Blog Archive - January 2012
A friend gave me a great book, The Wage Slave’s Glossary, which defines words related to work and workers. Two terms caught my eye: after dinner man and hour-glass ceiling. The first originated in the 17th century and referred to a man who had to go back to work after dinner. The book’s author Joshua Glenn quips, “We are all after-dinner men and women now.” The hour-glass ceiling is a related term. It refers to time constraints that limit careers, generally careers of working mothers. Some people need to do family work at nights and on weekends, which limits their “after dinner” potential.
I strongly recommend this book, which is wise, witty, and – too often – sad.
[On Sundays, this blog explores intersections of life and work in “Sabbath.”]
Bill Moyers retired from his PBS show Bill Moyers Journal a couple of years ago. However, Moyers, now 77, has not retired. He is back with a new venture called Moyers & Company. Over the past years, he has also continued to write and give interviews.
Many on the right and some in the mushy middle condemn Moyers as a “liberal,” as if that label made someone not worth listening or respecting. Moyers, on the other hand, presents his ideas without insult or name-calling. If someone disagrees with his position, he listens and engages them in dialogue, a quality lacking in American politics and society today.
Moyers criticizes a political model of “winner take all” and argues that inequality is not simply the result of market forces, but political scheming. Are these positions liberal? Yes. But, unlike many of his critics, Moyers and his guests lay out ideas in clear language, not talking points and phony statistics. In another video essay, Moyers ponders the contemporary relevance of the folk singer Woody Guthrie.
In a time of simplified ideas and political campaigns based on finger-pointing TV commercials, Bill Moyers is a welcome antidote to the poison that threatens our democracy. He wants his audience to think about an issue and understand its full complexity. Agree with him or disagree, love him or hate him, Moyers offers his viewers real news, something we don’t get from corporate news readers.
When Bill Moyers left PBS, American lost an important voice. Now that he is back on TV and the Internet, we have more ways to engage with this interesting thinker. That’s a good thing to do on the Sabbath – Think about how to make life better for others and how to live a better life.
Daily Kos offers a very disturbing report about men’s wages. Adjusted for inflation, men working in the U.S. are making less today than in 1969. I strongly recommend this article and the study on which it is based. As I’ve written in the past, we need to keep an equal focus on jobs and wages. New jobs at lower wages are a losing proposition for American workers.
Common Dreams has posted an excellent article by Michelle Chen that surveys states attempting to relax child labor laws. I worked during high school. So did most of my friends. However, these laws are often looking to allow younger children to work and let them be paid less than the minimum wage.
The same people who complain that schools are failing are proposing these laws. Will children who work do better in school? What is our priority as a nation? Looking at these laws, the priority for some politicians seems to be driving down wages at whatever cost, even if it involves exploiting children and young people.
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney said today that he likes to fire people who provide bad service. His opponents jumped on this poor choice of words and linked it to Romney’s past as a venture capitalist for a company that often “reduced headcount” at firms it purchased.
Earlier in my career I was a manager. Firing an employee was a task I hated, even when I disliked the employee and had heavy documentation to justify my action. When I had to let an employee go, it meant that I had failed in hiring, training, and managing that person. Somewhere along the line, I shared the responsibility of the person being terminated. One of the main reasons I hope I never have to manage again is that I never want to fire another human being.
One of the clients I met today was fired and replaced by a relative of his boss. He understood the “game,” but the dismissal still hurt. He put in extra time to complete a special project only to be told: “Thank you. There’s the door.” Many American workers over the last 35 years have heard that line. They build profitable companies only to see executives pursue even greater profits in low wage countries.
Mitt Romney’s choice of words was telling. He didn’t say, “I like to change companies or vendors when I get bad service.” He used the word fired. For many Americans, that word brings anger and tears, bad memories of an economy that puts profits over people and cheers for “job creators” who don’t seem to create any jobs. I liked hiring people because that was a hopeful activity. We need more hiring – more hope.
Whether you love him or hate him, Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman states his opinions in language that is clear and concise. In a recent blog post, he explains why the December job growth number of 200,000 is not necessarily good news. Taken in relation to recent news, it sounds good. However, Krugman contrasts the growth number with job growth in the 1990s and what should have come from that period. Taken in context, the news is not good. We’re still in the ditch.
[“Sabbath” is this blog’s Sunday feature on intersections of life and work.]
Open Doors and Closed Dreams
I live in a neighborhood filled with small businesses owned by local residents. Over the last couple of years, several businesses have shut down. A few more have opened, but there are more open store fronts than there have been for several years. Disappointed customers shake their head and say, “It’s the economy.” That’s true, but, on a deeper level, every open store front is the death of dream, which is much worse than some statistic that will change from month to month.
A few years ago, I made a very bad, very large investment in advertising. It nearly put me out of business. For three months, I had to make some difficult choices to pay my bills and keep the lights on. I was lucky. Just as the contract ended, one of my customers said, “I really like the work you did for me. I’m going to Yelp you.” I had no idea what Yelp was, but that review and several to follow helped me turn things around. Today my business is on solid ground, but no small business owner ever feels safe.
When I was starting my business in 2003, a café owner told me his story of opening his first shop. He spent months fixing the space, getting permits, and hiring staff. Then, at 7 a.m. on the day he was supposed to open, he froze. His employee looked at him and spoke the magic words, “Open the door.” My friend was afraid. He faced the demons of “what if”: What if no one comes through the door? What if they don’t like my food? What if. . . ? He told me that I have to live with the fear, that it’s really the hardest part of running a small business. As I left that day, he reminded me: “Don’t forget to open the door.”
The challenge for many businesses has been keeping the door open. With wage cuts, increased costs for health care, and high unemployment, people have less money to spend. More people shop at places like Walmart and the Dollar Store. They are eating more at home, making their own coffee in the morning. When they eat out for breakfast or lunch, they pass up the local diner for a chain store that offers a “dollar” menu. These lifestyle changes mean fewer customers for small businesses.
Even with these challenges, small business owners are hanging on. While I’ve seen several business close over the past few years, others – not as many – have taken their place. In the few blocks adjacent to my office, a very successful Irish-themed bar restaurant has opened. A comic book shop took over and remodeled a garage space. A gallery specializing in products made of wood was recognized as the best in the city less than a year after it opened.
Small business owners are the heart of a neighborhood. They don’t only invest their time and money in a place. They bring their dream, something they want to share with their neighbors. Chain stores and big stores and strip malls don’t bring the same value. They make money. If they close, no one really notices. Customers looking for the best bargain just move on to the next big box store or strip mall. A community-focused small business helps shape the character of a place. Hopefully, more and more enterprising spirits will face the fear and share their dream with their neighbors. Strong communities need strong small businesses.
Teach for America? How about teaching for free? Think Progress reports on teachers in Delaware County, Pennsylvania who have chosen to teach for free. State cuts to education mean that the school district cannot pay their salary. Pennsylvania’s governor has refused to help the district, blaming it for not being able to pay the teachers. Who cares more the teachers who work for free or the governor who cuts funds to pay for teachers? The next time someone blasts a teachers’ union, please remember this story. The problem isn’t teachers or unions. It’s greedy politicians who need to feed their wealthy contributors (many of whom also support the scam called “school reform.”).
I’m seeing a trend in resumes clients are bringing to me for review. Many are nothing more but a list of achievements. The theory behind this resume style is that employers want employees who have a history of making a difference. Of course, employers want employees who achieve and exceed goals, but they need to know more than that.
The problem with employment-focused resumes is that they often fail to tell employers what they are looking for. Examine several job posts. Do any say: Send in a list of achievements? Instead, they ask for experience, skills, education, and certification. A good resume blends what the employer is looking for along with relevant achievements.
Like most things in life, balance is the key. Identify key words by reviewing several job postings. Demonstrate why you have the skills and experience that the employer needs. Include achievements that will show an employer how you will be an asset. A good mix of these elements is the recipe for a winning resume.
One of the questions you need to answer before going on any job interview is: “What do we do?” You must take the time to understand the company that is interviewing you, know its function, and how you will contribute to the company’s success. One of my clients told me that he had a bad interview experience when an interviewer asked him to describe the company. He gave her very general answers. Then she asked a specific question that he couldn’t answer. He tried to bluff that he must have missed that in his research. She then told him, “That’s hard to understand since it’s on the first page of our website.”
Set yourself up for success, not failure. Before going on any interview, devote at least one hour to research a prospective employer. Go beyond the company website to look at industry news and anything else you can find through a Google search. The better you can align your skill and experience to the company’s needs, the more likely it is that you will get a job offer. Don’t bluff or spew generalities. Take the time to know the company. A little effort in research can lead to an offer.