person is performing is important” and “The person is more important than the job they are doing.”

    The job dissatisfaction you see from survey to survey is almost always a failure of management to impart the company’s vision in a messianic way and the employees role therein.

  34. 34
    roc says:

    The old industrial-age org-chart-approach to management certainly isn’t doing anyone any favors, as the work has become knowledge jobs. That whole structure, mated with 24/7 connectivity, seems purpose-built to create white-collar drinking problems.

  35. 35
    BGinCHI says:

    @Just Some Fuckhead: I had you pegged as a sadistic prison guard.

    Man, I was way off.

  36. 36
    VodkaGoGo says:

    @pokeyblow: I seem to remember employee motivation being covered in my 100 level Human Relations in Organizations course and then never hearing about it again. There was a half chapter on Maslow and then some mention of Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory but that’s all I remember. We spent so little time on it I’m amazed I remembered enough to even get the right Wiki link on the first try.

  37. 37
    Forum Transmitted Disease says:

    All of that is certainly at play. But here’s the surprise: the main factor in workplace discontent is not wages, benefits or hours, but the boss… The survey said there was consistent anger at management types who failed to so much as ask employees about their opinion of the job….

    @Botsplainer, fka Todd: First time I heard this line of utter horseshit was back in 1996. It was a vile lie back then and it is a vile lie now.

  38. 38
    scav says:

    @BGinCHI: measured in µm?

    Sorry, some badly hamfisted attempts as messianic Vision-statement brainwashings with mandatory chants scarred me.

  39. 39
    maurinsky says:

    I am fortunate in my job right now, on many fronts. I feel valued (except when I have to interact with contractors who are just condescending) by my actual boss, they have given me more interesting work to do and have recognized the things I do well, and I have a lot of autonomy, which is key to my job happiness and provides me with the motivation to do my job well.

    BUT…the pay sucks. It sucks enough that I am going to college for free because I qualify for Pell Grants. (I am 43 and only went for a year after I graduated from high school, because I didn’t know anything about financial aid and ran out of money after paying my first year out of pocket).

    I have gotten pay increases because they’ve promoted me, which mostly involves me doing more tasks (which is fine, I didn’t have enough to do in my initial role) while keeping all my old tasks, but this is only the second time in 11 years that the entire staff has gotten a COLA – 2%.

  40. 40
    Chris says:

    @KG:

    what amazes me more than anything is that big companies apparently don’t see the value in treating employees well.

    I think they’ve convinced themselves that they do treat their employees well, it’s just that the greedy bastards want more than any company could reasonably be expected to pay. Their defintion of “well,” IOW, doesn’t match that of the people who actually have to live with the salaries they pay.

  41. 41
    OldBean says:

    Didn’t Office Space pretty much spell this out?

    Peter Gibbons: The thing is, Bob, it’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I just don’t care.
    Bob Porter: Don’t… don’t care?
    Peter Gibbons: It’s a problem of motivation, all right? Now if I work my ass off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don’t see another dime, so where’s the motivation? And here’s something else, Bob: I have eight different bosses right now.
    Bob Slydell: I beg your pardon?
    Peter Gibbons: Eight bosses.
    Bob Slydell: Eight?
    Peter Gibbons: Eight, Bob. So that means that when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. That’s my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0151804/quotes

  42. 42
    MonkeyBoy says:

    The workplace is the true source for the phrase “passive aggression” and its true root meaning.

    If you are harassed by an aggressive boss the only way to act aggressive in response is to do a shitty job that still fulfills the letter of what is asked of you.

    Its too bad that this behavior has spread beyond worker-boss relations.

  43. 43
    Forum Transmitted Disease says:

    Government employees through all departments have a new cause for concern, too, with “Insider” paranoia encouraging fuck-your-neighbor just for the fun of it.

    @Mino: You’d be surprised. Not happening.

    In fact, that’s one of the few “absolutely not done” things left to government employment, reporting co-workers for potential security violations based on shaky evidence or hearsay. Oh sure, you could. You’d never get promoted again and work would be awfully lonely as nobody in the entire place would talk to you.

    I’m not saying that won’t happen. It could come to that, but if it did then you’re going to see the government come apart in pretty short order.

  44. 44
    jamick6000 says:

    great post. also “gin and tacos” sounds like something designed to destroy my body

  45. 45
    Not Sure says:

    @PaulW: And then when you try to lead that way, you’re smacked down so hard you have no idea what hit you. I’ve been there.

    Army NCO education is a joke.

  46. 46
    pokeyblow says:

    @VodkaGoGo: Maximizing stock price is all that matters. That’s been proven to the satisfaction of people like Tim Geithner and his former employer.

  47. 47
    pokeyblow says:

    @Chris: Once you accept, at some level, arguments like the one against a minimum wage, it’s not a big step to abstract workers you don’t see up close into something pretty far from reality.

  48. 48
    Elizabelle says:

    This is a depressing thread.

    Throwing in two items: Costco does not hire business school grads. It will, however, formally educate an employee already hired. Yea Costco.

    Second: a nation of cubicle farms can only go so far.

    I am crossing both fingers that successful implementation of Obamacare will transition a significant number of workers from occupant of soul-killing job to entrepreneur.

    Life is just too short to be demeaned and devalued.

    And fucking tax excessive executive compensation.

    It’s a lot of what has brought us to this mindset and turn of events.

  49. 49
    Chris says:

    @Elizabelle:

    I am crossing both fingers that successful implementation of Obamacare will transition a significant number of workers from occupant of soul-killing job to entrepreneur.

    Yep. The truth you’re not allowed to utter out loud is that strong welfare states are FANTASTIC for entrepreneurship; you’re much more likely to take risks if you know that failure won’t be compounded by the loss of your health insurance and other necessities of life, and also more likely to get back on your feet and try again.

    But no, the gospel truth over here is something else. Which conveniently means far less competition or challenges for the current upper class, but I’m sure that’s just an unintentional side effect.

  50. 50
    pokeyblow says:

    @Chris: Every major success achieved by a hardworking middle- or lower-class American is a major success which can’t be handed to Tagg Romney on a silver platter.

  51. 51
    geg6 says:

    I am so lucky in my job. I am valued by my bosses (my director, the chancellor and the dean). I’ve just been promoted and gotten a raise. I am pretty autonomous and I’m given authority. My work is interesting and challenging and I enjoy it most days. But I’ve been at the other end and know how soul sucking that can be. I don’t blame anyone in a deadend job who only does the minimum required. I blame the MBA-ization of the American business class.

  52. 52
    Tom_B says:

    I think it was on NPR’s “The Story” (or maybe the “State of Things”….), but many small/mid businesses that have tried employee ownership LOVE it. It supposedly can really work and may be an alternative to management vs (labor or non-union labor).

  53. 53

    @Elizabelle:

    And fucking tax excessive executive compensation.

    My thought has always been that you could tax executive compensation that is greater than 30X that of the lowest paid fulltime employee to the 1040s of shareholders as ordinary income (30X at the top tier, 25X for the next up, etc). This includes monies invested in IRAs.

    In other words, if the executive is adding so much value to the enterprise, the shareholder should appreciate the extra income to the point of paying extra tax.

  54. 54
    lojasmo says:

    @Auguste: @OldBean:

    Yes. Also, comment # 4.

  55. 55
    Lordwhorfin says:

    @PaulW: Every piece of good quality improvement writing I’ve read (Demming and his followers) says no quotas, no widget counting per head, teamwork, innovation, freedom from fear, and good lighting.

    But my boss’s boss likes ‘individual accountability’ and ‘nervous energy’ in her minions, so . . . I don’t actually EVER mention my training in organizations and management structure. Did once-it did not go over well.

  56. 56
    EthylEster says:

    @BGinCHI: well, prison guards DO oppress inmates so I wouldn’t get too excited just yet about what Fuckhead’s real job is.

  57. 57
    fuckwit says:

    @MonkeyBoy: It’s what Neizsche called “sklavmoral”: the mindset of a slave. You just shuffle along and do the bare minimum, like Homer Simpson or Office Space as have been mentioned. The Russians had it in the USSR days, the Irish had it under the British, Africans under American slavery and Jim Crow, etc. Anywhere you find a group of oppressed peoples, they’ll find ways to monkeyrwrench the system from within and in ways that they’re unlikely to get caught.

  58. 58
    EthylEster says:

    Recent experience: I’m talking to a ALF administrator about all the staff turnover, low morale, etc. She mentions that a potential buyer will be visiting the facility next week. “Have you notified the staff?” I ask. “No.” she replies. “They find out through the grapevine.”

    So I’m thinking: Admin is too clueless to understand that employees like to be told what is going on with stuff that could actually impact their lives. This ain’t rocket science, lady. Write a fucking memo a stick it in the break room. Sheesh.

  59. 59
    Linnaeus says:

    Slightly OT, but slightly related – I was reading an op-ed about the 1963 civil rights march in Detroit that was a prelude to the more famous one in Washington, D.C.. The writer was using that event as point of comparison between Detroit then and Detroit now. I then made the mistake of reading the comments, and many were depressingly predictable: Detroit’s problems are due to corrupt government, unions, and “those people” who just don’t have the right work ethic. Too many Americans really do seem to buy into this neofeudal vision of idealized individualism coupled with deference to one’s (corporate) betters.

  60. 60
    StringOnAStick says:

    I’ve been working 4 years (part time) for a dental temporary services firm, and have yet to see a raise. The owner retired early at my age (mid 50’s) 2 years ago, but the people she left in charge were killing her cash cow, so she came back.

    I’ve been requested at a periodontal office (which means much, much harder work for an RDH) for the next 2 months, and it is a 2 hour daily commute. Lots of car miles, and plenty of passive-aggressive whining about “you’re so great, they love your work”, but of course the owner is known for never, ever giving a raise. She decided long ago that she’d rather hand out praise than cash.

  61. 61
    Bucko Bear says:

    In most organizations, the disappearance of upper-level management would not be noticed as long as the paychecks kept coming. Most properly, positively motivated workers will do a good job in spite of the folks on the 14th floor.
    In the military, the good officers trained their junior officers and enlisted people to replace the guy in charge – it was always a possibility.
    Business has a lot to learn.

  62. 62
    CaseyL says:

    Two main culprits: Total Quality Management, in all its malevolent guises, which gave a scientific-sounding excuse to pile work on people until they break; and Human Resources, which reduced people to “resources,” which can always be “reduced for greater efficiency.”

    Oh, and that reminds me: “Efficiency” is another one. It’s the word that justifies enormous layoffs and corporate mergers (which of course lead to… enormous layoffs!).

    I don’t know if they think we’re stupid and can’t figure out the code. More likely, they know there’s nothing we can do about it. Short of leaving, of course… in this job climate? Hah and hah.

  63. 63
    Alan in SF says:

    Oddly, the bosses came right out and said they would do a half-assed job — excuse me, Go Galt — if they didn’t get huge pay increases. Why wouldn’t they expect workers to share their values?

  64. 64
    Linnaeus says:

    Another depressing statistic: 76% of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck.

    (I’m one of those right now).

  65. 65
    ricky says:

    Balderdash. Gallup is known to be wrong. Why just earlier this month Rasmussen released polls showing Americans overwhelmingly feel their employers value them and they would recommend their companies to others.

    http://www.rasmussenreports.co.....t_articles

    Ain’t polls productive?

  66. 66
    Eric U. says:

    I have a cousin who holds a law degree and an MBA. His job at a fairly small company was entirely related to executive compensation. This is when I realized that most publicly held companies are in the business of executive compensation. Another data point in this realization was when I heard that Cheney’s salary was more than his company profited in a particularly good year. If they got rid of his salary, it would have doubled the company’s profit.

    So yeah, since the front line workers are not directly affecting executive compensation, the executive class doesn’t care about them. They are just the field workers in a modern day Potemkin village.

  67. 67
    Kathleen says:

    I’ve heard that in some corporations the only “accomplishment” upper management is interested in is how many people could be cut.

  68. 68
    Scott says:

    @KG: I agree with your second paragraph wholeheartedly. Business owners that treat their employees well (like your parents) will reap the benefits several times over in productivity. People work hard and well when they feel valued.

    I do disagree with your first statement though. You are confusing people’s dreams with what hey love. I think that few people that dream of being center fielder for the Yankees actually have the love and dedication for baseball that it would take to be happy in that job. The key is to find out what you love to do and find a job where you can do that.

  69. 69
    Emma says:

    @Eric S: I don’t joke about it at all. HR departments, usually staffed by well-meaning bureaucrats, are a scourge on civilization.

  70. 70
    Ruckus says:

    @BGinCHI:
    Maybe, maybe not.

  71. 71
    D. Mason says:

    I worked at a company where they would occasionally walk the aisles reminding us how lucky we were to have a job because we might not if we don’t meet some requirements… And that overtime is available hint hint.

  72. 72
    srv says:

    @pokeyblow: Cousin at a post-doc in Germany. Assumed it would all be a model of efficiency

    1) Admin assistant of prof is only one who knows how to get any non-local paid. She’s ‘checked out’ most of the month (she’s been doing this for 20 years, never thought to document anything)
    2) Internet connection at apartment – one week window, have to be there all of AM or PM waiting
    3) Can’t get any of that done until you get a German bank account.
    4) Apartment seeking – university doesn’t offer any help, you’d think a major univ town with lots of foreign students would have ads somewhere catering to them, but nope. A town full of xenophobes.

    He thought this was just a typical grad school thing, but all the other expats he’s met rant about similar stuff. Says the only thing they do right is the trains, and Hitler is probably responsible for all that.

  73. 73
    Ruckus says:

    I want to say that all business problems are management caused but there are always people around who like to cause trouble wherever they go. We used to call them bad apples. One spoils a barrel. As a person who has hired/fired and managed many, many people over the years I think I can truthfully say then that bad management is 99% responsible for employee problems. It has been that way in every company I’ve owned and in every one I worked for.
    I think today a lot of the problems are caused by high executive compensation, lack of executive knowledge about what actually goes on in the day to day operations and biz school teaching of the stupid.

  74. 74
    fuckwit says:

    @CaseyL: I always pronounced it “Human Racehorses”. Because, they treated us like racehorses. And you know what they do with racehorses when they break a leg, right?

  75. 75
    Chris says:

    @Ruckus:

    lack of executive knowledge about what actually goes on in the day to day operations

    Well, how many major corporations play the CEO-musical-chairs game where new executives with no previous experience in the company are regularly brought in to “innovate” and “streamline” shit?

  76. 76
    MrSnrub says:

    The only guy in my department to get promoted cranks out bad code but puts in 60 hours per week. I wasn’t allowed to have a positive review because I’m not getting promoted because I’m not working 60 hours.

    When one guy left for better working conditions and equitable pay, our director branded him a mercenary only interested in money.

    I think about leaving but ths is the 4th crappy job in a row, and I’m not convinced it’ll be better anyplace else.

  77. 77
    Chris says:

    @MrSnrub:

    When one guy left for better working conditions and equitable pay, our director branded him a mercenary only interested in money.

    I wonder who the fuck he could’ve picked up such a nasty mentality from.

  78. 78
    AHH onna Droid says:

    @D. Mason: At my place they didn’t hint. RTW state.

  79. 79
    stickler says:

    @pokeyblow: Pride of craftsmanship, indeed. Hang around Germans for a while and you’ll notice they really, really, really pay attention to detail. Spend time in Germany and it becomes even clearer. Everyone gets serious training for every job – most of them are licensed by the state. Barbers, carpenters, checkout clerks all have a “Diplom” for their job, or it seems like it. And they bitch about the prices for everything, but by God that sheetrock is hung right the first time, because the guy doing the hanging went through a two- or three-year apprenticeship program and has been getting a living wage (and health insurance) ever since. When a German goes to buy a vacuum cleaner, he’s already researched the shit out of it, and expects the store clerk to know the inner workings of the damned thing, and he expects it to last for 50 years. And he pays accordingly.

    German employees seem to always be on break or on vacation (“Mittagspause,” “Montag Ruhetag,” etc.), but when they’re at work they resemble the Terminator. And the figures bear this out – their productivity is sky-high. Which is why manufacturing hasn’t all left Germany. How they manage this is beyond me; many, many German lunchrooms still serve beer, and I remember at a language institute in Bavaria the guys doing the electrical work on a renovation (all wearing lederhosen, of course) had a half-liter of Hefeweizen with their morning break, their lunch, and the 2pm break. And the wiring work was fine!

  80. 80
    Ruckus says:

    @Chris:
    The only large company I worked for did. Dudes they hired after the board fucked over the guy there for 28 yrs quit couldn’t find their asses with both hands. Of course that may have been because they had their heads so far up their asses their hands may not have reached. It was amazing that the board said they did due diligence but I don’t think they understood the term.

  81. 81
    Chris says:

    @stickler:

    I remember reading something similar in a comparison between France and the U.S. – that productivity overall was lower in France because employees got more time off, but that productivity per hour was actually slightly higher in France than in America. It doesn’t surprise me at all. Having time to unwind and not treating every job like a survival situation will do wonders.

    @Ruckus:

    What’s the one percenter version of “blue code of silence,” or “omerta?” I suspect the informal agreement is that gentlemen of the Job Creating Class stick together, at least in the face of the rabble.

  82. 82
    BethanyAnne says:

    So much of this seems to match the diagnosis of a labor surplus starting in the 1970s. I think Richard Wolff has one answer, but there are probably others. I wonder when or if people will start trying for answers past individual effort and hope.

  83. 83
    Ruckus says:

    @Chris:
    Thing was they recognized their error but not until after the new CEOs did their probationary year. Of course they did a lot of damage during that year. One guy they hired was so unimpressive in the first 2 minutes I met him, I wouldn’t have hired him to sweep floors for fear he’d fuck it up. Turned out once again I was right. I didn’t interview him, I didn’t consider his resume, which I assumed he lied about, all things considered, I just talked to him. I know why he wore loafers, I don’t think he was capable of tying shoes.

  84. 84
    mai naem says:

    I’ve had several jobs and owned a business. Two places I worked at had some old saying about not appreciating their old friend their job and then their friend was “poof” gone, posted in a prominent places. Anyhow, my workplace used to have yearly surveys of employees about their supervisors. But here’s the thing – it was done in a big mandatory meeting where all the supervisors were there watching you fill out the survey. Ofcourse, the owners couldn’t be bothered to be there. How many people are going to honest about their supervisors when they’re right there watching you fill out the forms. Anyhow, the places I’ve worked at recently, the big honchos are given a bonus based on company profits so inevitably what ends up happening is that the supervisors don’t feel any money should be spend on the employees whether its an Xmas party, a company picnic, compensation for cell phones or gas and ofcourse raises. I get the bonus part but why can it not be based on increasing the amount of business and not screwing the employees?

  85. 85
    Aries says:

    @Rustydude: Not sure if your IT company is the same as mine, but in addition to isolated ivory tower execs, please add: continuous threat of job displacement in favor of cheap offshore labor, elimination of pension plans, pending elimination of matching 401K contributions (now withheld until the final month of the year to ensure employees laid off mid-year won’t receive any), and salary freezes, even as the company boasts billions (with a B) in annual profit. All off which says to U.S. employees loud and clear, “YOU ARE NOT VALUED AND NOT EVEN PARTICULARLY WANTED HERE”. Hard to get motivated with that echoing in your head all day.

  86. 86
    Michael C says:

    @KG: This makes me think of Costco, where I was a trainer for a couple of years. They believe in honesty – at every level; they treat employees well; and they regularly demote managers who aren’t doing well. They DON”T kick their problems upstairs. Oh, and the CEO makes less than $500,000 a year. A few years back, he was making $250,000.

  87. 87
    DAS says:

    @pokeyblow: I don’t know if this is related but I remember when I was a grad student, two of my friends, one from India and one from Germany, went to get their drivers’ licenses at about the same time. The Indian student got his no problem, but my German friend couldn’t manage to navigate the bureaucracy. My Indian friend couldn’t figure out how he, a third-worlder, could get his license in advanced America while my German friend couldn’t. I explained to my friend that America, like India, is a former British colony and hence has British “circumlocution office” type bureaucracy.

    OTOH, I can’t imagine Germany having a cockamamie system wherein you need a driver’s license to get insurance and insurance to get a driver’s license. I am sure the Germans would have set up a system where, if you follow the rules and procedures, things would work out.

    Part of it, I imagine is confidence in organizations and the efficacy of following rules. The Anglo-American antinomian gloss on Paul keeps us from being overconfident on systems and hence keeps us from “following orders” from you know who … but since we don’t think it’s possible to live under rules anyway, we don’t bother to develop workable systems of rules: so we waste time trying to figure out how to get driver’s licenses without insurance since you can’t get insurance until you have a license. And then we complain about bureaucracy not working and undermine further our chances to work together for social and economic betterment.

  88. 88
    Bill Murray says:

    @Forum Transmitted Disease: did you miss the administrations new Insider Threat Program (https://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/06/21-3)

  89. 89
    DAS says:

    @Eric S: as my mom put it “Personnel” was staffed by clones of “Mamma Hobbes” from the comic strip “Momma”; OTOH “Human Resources” sounds like the procurement department for the Soylent corporation.

  90. 90
    Chris says:

    @DAS:

    I’ve always thought it was simply that the American creed of Inherent Government Inefficiency (don’t know if it’s always been there, but certainly in my lifetime it has) means we don’t even bother trying to make most government departments work. Any attempt at reform, improvement or, God forbid, adequate funding of the inefficient government bureaucracies is decried as “wasting taxpayer money on things that’ll never work” (self-fulfilling prophecy), and the people who’re doing well off of the current system are usually in a position to water down these attempts anyway so that they rarely manage to do as much good as needed (which further feeds the cries of “inefficiency! See?”)

    Basically, we’ve chosen for ideological reasons to not give a shit, and this is the predictable result. (I’d love to time travel back to the fifties or sixties before the Reagan creed had entrenched itself and compare the functioning of government then to now, incidentally).

  91. 91
    DAS says:

    @Chris: my point exactly. Thank you for putting it so eloquently. I would also add that part of the creed of “Inherent Government Inefficiently” comes from the Anglo-American interpretation of Paul’s views on the inefficacy of Law

  92. 92
    Mocasdad says:

    Bosses have bosses who have bosses. In my experience, the upper layers of bosses have zero understanding of the operation they’re “running”.

  93. 93
    Chris says:

    @DAS:

    I don’t know enough Christianity to understand Paul’s opinion of the law, so I’ll just believe you on that one. I’d only add WRT your previous post that the “keeps us from being overconfident in systems” thing only applies to some systems – those, like government agencies, unions, universities, that’ve been declared heretical and evil by the powers that be. On the other hand, “overconfidence” is too weak a word to describe the amount of faith we place in “good” institutions like corporations or churches (or the occasional “good” government bureaucracy like DOD).

    That might be changing, at last, but it’s definitely been that way since Reagan/Thatcher.

  94. 94
    Mike G says:

    Corporate America:
    If we don’t pay our top managers much more they won’t work hard.
    If we don’t pay our lowly drones less they won’t work hard.

    Positive incentives are only for the elite. Us lowly 99% get only punishment and intimidation.

  95. 95
    Ruckus says:

    @Chris:
    I used to know people who worked at the VA in the 70’s and they told me that it was horrible trying to figure out how to get anything done. Now I’m a customer of the VA and I have to say it sure has changed. Yes I sometimes have to wait a bit but I’ve had to do that with private insurance as well. It works and I’d say most of the people working there actually like their jobs. I’ve noticed the same thing about the CA DMV. It used to be horribly run but the last few years I’m amazed how well it works and that most of the time the people there seem to like their jobs. I don’t know how or why they changed but they have, at least in my limited contact. Where they both used to be horrible to have to have any contact with while most retail stores were the opposite. There’s been a 180, IMHO.

  96. 96
    DAS says:

    @Chris: but corporations aren’t institutions, they are people ( / snark )

    I am not an expert on Christianity, and I would say my remarks apply mainly to Anglo-American Christianity. Actually, the other part of our Puritan heritage, IMHO, is to judge the fruit by the tree (thus inverting what Jesus supposedly said). Which I guess explains maybe why we have as a society an idea that some institutions are good and some are not: independent of the evidence or any justification of the actual fruits of the institutions.

  97. 97
    gmoke says:

    There’s a book called The Age of Heretics by Art Kleiner about the history of humane management. Time after time, for decades, managers at the factory level raise production and improve worker conditions by actually listening and eliciting ideas from line employees. Time after time, these ideas go up to the corporate level and are shut down cold. It’s a heart-rending book.

    Recent work on behavioral economics shows that what motivates people is a modicum of autonomy in their work, a clear purpose, and a chance for mastery. A popular version of this research can be found in Daniel Pink’s book Drive.

  98. 98
    VodkaGoGo says:

    @Mocasdad: So true. In my auto industry days it was a regular occurrence for some corporate types 3 or 4 rungs up the ladder to tour a plant with a ridiculous looking smile on their face, like a kindergartner at an ice-cream factory. The kind of questions they asked made it so, soooo obvious that they didn’t have the slightest idea how the industry worked on the ground level.

  99. 99
    Tehanu says:

    @Emma:
    The newest buzzword coming out of the business schools is “Human Capital Management.” This simply validates what I’ve learned in a lifetime working in big bureaucracies (private, not govt.): all HR departments are Satanic — and the one where I’m working now is Satan.

  100. 100
    Rafer Janders says:

    @pokeyblow:

    I just had a Skype conversation today with a friend recently relocated to Germany. She is dealing with some bureaucracy, and was wondering how the Germans, with their strict habits against working overtime, weekends, and so on (that’s her perception, not a statement of fact by me), could have a strong economy.
    I guessed something about a cultural identity involving a significant “pride in craftsmanship” component, which might be lacking in an increasingly marginalized and insulted American work force, but really didn’t have anything useful to say.Any thoughts?

    When Germans are at work, they work. When they’re not at work, they relax.

    When Americans are at work, they half-assedly work and half-assedly goof off. When Americans are not at work, they never really relax because they’re always reminded of work.

    The results? While Germans work less hours than Americans, they’re far more productive. Germans do eight hours of work in eight hours at the office, while Americans do six hours of work in twelve hours at the office.

  101. 101
    Mass Independent says:

    It’s the boss. I hated my last job, even though the work was easy and the benefits were good. But the manager ran the place like a high school clique, and if you were not in the clique, or did not want to be in it, then you would be undercut constantly, no matter how good your work was. I got very good reviews and compliments, but no actual support if I made the right decision that reflected badly on one of her buddies. I so enjoyed quitting; she was speechless. And I have not missed the place at all, or most of the useless employees that were n her clique.

  102. 102
    Duckman GR says:

    @Forum Transmitted Disease: Sadly enough, this describes my government job and my Supervisor and just departed Manager to a t. Spending all their tax payer provided salary looking for reasons to get rid of people and replace them with cheaper inexperienced less motivated and less concerned government employees.

    And we get reamed daily by the purveyors of this crap, the 1% and their lickspittle lackeys.

  103. 103
    AA+ Bonds says:

    Haha this will be used by the managerial class to satisfy the masters of capital by firing more people to drive up stock prices

  104. 104
    AA+ Bonds says:

    Fuck you if you don’t think “Gallup Strategic Consulting” is a tool for your further oppression as a worker

  105. 105
    AA+ Bonds says:

    @gmoke:

    Recent work on behavioral economics shows that what motivates people is a modicum of autonomy in their work, a clear purpose, and a chance for mastery. A popular version of this research can be found in Karl Marx’s book Capital.

  106. 106
    Rick says:

    @pokeyblow:

    Jafer has nailed it.

    The real point here is that there are diminishing returns to extra-long work weeks. And there are positive benefits to treating workers with respect. The fact that Germans are as productive as Americans should tell American managers that their entire theory of management is flawed.

    But, of course, it doesn’t.

  107. 107
    Shadow's Mom says:

    @geg6: I’m with you. I love my work, I enjoy my peers at work, and I work under the best management team I’ve ever experienced. I am extremely fortunate!

    I was employee #49 two years ago; we’re now at close to 200. They chose to offer a 0 cost option for health care insurance, and that is 0 cost for employee AND family. Prior to that, it was 0 cost for employee and 60% of family premium. We do not get earned PTO that can be accrued, but we do get up to 2 months per year of FTO (and we are actively encouraged to use that time so we don’t burn out). Mothers in our company are provided flexibility in scheduling their work, either in the office or from home. I’ve been recognized both departmentally and company-wide, and I had the pleasure of helping to draft what will be my new job description. Plus, it pays very well.

    It is an intense, high-paced, challenging organization to work for, but it is rewarding and exciting. It just goes to show, though, that it is possible to create a culture that celebrates its workforce. I am extremely grateful that my path led me to this organization.

  108. 108
    e.a.f. says:

    one of the lines we used to use regarding the work we did and the amount of money we received boiled down to, we get paid so much because of the shit we take. In today’s job market, which started in the 1980s, the “shit we take’ became a new norm. However, the high wages didn’t come with it. Many managers are scared shitless by their staff, the staff is frequently better educated than the managers. therefore the need to treat them badly.

    In the 1970s employers began shipping jobs over seas, moving plants to where ever they cuold get the lowest labour costs. What that signaled to the workers, was, it doesn’t matter if we do a good job or not or have loyalty to the company. if they can save a nickel, they don’t have any loyalty to us.

    The current younger generation, saw what happened to their parents adn grandparents. Many are not prepared to make the same mistake. No loyality to the employer and no one is going to bust a gut. Its not like the supervisors or managers are working all that hard. its a never ending circle.

    The majority of workers no longer even have unions to protect their rights.

  109. 109
    Jerry says:

    Anything not worth doing is not worth doing well.

  110. 110
    cvstoner says:

    Only 30 percent of workers are “engaged and inspired” at work.

    That many suckers still left, huh?

  111. 111
    cvstoner says:

    @e.a.f.:

    The current younger generation, saw what happened to their parents adn grandparents. Many are not prepared to make the same mistake. No loyality to the employer and no one is going to bust a gut. Its not like the supervisors or managers are working all that hard. its a never ending circle.

    Exactly. They witnessed their parents getting screwed first hand, so now they’re in it for themselves.

  112. 112
    cvstoner says:

    @Shadow’s Mom:

    I was employee #49 two years ago; we’re now at close to 200. They chose to offer a 0 cost option for health care insurance, and that is 0 cost for employee AND family. Prior to that, it was 0 cost for employee and 60% of family premium. We do not get earned PTO that can be accrued, but we do get up to 2 months per year of FTO (and we are actively encouraged to use that time so we don’t burn out)…

    Enjoy your extraordinary good luck while it lasts. Some enterprising vulture capitalist will be along to destroy it soon enough.

  113. 113
    cvstoner says:

    @Rick:

    The real point here is that there are diminishing returns to extra-long work weeks. And there are positive benefits to treating workers with respect. The fact that Germans are as productive as Americans should tell American managers that their entire theory of management is flawed.

    30 years of vulture capitalism, eroding worker protections, and widening inequality have created a kill or be killed atmosphere at most work places. Many managers “killed” to get where they are; thus, they’re not going to empower the carnivores below them.

  114. 114
    Dan Storms says:

    I saw the replies citing TQM. So passe. It’s all Six Sigma now. I remember asking my Black Belt Mentor if the idea of near zero defects and standardized everything didn’t threaten to turn all workers (not just line and production workers) into robots. he said, “Well, ideally.”

  115. 115
    Butch says:

    You mean because the company took away holidays, the raises this year didn’t even amount to a cost of living adjustment, and I have a better chance of becoming president than receiving some on the job training or advancement? Yes, I’m tremendously motivated.

  116. 116
    Rowdy P. Nutt says:

    @OldBean: They sure did, you should read the comments before yours, this whole scene has been re-typed here.

  117. 117

    […] Hat tips to Eschaton and Balloon Juice. […]

  118. 118
    DrS says:

    @Dan Storms:

    Ahh, six sigma.

    I’m getting laid off in August. However, they are really keen to rollout “LEAN Six Sigma”. It’s all the worst parts of Six Sigma plus the worst parts of LEAN but misapplied to the wrong industry.

    I’ll take the lay off.

    It’s pretty clear that whatever use these techniques might have in particular contexts, in reality they are used as justifications to go ahead and cut as much as possible. Surprisingly, that’s what management would like to do already. And if it doesn’t work, no matter how many skilled, smart, talented people you go through, the system cannot fail. It is just that the right people were not in place. Well, the right managers are in place. I mean the people carrying out the work

    They are making people with many years of experience, including many years with the company, to reapply for these “new jobs”. The big selling points were: you won’t have to clock in and out (what a pain!) cause they are now titled “analyst” and are therefore classifiable as exempt positions.

    More work, less job security.

    I’m not exactly in one of those positions, but since I didn’t play ball with the weasels, I’m out.

    As I said though, I’ll take the layoff. That place is dying and what I even liked about it before has already died.

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