I admire former Labor Secretary Robert Reich’ ability to take complex ideas and present them in language that should be accessible to most working people. Citing the coming of Labor Day, Reich reflects on the “shared” or “on call” work models that are becoming more and more popular as ways to staff and manage employees. He cites studies that say 40% of Americans can be working under such conditions over the next five years.
From the employer’s standpoint, this model makes sense. Why pay people to work when they are not needed? The problem with this business model, as Reich points out, is that it gives the loyal no security. They don’t know when or how they will earn their next dollar. The worst part of such a work schedule is that it leaves works panicked about their future. We need to respect labor and have laws that limit employers’ ability to offer “uncertain” work.
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.”
I ran into a friend at a Thanksgiving party. He told me that he’d gotten bad news from his doctor. Without knowing it, my friend had a heart attack. The doctor told him he has to lose weight, exercise more, and cut back on stress. My friend has lost fourteen pounds and is exercising every day. However, he can’t escape stress. It’s part of his job.
What can my friend and so many other Americans do to limit stress? First, they can face the reality of their workplace. Some jobs are deadline driven. Others require the ability to deal with people who are facing hardships, problems that are hard to solve. In these situations, workers will feel stress. However, by recognizing that stress is a part of their job, they will be better able to handle it.
A second way to limit stress is to leave work at work. Many people bring their work-stress home to their family and friends. For the sake of their physical and mental health, they need to build a wall between work and home. It’s not easy, especially when unemployment is high and wages are flat (declining for many). We still need to find a way to think of home as separate from work. Home has its own causes of stress. We don’t need to pile on troubles from the job.
A third way to battle killer stress is to be a little bit selfish. Find activities that make you happy – make time for them. Follow my friend’s example. Exercise, eat right, and lose weight. That’s good for you as well as everyone you love. Take care of yourself, or you will not be able to take care of anyone else.
Thanksgiving’s a great time to reflect on the good things life has given us. Being grateful puts things in perspective, and it helps us moderate worry and stress. When you feel that tightness coming on, sit in a quite place and think about the good things in your life. It won’t make the problem or stress go away, but it will give you a better spirit to face your challenges.
Stress kills. It hurts our bodies and warps our minds. We need to pay attention to this monster and fight it every day. Here’s an easy way to start – think about the good things and people in your life. Turn the corners of your mouth up. Stress hates it when we smile.