Bloomberg is a great source for news. One of many things I like about the website is its focus on issues that affect working people. Today it offers five graphs that make a sad argument: “Work-life balance is dead.” First, managers in developed countries work more than 40 hours a week. Interestingly, the company listed where the fewest managers who work over 40 hours is China (19%). Second, millennials are trapped between responsibilities at work and home. Third, flexible hours are often a euphemism that gives the employer an option to keep workers on the job at any time and anywhere. Fourth, many people have stayed at their current jobs because they remember what happened in 2008. They are afraid to make a change. Finally, U.S. companies are among the worst in developed countries for giving parents time off to care for family needs.
Is work-life balance dead? Maybe. The points made in this article are very compelling in what they say about the current economy, especially for workers in their twenties and thirties. However, these conditions are neither necessary nor permanent. Working people – union and non-union – need to press federal and state legislators to pass laws that guarantee rights in the workplace. FMLA was a tepid step in that direction. On the other side of the coin, we have seen state after state cut weeks that laid off employees can collect unemployment insurance. Several states have passed “right to work” (for less) laws that hamper unions and lower wages. We need national standards to protect workers and stabilize the economy. We will not get such protection until working people vote for candidates who support labor.
Bloomberg has published a very interesting article on how people treat each other in the workplace. Citing research performed by two scholars at Stanford, Akane Otani writes that we are more likely to return favors done for us by friends than we are to help co-workers. This is logical since most workplaces because people are more calculating about what they do at work. One of the researchers, Jeffrey Pfeffer, recommends that the best way to deal with selfishness at work is to be realistic about it. He says that we need to stop looking for a “mythical Santa Claus” that is going to be nice to us. People act in their own interest, and we need to do the same.
In one sense, I totally agree with this advice. While we might make friends of co-workers, those relationships tend to be separate. If we can get a better job, we leave our co-worker friends behind. On the other hand, bosses and co-workers are often our best teachers and mentors. Throughout my career, I have learned great life lessons at work. Now, I would add this to them: Don’t get upset when a co-worker stabs you in the back to get ahead or plays office politics with your reputation. That’s how most people are, especially when they aren’t our friends.
I recently read an op-ed claiming that millennials are terrible workers: They don’t know how to communicate. They only want to work forty hours a week. They feel entitled.
Remember stories about slackers? Before that it was hippies. Beatniks. In each case, young people were smeared as lazy and unmanageable. The problem with this prejudice, like all other forms of prejudice, is that it demeans an entire group, and it is a simplification. I share some concern about the impact of texting on how we communicate. However, I know many people in their forties and fifties who hide behind texting when they should be making a call or holding a face-to-face meeting.
What’s wrong with millennials? The same thing that was wrong with slackers, hippies, and beatniks: They don’t control the mainstream media, and they aren’t making hiring decisions.
What I have seen in millennials is a type of realism about what work should be. One of my millennial clients took a big pay cut to have a better quality of life. I challenged her to think about how long it will take to make up the lost income and related raises. Without skipping a beat, she asked me what good the money will be if she is always miserable. She thought through what she was giving up and what she was gaining. I would call that good career management.
Are some millennials lazy? Of course. There were lazy Baby Boomers and probably even some lazy folks in the Greatest Generation. My impression is that millennials want to work in jobs that interest them and treat them fairly. They have learned from watching their parents and older brothers and sisters work hard with little reward. They understand the game.
I’ve written in the past about Seth Godin’s great little book The Dip. Godin says that successful people quit the right things, and they know how to fight through the dips. A local business owner closed his store earlier this month. I saw him this morning and learned that he’s been a flight attendant for more than 20 years. He was operating the store as a second job and found that it was impossible to do both. His flight attendant job offers steady pay and benefits. While it was hard to close a business in which he had invested 3 years of sweat and dreams, he made a practical choice. He knew what to quit.
A client today told me that he had tried to follow up at a large company where he had contacts. He emailed Human Resources and the person he assumed as the hiring manager. What he did not do was contact the people he knew at the company. If you know someone at a company, that’s where you should start. That person is most likely to get information from a decision maker or someone who knows that person. Whenever possible, network through personal contacts. It’s a lot harder to ignore people you know than an anonymous email from one of a hundred job applicants. Use your contacts. They can open doors.
A client told me that she wanted he potential employer to know about work she did early in her career when she was a teacher. She is especially proud of having been named Teacher of the Year in 1999. The problem is that she changed careers and moved to sales in 2003. Her new employer needs to see what makes her a good sales professional, not that she was once named the best teacher in the state. What we want to tell employers is not as important as what they want to know. Let that be your first question in writing a resume and preparing for an interview: What does the employer want to know?
A few minutes ago I hung up on a telemarketer named John. He was trying to offer me a home fall prevention service that “had already been paid for.” The call began with no identification of the company or purpose of the call.
At first, I politely tried to interrupt the caller to see if he was calling for me or if this was a wrong number. He kept reading the script. Then, using his name, I told John that I didn’t think I was the person he was trying to reach. He kept reading the script, only adding that the service “had already been paid for.” When I heard this, I started swearing, which I regret. I should have controlled my temper, but the situation was absurd and insulting.
What does this story have to do with jobs and careers? A lot. John is working for a company that requires him to read his script word for word. In some situations, such as market research, verbatim presentation of a script makes sense. In this situation or any sales situation, it does not. John’s employer showed me no respect, and I took it out on his employee. More importantly, if I was not the targeted of the call, they missed a possible transaction. What kind of company is this?
What kind of person is John? I can’t judge his character, but clearly he’s stuck in the worst kind of job, one where the employer doesn’t trust its employees to think. When people communicate and ask questions, they expect answers. John, following the script, could not answer my questions. In essence, he was behaving like a machine. I do feel bad for the way I spoke to him, but his behavior – and his company’s behavior – made me lose my temper. This is garbage work, and I pity the people who have to do it.
Writing in The Nation, Dana Goldstein examines the role toys and gender play in the careers children pursue when they grow up. Boys who play with computer games and toys like Legos that encourage spatial reasoning are more likely to pursue technical careers, which offer higher salaries. Experts cited in the article encourage parents to expose girls and boys to the kind of play that fosters an interest in understanding how the world works. They also say schools need to emphasize real world examples in teaching science and math, which will engage both boys and girls. All kids love to play. Parents and teachers need to encourage the kind of play that will give them the most opportunities later in life.