Blog Archive - March 2015
Theodore Roosevelt wrote, "Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing."
Most of the clients who come to me for help in changing careers aren't looking for more money or a more impressive title. They want to do work that is meaningful, often something that helps other people. If that kind of career changes is appealing to you, start with your values: Who do you want to help? What do you want to change? Once you've established your mission, the next question is how you can best work in that field. For some people that will mean defining transferable skills and demonstrating how you are ready to work in a new field. For some people, the challenge will be to go back to school or to obtain a certificate. The challenge, as President Roosevelt said, is to find work that is worth our effort.
My young clients (35 years older and younger) all tell a common story: They worry about being able to pay their student loans. For the past five years or so, the common struggle of getting a good early career job has been compounded by low wages. The worried refrain I hear from new and recent college graduates made me pay attention to an article posted on Bloomberg: “Why Most Popular Cities Are Out of Reach for Young Professionals.” In most of America’s sexiest cities new and affordable housing is not being built at a pace that will let young people live in cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Boston.
The article did point to an interesting exception to this rule: Chicago. The Windy City is building new housing at double the rate of other popular cities. While not the most affordable on the list, Chicago remains a decent option for both buyers and renters based on a survey by Zillow.
This article is odd and encouraging to anyone watching Chicago’s current mayoral campaign. The conventional wisdom is that the city is broke, that jobs will disappear if the current mayor is not re-elected. The charts in this article paint a much brighter future. Chicago seems like a great place for young people to build their careers without getting gouged on their mortgage or rent. As someone who has lived in the city for more than 25 years, I hope this is true.
In the wake of the German airline disaster, Bloomberg reports on an employer’s right to assess their employees’ mental health. As the article notes, this situation is very sticky. Employees fear they will not be hired or get promotions if any employer discovers that they suffer from depression or a related illness. On the other hand, as the case in Germany shows so well, employers can claim that they need to know to protect their customers and their business. This is a situation without an easy or good answer. We need to protect employees’ rights while protecting people they serve.
Bloomberg’s Dune Lawrence has written a fascinating article on how employers are tracking employee’s online activities. In one sense, such monitoring is perfectly acceptable given cybercrime and theft of company data. Lawrence opens his article by pointing to the case of Edward Snowden. Whether one thinks of Snowden as a traitor or hero, he is an example of an employee who breeched his employer’s security protocols (Technically, he was a contract employee).
The employer’s challenge is to control data it does not want to share with competitors or the public. However, Lawrence also writes about predictive technology that reads employees’ email and identifies key words like “medical bills” or “late rent” that might indicate someone who will be a risk to the company.
Some worker advocates would say that employers are playing the role of Big Brother. I disagree. A company has every right to monitor how you are using its tools and analyzing that data to see if you are misbehaving on the job. What’s the simple solution for employees? Only use work computers and mobile devices for work-related activities. If a company allows you to use company-owned devices for personal reason, do so with the knowledge that your boss can be tracking your activities. Keep your personal communication and online activities, and you should be safe from any snooping employer.
Target has announced that it will pay its employees a minimum wage of $9 an hour. It’s easy to dismiss this move as being too little. Instead, I like to look at it as a small step that will have big consequences. Employer who pay less than $9 an hour now have to fear that they will lose employees to America’s two largest retailers. More importantly, wage increases at the bottom raise the bar for all workers. If the unemployment rate continues to drop, wages will have to go up. Hopefully, the decisions by Walmart and Target will be the first step that leads to higher pay across industries.
Here's a great quotation from Eleanor Roosevelt: "In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility."
We live too often by cliches. Eleanor Roosevelt was a liberal, but her words her demonstrate that we are all responsible to make -- and remake -- our lives. A client recently came to me and said he wanted to a resume so a "recruiter can find me a job." I told him that plan wouldn't work for two reasons. First, he wasn't advanced enough in his career to make it worth the recruiter's time and effort. Second, a good job search is all about taking charge of how we look for work. My clients who do work with recruiters are very proactive in how they deal the recruiters. In the end, as Roosevelt said, our professional and personal happiness depends on the choices we make.
Bloomberg’s Peter Gosselin and Jennifer Oldham have written a great article that examines the relationship between unemployment and wages. According to accepted economic norms, as the labor market gets tighter, salaries should go up. While the unemployment rate has dropped 5.5% over the last seven years, the growth in hourly earnings was minimal. On the state level, the difference is even more pronounced in states that have the lowest unemployment. The article features some compelling graphs and possible explanations for this trend.
What the article doesn’t speculate on is a possible tipping point. I think it is significant that Walmart and other large retail corporations are raising salaries of their lowest paid workers. I think they are increasing wages to keep good workers who can now find higher paying jobs. Once retention of employees becomes an accepted business practice across industries, salaries will go up – I hope.
Anyone who cares about working people needs to read Laura Clawson of the Huffington Post. Today she examines the state of Workers Compensation, which has been cut in 33 states. There is also great disparity between states and how they pay for injuries. Clawson points out that if a worker in Alabama loses an eye, she will be awarded $27,280. The same injury in Pennsylvania will be compensated at $261,525. Companies are paying less and less in damages every year and finding new ways to restrict workers' benefits. This story is outrageous, but it’s no more outrageous than stories of workers losing pensions or wage theft or union busting. Until American workers – white and blue collar – realize their common interests, employers will continue to find new ways to make them suffer. It’s easy to blame the super rich. They are acting in a way that makes sense for their interests and security. What is our problem?
The founder of McDonald's Ray Kroc showed deep wisdom when he said, "If you work just for money, you'll never make it, but if you love what you're doing and you always put the customer first, success will be yours."
Love what you do, and serve your customer. It's easy to say those words, but often hard to follow up on them. Money pushes us to occupations that we really don't want to do. Over the last 13 years, several of my clients have told me they don't want to be in sales or management, but: "That's where the money is." Some polls I've read say that a third of doctors would change careers if they could. The problem? Income.
What can you do if you're in such a position? Forget about the money and focus on your customer. If you are doing a service to someone else (which includes internal customers like students, co-workers, and even bosses), you will find some meaning and satisfaction in your work -- and you get to keep the money. However, if you don't get satisfaction from serving your customer, it is time to think about changing careers. As Ray Kroc said, money in itself is never enough. Success is not the ability to buy things. It is the ability to be excited in doing your work and taking pride in how it helps others.
The job numbers from last month are exciting. The unemployment rate is down to 5.5%, which is good in itself. However, there is even better news. Bloomberg reports that leading retailers are struggling to keep their lowest paid employees. It will take a while for employers to move the needle up on salary, but this is a good start. Bloomberg depicts the current situation as a conflict of interests between investors and employees. I disagree. As lower paid workers make more money, they will spend, which means everybody wins. The article also demonstrates how much it costs a company to replace employees. The raises leading retail companies have given to their employees can be seen as a way to save costs related to turnover. The news is good. Let’s be happy for a little while.