One of the biggest problem facing low wage workers is their schedule. Many companies have turned to work models such as “on call” scheduling that gives employees little control over their time or their lives. Laura Clawson of Daily Kos reports that a group of Democratic senators and representatives have proposed “The Schedules That Work Act.” This bill would give workers at companies with 15 or more employees the right to request changes in their schedule, especially in cases related to health concerns or child/elder care. It would also give employers incentives not to use on call schedules or split shifts. Clawson is a realist. She notes that this bill means nothing as long as Republicans control the Senate and House.
This is a problem since many experts think the House will stay in Republican control into the next decade. What can workers do? First, they should consider schedule to be as important as salary. Next, if they have to take a low wage job or one with a bad schedule, they need to keep looking for a better job. Over the last 25 years, we’ve seen that employers have no loyalty to employees. Layoffs are part of doing business. Workers have to take the same attitude. If you’re in a bad job, keep looking for something better. When you find it, layoff your employer.
Older workers have a target on their back. They often make more money, which is the sole focus of companies that want to improve “productivity” through salary cuts. For many older workers, job loss is very difficult because age discrimination exists. However, for the lucky few, being older can be a great advantage.
I have three clients who recently decided to retire. Each worked for a company that was going through rapid change. Their opinions were listened to – and ignored. Companies they cared about were not the same place anymore. Rather than play the game and hope to last a few more years, each of these people wase able to retire with full benefits. Given tax laws enacted in the 1980s, they can continue to work full/part-time as they wish.
Who is the loser in this scenario? The employer who let loyal workers take their dedication and knowledge into retirement. Many corporations and some smaller companies have lost sight of all but short term, bottom line thinking. Beyond measurable contributions, dedicated employees bring the intangible qualities that are hard to measure. They know how the company works and how problems were solved in the past. They put in the extra hours because they are committed to the company, not a paycheck. I expect to see more older workers following this pattern in coming years. Once they are eligible for retirement benefits, the tables will turn. The big bad boss won’t be so big or so bad.
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a story about how a bad boss turns good. Scrooge is a small business owner who abuses and insult his employee, Bob Cratchit. He only cares about money. After being visited by the Ghosts of Past, Present, and Future, Scrooge is a changed man who “keeps Christmas in his heart” every day. At the end of the story, the bad boss becomes a best friend, giving Cratchit a raise and treating his boy Tiny Tim as his own son.
Stories in the real world don’t normally have such a happy ending. Bad bosses stay bad, and companies that put money before people lay people off days before Christmas. A few weeks ago I saw a client who had worked for the same company for 30 years. He was laid off because his salary was too high. Another client who worked for the same company for 20 years was laid off so a member of the owner’s family could take his place. So much for loyalty. Over 6,000 employees at Dominick’s stores in Chicago are being laid off a few days after Christmas, so a Wall Street investment firm can pump up the value of the store’s parent company, Safeway.
Most companies and bosses won’t change as Scrooge did. They don’t care about the time of the year or the hardship of employees who are losing jobs. All that matters is the bottom line. Dickens imagines Scrooge as a man who has a conscience and is capable of change. Sadly, too many large investors and corporate leaders in our time have not been visited by the Ghosts of Past, Present, and Future. They have no feeling for others and think only about what they can gain. Scrooge would pity them.
One of my clients, we’ll call her Sue, worked for the same employer for over 30 years. A month ago; without any warning, she received a layoff notice. At first, she didn’t know what to do. HR wanted to negotiate a severance, but Sue asked to wait for a day or two. She knew that she was upset and could make a bad decision or say the wrong thing.
Sue went home and thought about her options and what she wanted in severance. She negotiated in a calm, professional manner, which helped her get a slight increase in severance. More importantly, she met with people throughout her company to say how much she appreciated working with them. At the same time, she started networking. Within a week, several of her co-workers had become willing partners in her job search.
As I’ve often written, networking is important, but it is only one part of a good job search. Sue started doing something she had never had to do before: looking for work online. She figured out how job boards worked, posted a LinkedIn profile, and started bookmarking companies she wanted to work for. Less than a week after being laid off, Sue did enough research to be confident that many employers were looking for her skills.
The most important thing Sue did had nothing to do with a computer or networking. She kept a positive attitude about herself and the proper perspective about her layoff. She controlled what she could control and didn’t waste time mourning a job with a company that didn’t want her. Rather than looking backward, she kept her eyes and her mind pointed forward. She will be successful because she is asking the right question: What’s next?
I met a pleasant young man at a neighborhood business. I asked him about the owner whom I had not seen in a while. The young man said, “He’s still here. I really like him because he gave me this job.” Since the young man was pleasant, I didn’t want to confront him, but his thinking is not clear: No business owner “gives” a job. No job is a gift.
A business hires because it needs people to work. The goal is to hire the best employee at the lowest wage. As we’ve seen so often over the last 30 years, companies cut employees whose work is not needed. Offshoring and automation have killed millions of American jobs. It’s no more fair to say those jobs were “stolen” than that they were “given.”
Too often we personalize relationships in a way that confuses them. I have clients who talk about “my” job in a way that increases the pain of job loss and hinders the ability to move forward. Treat a job as what it is, a relationship in which you are trading your skill, time, and effort for a wage. It’s fine to appreciate personal relationships with co-workers, including supervisors. But it’s career-deadly to think about your job in the wrong perspective. Know that every employee is a cost to an employer. If that cost can be lessened or eliminated, any smart business owner will do so. It’s not personal. It’s not about loyalty. Workers need to take the same attitude and keep looking for the best career opportunity.
Clients will frequently tell me they want a job with stability. I caution that this goal might not be realistic or good for their careers. In a time of random layoffs and cost cutting, a job can end at any time. I’ve had clients whose bosses convinced them that the operation was stable only to have a company or division shut down six months later. There is no reason to expect any position to be stable.
Nor should you want it to be. Generally speaking, people who stay in the same job five years or more start to go flat or negative in salary. During a time when raises are low or non-existent, the best way to get ahead is look for new opportunity. Why should you stay at a job a year, if another employer will give you a better deal? Loyalty? Few employers have shown any loyalty over the last three decades. When workers can be cut, they are let go without any mercy. Employees need to take the same attitude. For most people, the only way to get a decent raise is to find a new employer.
I love baseball, and this weekend I attended minor league games in Indianapolis, Nashville, and Louisville. While in Louisville, I took a tour of the Louisville Slugger Museum, which features a working factory that makes bats for big leaguers and recreational players. During the tour, we learned that from the 1880s to the 1970s, bats were made by hand. They were the work of craftsmen who used their hands and eyes. A good bat maker could carve a bat in 20-30 minutes. By the late 1970s an automated process was devised with a new lathe that could carve a bat in 30 seconds. Great for the company, not so good for the men who worked the lathes.
This story underscores the impact of automation on work. One of the lathes at Louisville Slugger could cut more in an hour than a man could do in a day. No sane business would continue to work in an inefficient manner. Layoffs were necessary. Similar advances have led to millions of layoffs in manufacturing, assembly, and supply chain. Better technology means fewer jobs. No company can stick with people when machines can do as good or better a job at a much lower cost. We all love innovation, but we have to look realistically at its aftereffects. Faster, cheaper, and more efficient usually means people will lose their jobs. The challenge is to generate new jobs in a world where machines, software, and automation are improving all the time. What will we do if a time comes when we have more people than jobs?
Writing in Think Progress, Pat Garofalo reports that Wisconsin legislators are now trying to attack private sector unions in the name of “preventing layoffs.” The plan is called “work-sharing,” and it would allow companies with union workers to cut hours without consulting unions. The only way working people will be safe from such schemes is to vote for politicians who support labor rights; however, they are hard to find these days. It will be interesting to see how Governor Walker reacts if this measure is passed. Who frightens him more, the Koch Brothers or the voters?
All eyes on Wisconsin – again.
Aljazeera reports that airline workers in Spain have launched a two week strike to protest planned layoffs. The strike could cost the airline, which is losing money, as much as $134 million. The logical question – the American question – is why would workers strike? Don’t they care about their jobs?
Spanish workers see through the myth of “my job.” They are standing with those who are being laid off and saying, “No more.” American airline workers have suffered greatly over the last three decades as they’ve made concession after concession, lost pensions, and watched management continue to pay itself bonuses. Maybe they should take a lesson from their brothers and sisters in Spain. Solidarity.
One of my clients, let's call him Larry, has worked for a large bank since graduating from college four years ago. He has been promoted twice and received a 9% raise last year. Sounds good so far. However, Larry has seen unexpected changes come to his department. One of his co-workers, a man who spent 25 years with the company, was laid off for reasons that Larry and most of his co-workers think are political. His department has also been moved from an HR function to Finance, which could mean more layoffs.
Larry's story reminds us that promotions and raises don't mean long term security. He has decided to update his resume and start looking for other opportunities because he no longer trusts his current employer. Too much change. Too much uncertainty.
Larry is putting himself in a position to manage his career. Too many people in a similar situation deny reality and tell themselves, "It's not going to happen to me." Larry is being proactive, and that's the first step to being in control.
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