Most people look to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and its monthly employment report to understand the job market. While that is probably the best measure, there are other important signs, including how employers are treating employees and job candidates. A few months ago, I noted that almost every job posting now includes a list of benefits offered to new employees. Some are even listing a salary.
Employee retention is equally important. Bloomberg reports that some employers are now encouraging employees to use PTO and vacation time. A few employers are even paying bonus that employees can use during a vacation. Others offer “unlimited vacation.” These are the same companies who laid off so many workers that those who were spared worked extra hours and skipped vacation days. Now, as the job market tightens and employers still do not want to raise wages, vacation is a perk used to keep employees without increasing labor budgets.
If you’re asking for a raise or trying to negotiate salary with a new employer, think about vacation as a bargaining chip. If an employer cannot give you a higher wage, ask for an extra week of vacation or PTO. This is a good time to talk about time off.
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich recently wrote an editorial that contrasts the few workers who get good benefits and the rest who are “replaceable.” Reich notes that Netflix and some other large companies are offering better work-life balance to their employees. However, these employees are considered “talent,” people who are hard to replace. Reich says this about the rest: “Employees treat replaceable workers as costs to be cut, not as assets to be developed.” Rather than work-life balance, these people endure what Reich calls “work as life.”
Reich is not referring to low wage workers. Instead, citing a recent story in the New York Times, he is talking about Amazon and similar companies that ask employees to give up family and personal interests in the name of professional advancement. He notes that Sheryl Sandberg can advise young women to “lean in” because it makes sense from her privileged status as an executive. Some do enjoy good benefits. For most workers – even some with high incomes – the workplace generates stress and anxiety, offering little chance to live a balanced life. Once again, Reich helps us look beyond the headlines and ask critical questions about how we can manager our careers and our lives.
Of course, things could be even worse. Jan Mickelson, an Iowa talk show host, has suggested that any undocumented worker who does not leave the U.S. should become “property of the state of Iowa.” He adds that these people would be an “asset.” Was Mickelson joking? If so, the joke was vulgar. It further shows how some Americans have no respect for hard work and the people who do it. Work should be paid, not as Mickelson puts it, “compelled.”