Blog Archive - October 2015
Persistence is a big part of success. Whether you're looking for a new job or trying to change careers, it's easy to find negative advice. The Internet is filled with experts who can give countless (bad) reasons why you will fail. However, if you're doing the right thing and you believe in yourself, success is almost always possible (See The Dip by Seth Godin).
Thomas Jefferson captured this idea in these words: "When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on."
Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is the biggest day for retailers throughout the U.S. Some companies have even opened their doors on Thanksgiving to get an advantage over competitors. Who loses? Workers who often have to leave family meals and then have to work on days when their neighbors are getting the best deals.
REI, a co-op retailer for outdoor wear, is taking a very different approach. The company has decided to close on Black Friday and give its employees a paid day off. Rather than fight frenzied consumers at the mall, REI suggests that its employees should enjoy a day in the outdoors. REI is putting its people first, and it should be cheered for doing so.
I've always been a sports fan, and watching football has been one of my favorite pastimes. Over the last few years, however, it's been a guilty please at best and, maybe, hypocrisy at its worst. A few years ago, I attended a presentation on brain injuries that woke me up to the cost football players pay to entertain fans like me. PBS's Frontline series went even deeper into the issue, showing how pervasive brain injuries are for professional football players. The news has not gotten better.
On Thursday, a 17 year old football player, at Chicago's Bogan High School, Andre Smith, died after a game. He was the seventh high school player to die in the U.S. this season. At first, it was reported that he was injured on the last play of the game, but, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, he walked off the field and collapsed as he was leaving the field. No one knows the exact cause of death, and there will be an autopsy next week. Here's what we do know: He died playing football.
Is football so dangerous that it should be made illegal? Once upon a time, I scoffed at this question. There is risk in everything we do. Players willingly participate in the sport, which they know is dangerous. I've used all of those reasons to convince myself that football is the same as basketball and baseball. It's a game. But something interesting happens when we compare football and hockey. It is possible to play a much less violent version of hockey than we see in the NHL. Fighting is banned in the international game. Checking is limited or banned in many leagues. Unless you're playing some kind of touch or flag version of the game, football is all about violence, hitting another person with your body and knocking them to the ground. Fans like me often cheer loud when both the offensive and defensive player collide at full speed. Violent hits make us cheers, and we do not ask the question: What is happening to their brains and bodies when such collisions occur?
This blog is about career and work issues, and whether they are amateur or professional athletes, football players work very hard at what they do. They practice, lift weights, and eat special diets to maintain a certain weight. They learn complicated plays and signals that are called out before each play. Paid or unpaid, their work needs to be taken the same way we consider other workplace or work-like recreational activities. Is this game too violent however it is played? Tomorrow I am meeting two friends to watch the Carolina Panthers play the Philadelphia Eagles. We meet several times over the course of the season, but it's getting harder for me to watch football given what we now know about the price paid by those who play the game, those who are working for our pleasure. Andre Smith's death has made me question my complicity as a fan. Is it time to turn off football?
P.S. DNAInfo reports that Andre's Smith's autopsy has been completed. It found that he died of football related injuries, "blunt force trauma" to his head.
USA Today reports that wages may be going up. The problem is that increases tend to be in certain professions and areas. Following an analysis by payroll processor ADP, the article claims that key trades are seeing pay increases between 3.8 and 7.2%. Interestingly the biggest pay increases have come in companies with 1,000 or more employees (5.9%). Smaller companies have offered lower raises: 500-999 employees (2.9%), 50-499 employees (2.5%), and 49 workers of less (2.9%). By region, the Midwest (4.4%) and West (4.4%) are earning more than those in the Northeast (3.0%) and South (2.6%). If these numbers are accurate, it's good news for workers in the right trade in the right area. Hopefully the good news will continue to grow and spread.
Huffington Post’s labor writer Dave Jamieson has written a compelling story on the death of a temporary worker at an Amazon distribution center in Virginia. In his long, detailed, fascinating article, Jamieson never simply blames Amazon or a subcontractor company for the employee’s death. Instead, he tells the story of a human being who went to work one day and did not come home. He takes us into a world of temporary workers and how they labor with little security and no benefits. I don’t want to try to summarize this article. Instead, I urge you to read it and consider the story of Jeff Lockhart, Jr., who died at age 29, leaving behind a wife and three children. Jamieson gave his work the subtitle, “What the Future of Low Wage Work Really Looks Like.” In those words, he challenges us (and Jeff Bezos): Even if this system is legal and makes good business sense – is it right?
Wage theft is a serious crime, so serious, in fact, that a court has ordered several New York-based franchise owners of Papa John’s to pay $500,000 to 250 workers. According to Laura Clawson of Daily Kos, owners have paid workers less than the minimum wage and work off the clock. One owner, Abdul Jamil Khokhar, was arrested and will spend 60 days in jail as part of a plea agreement. This story underscores the need for all American workers to understand wage theft and support their fellow workers when they are victims of such exploitation. Wage theft usually hurts low wage workers, people who have the most to lose. If we want low wage workers to be responsible, we need to ask their employers to do the same.
USA Today asks a very troubling question: “Is the annual pay raise dead?” When clients ask me about the job market, I tell them that the problem isn’t jobs. It’s getting paid. Wage increases have ticked up at about 2%, which for most people is not enough to cover increased costs. Bob Sullivan of CNBC, the author of the USA Today article, cites an expert from AON Hewitt, who said, “Base salary increases are flat. We don't see the prospect of that changing much at all in the next several years.” Rather than annual salary increases, many companies are turning to bonuses as a way to reward productive employees while better controlling labor costs.
The article goes on to state that employee turnover is high and “critical-skill” employees are hardest to retain. Go figure. Why should employees be loyal to companies that only care about the bottom line? They are following market forces just as their employers are. I agree with an expert quoted at the end of the article who urges workers to know and refine their most marketable skills. But I’ll take it one step further: Rather than hope that your current employer rewards you with a bonus, always be ready to find a better employer if your compensation is not fair or if a better option is available. Treat your career like a business.
It's been a great day. The Cubs beat the Cardinals, and I met some friends for a steak dinner. So, now while chilling out listening to blues and catching up with The New Yorker, I read these words in Amy Davidson's October 8 profile of GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina: "When HP fired her, she got a twenty-million-dollar severance package, plus fifteen thousand for career counseling. Only in this country, perhaps, could a C.E.O. receive compensation worth more than a million hundred million dollars in six years, get fired, and use the money to enter politics."
I don't believe in salary restrictions of any kind. If a company wants to pay any employee any amount, that's the company's business. At the same time, voters should be able to ask about a candidate's history and what it says about his or her potential leadership. In Fiorina's case, she laid off thousands of workers before she took the money and ran. As far as I can tell, none of her current positions would do anything to help American workers. "Only in America."
Seth Godin offers an interesting perspective on failure – It’s all about your attitude. Some successful people feel that they are failures. They are never happy with their work even when it is good. Such thinking is a trap. People lost in feelings of failure keep looking for an ever elusive success.
Godin is not saying we should be happy with failure, but that we should know how to work through failures and deliver. His books The Dip and Poke the Box are necessary reads for anyone who’s caught up in the failure trap. Successful people fail before they find a way to succeed. Or, as Godin puts in The Dip, they know how to quit the right things. If you’re doing the right kind of work for the right reason, the feelings of failure will still come now and then. But they won’t be how you define yourself. Take joy in your work and your life.
Aljazeera America reports that Senator Bernie Sanders and progressive allies in the Senate and House are proposing a new measure to help working Americans. The Workplace Democracy Act would make it easier for employees to unionize. It would also require that employers negotiate with unions within 10 days of a request to negotiate. This measure is a good thing, but it’s more of a political statement than a realistic attempt to change law. Republicans control the House and Senate, and they are very pro-employer. That said, Democrats and Independents like Sanders need to present a new vision for how working people will be treated. This bill along with the Fight for $15 is part of that vision.
P.S. John Nichols of The Nation connects this issue to changes in the TPP and other international agreements that protect the right of workers to form unions.