“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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