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Only in America

Suddenly people are mad at Wall Street and the fat cats, although they have been gaining ground, hugely,  for three decades.

“Wall Street has used the bailout to enrich themselves. In 2010, it handed out $149 billion in bonuses and compensation, near an all time high. But it did not pass that largesse down. While bank profits have risen 136 percent since the financial crisis bank lending has fallen by 9 percent.”

https://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/10/07-1#.To_SSitants.facebook

Yes this is true– and I am blown way it has taken so long for people to get upset. It’s not new.

CEO compensation—even at failing companies—has been outsized for decades. My brother-in-law’s brother is one of these folks. Even when they leave they get millions. Why does this not seem to bother anyone? Even now it is not mentioned as a long standing symptom of corporate disconnect with the workers –workers who BY THE way who make possible every single thing a corporation does .

For example:  “By 2007 the median S&P 500 CEO earned in three hours what a minimum-wage worker pulled down in a year. And Great Recession or no, 2009 looks like more of the same. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1931748,00.html#ixzz1aDNo599r of course now it is  2011 and… they have excess profits but are not putting anyone to work,. No work no consumption, duh. No consumption no market for goods. Duh. We all sink—AND WE ARE SINKING FAST. (But the fat cats don’t feel it… yet.)

Life was no always thus: when I graduated form college in 1970 at age 21 with a useless English degree I was able to find work, buy a mobile home (with my minimum wage job at Maas Brothers Department Store) and stay afloat until I decided to join the Air Force… where I then became able to go to law school and get a MUCH better job. I had worked summer jobs since I was a teen. Work was always available. I always worked—just part of the time, in the last decade or so, I have worked for myself because I have the education to do so. I didn’t plan to get rich, but I did get to do what felt right to me. (It was fairly easy when I was married.)

Then in about 1990 a number of fateful things happened. I got divorced,  and took a job with a law firm to be able to survive financially: my mother died, and I made a decision to change some things about the person I had become. (Who was heavily armored and numb, which had become clear to me in my marriage: I knew I did not want to stay that way.)

I spent about a year working at that firm.I was miserable, working until 8:00 at night and returning home utterly exhausted, wanting ONLY to go to the hot tub (avoiding other humans) and go to bed so I could get up and do it all over again. I discovered that the practice of law in a billable hour setting was not a place I (or my values) fit.

I had no time to process the huge things that took place when I attended my mother’s death: even so work while sitting outside on the patio of my office in sunny California was unthinkable. (Take my word for this: the culture of law is strong –and strait.)

Also disgusting was my  r4aliztion hat the firm placed its interests (dollars) ahead of those of the client. Yes, this is what business does—but it is 100% unethical in law. Yes… I believed in the ethics of the profession. (I still do.) God it was awful. But I still loved knowing stuff, and law is all about that– so, that part was still good.

But I received an inheritance and I went off to do consulting (in the same arena as the law firm work, Workers’ Comp)   full time. I used the stuff I knew about Workers Comp to help companies –who were the only players in employment who didn’t not have anyone in their corner against the idiotic Workers Compensation system. (This is where I learned the ins and outs of HR.–about whichi have little good to say.)

This job was GREAT—except I had no “plan B”. When that consulting gig crashed  (thanks to a change in the laws governing Workers Comp) I found myself struggling with PTSD—I still don’t know exactly why. It was partly the shock of being unemployed, but there was a lot more going on.  All I do know is I had to heal myself –BY myself–because I could not make myself understood by anyone around me. This took a LONG time. I found out I am a writer and a lot of other things. I realized I had to follow my HEART.

Slowly I built a practice consistent with my values. (My “heart” values.) Alas, I did not charge enough. I truly  did not grasp the degree of inflation that was taking place when I was outside the marketplace. I charged what FELT right. (That heart again.) As I say—I did not get rich, but I was pretty happy with what I did accomplish. I had a happy heart.

OK—my point—and I do have one—when that practice feel apart due in 2008 to the economic upheaval, and my savings ran out,  I had to adapt. I ended up teaching at a “bricks and mortar” private  school–“higher education”–after a brief but amazingly awful stint as a caregiver. (It was underpaid and, for me, horribly stressful, but it sounded respectable—and  I did what I had to do as the ground shifted under me.) Then a bad job got REALLY ugly… one of these students from a group  the FOR PROFIT school catered (those with no education and less hope) saw fit to throw me into the hall. Yes, literally. I was accused of having started it (!) and fired. And paid a pittance. Can you say PTSD relapse?  (Also I now have a permanent neck injury.)

Now what do you suppose I am able to do? Get a job at a law firm and toil away 80 hours a week at a place full of left brained creepy people? No, even without the PTSD (and the values I gained during my healing which are all right brained.) I am to old and have been out of that loop for WAY too long.  I am overqualified for what most people do for a living, and under-qualified for everything but law, teaching and writing..and coaching.  And the competition for “jobs”  is brutal.

In June the part time job I still have—have had for 3 years—reduced my student load (they are in trouble for reasons related to the for profit model, and clearly their fault, not economic issues—they cater to the military, which is NOT laying off folks!) I have received no raise in three years, although the costs of everything has risen. Needless to say I have no UI benefits and–in my first attempt to avail myself of UI benefits  IN MY LIFE– the Unemployment Insurance people have done little but jerk me around. It is quite amazing how badly that system is r5un.

The school, with its 30% profit margin (I was told)  has alwaystreated us part timers—without whom they could not operate at said  profit—badly. I never had a  job description. I keep finding out I am expected to do more and more—none of which I was never told was part of this job. It seems I am supposed to make sure each students stays enrolled. (That is business development, NOT teaching.) I overheard this–no one told me. I admit it–this gets me REALLY cranky.

In  mitigation… well, I get to set my own hours. The job was/is portable. (I now have mote then two  students again.) There is no appreciation (what –am I crazy??) and communication has ALWAYS been non existent. (The few facts I have gleaned have come from telephonic faculty meetings, never from my bosses.) Welcome to corporate America… where profit is king and management does NOT UNDERSTAND that without workers THERE CAN BE NO PROFITS.

Last year, a good half employees surveyed said they were unhappy:” Forty-seven percent of employees surveyed say they feel very strong loyalty to their employers, down from 59 percent three years ago.” http://www.mediabistro.com/prnewser/metlife-study-finds-employees-are-stressed-and-uhappy_b18141

See also:

“Workers have grown steadily more unhappy for a variety of reasons:

– Fewer workers consider their jobs to be interesting.

– Incomes have not kept up with inflation.

– The soaring cost of health insurance has eaten into workers’ take-home pay.”

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/01/05/national/main6056611.shtml

Oddly, Americans seem oblivious to the fact that nowhere else is access to health care tied to employment: that this was an unintended consequence of measures taken to combat the REAL Great Depression, as it happens. In every other civilized country, it also bears noting, workers are guaranteed paid vacation.

We are used to the illusory security of a paycheck–and we have been oblivious that the goal of a corporation is to make the owners rich. We are fairly happy until that illusion is taken away, when we are laid off–to make those same owners slightly richer. Then it is a rude awakening. Instant vacation… and no money to enjoy it. Businesses lose customers, the economy gets worse, and there is a downward spiral. Everyone  blames someone else. The robber barons blame th4e unemployed. But this time…it is GLOBAL.

And now there are protests. Thirty years down the road from the beginning. I hope “OWS”stays collaborative. The fat cats ain’t gonna fix this! Welcome to the 21st century.

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May the “Force” be With You…

September 20, 2011 Leave a comment

When you get that long awaited job, there is hope and anticipation. You will be able to hold your head up. You will be able to pay your bills. You will be.. an indentured servant? It may well feel that way, all too soon.

Sir Richard Branson, a well known and successful business man thinks poorly of American attitudes toward our workforce, (and I agree with him!) “Sir Richard Branson, the British entrepreneur who has started about 300 companies, doesn’t think much of American policies regarding flextime and vacations. He calls the amount of holidays “horrendous…. Branson says that in the U.S, companies seem to believe that employees should work for them full-time or not at all. But many employees would love to have a job where they can job share, work part-time, or take 6 months of leave. Employees are too scared to ask, he says… American vacation policies stink, Branson says. Branson believes that employees need time to see their children, to reenergize.” (HR Daily Advisor, September 14, 2011)  What a concept. Life outside work. (No more 30 days paid leave in civilian life, you know.)

And these lovely managers use emotional force to get the obedience they think they deserve:  check this out: “What ‘job leveling’ means, in plain English, and how it’s applied to align employees’ actions and behaviors across the workforce”. I don’t know about you  but I feel this describes a bull dozer. ..leveling all in  its path.

A”s the U.S. economy improves, complaints about pay compression (employees drawing similar salaries despite big differences in their experience, skills, and seniority) will simmer out of control in many workplaces. “BLR®—Business & Legal Resources 9-12-11 More happy thoughts! Simmering resentment. I wonder why?

There are American companies that have the human friendly attitude Branson has, where both customers and employees are happy. Find one! So again… the trick is the fit.  You may miss the sense of mission you had in the military, but you can be happy—with the right fit.

Values Really are Good Business

September 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Well, boys and girls, I took a brief break from this one sided conversation… to have some fun. Then today I had the opportunity to take my own advice. I went on a job interview. It was ALL about values. And it was a blast.

But don’t take my word for it: this from the Zappos CEO: “Hsieh revealed that the company hires for culture. Applicants go through two interview processes, one for “the normal things,” like skills and abilities and experience, and one for “cultural fit.” If applicants don’t pass the cultural fit interview, they won’t be hired, no matter how good their skills or how great their ability to contribute technically.” HR Daily Advisor, August 31, 2011.

In fact Zappos is so committed to the culture that once the possible hiree has been trained they are offered $3,000 to move on. “Bonus to Quit”

“Once people complete the 4-week training period, they are offered a $3,000 bonus to quit. It’s Zappos’ way of saying we only want people who really want to work here. Two or three percent of trainees take the bonus and leave, Hsieh says. Zappos believes that this is money well-spent as these are people who probably wouldn’t have lasted long anyway.

Hsieh says there’s also a positive effect on the trainees who stay. They’re just that much more committed for having rejected the departure bonus.”

HR Daily Advisor, August 31, 2011.

So I suggest you hang tough even if you are feeling that “I will never find the right job”—I sure had to but… I think I have hit pay dirt. I job I can LOVE and where I can be appreciated. Doing WHAT I DO BEST.

 

Stay tuned.

Interviews: How to Tell What The Values Of The Company Are

This gleaned from an HR publication: “The interviewing process is rife with opportunities for problems. For example, it’s important to avoid certain subjects, such as conversations about the applicant’s spouse or children. Some brief “small talk” at the beginning of an interview about the applicant’s child playing in the local soccer league may seem harmless, but it can quickly turn into evidence that you didn’t hire the applicant because you were worried she would need to leave work early because of her child’s extracurricular activities. “

(BTW, for the same reason using Facebook to research a candidate is legally dangerous.)

“Another danger spot is interview notes. Remember that any notes you take during the interview could become evidence at trial if the applicant files a lawsuit over your decision not to hire. Therefore, you must be cautious about the types of notes you take and how they relate to the applicant. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t take notes. It simply means you should make notes with the understanding that they could appear in letters six inches high in front of a jury.” http://hrdailyadvisor.blr.com/archive/2011//15/HR_Policies_Procedures_Discrimination_Smoking_Gun.aspx?source=HAD&effort=114

Note that the emphasis hear is fear and defensiveness. If you are looking for a job that matches your values you may wish to avoid this company… unfortunately this is the received wisdom” in HR—which is where I got this information! As I mentioned previously, if your interviewer seems preoccupied with their agenda… beware!  Sorry to be so alarmist but this IS the gestalt of Human Resources.

Look for a company that is NOT afraid. A company that is afraid of who will sue them next is NOT lookg for the real values of their “human capital. They are looking  for tier hid oarts– and probably because they have somethig to look out for.

You can do better.

Non Toxic Management

I seem to be off a tear about workplace culture. I suspect it is in part because it has been so very long since I was in a good one! I became a lawyer in the 80s when there was still a shred of civility and honor in the profession. Of course, my first job I was pretty thrilled—I had worked VERY hard to get there. But it was nit a bad place to work, although our offices were cramped. The form was three women friends and me and a few secretaries. It was more like a family than most law offices. I learned a lot.

 

Then I heard that this firm in Los Angeles was hiring. (I got all my jobs through people I knew—often opponents who thought well of me.) I had been doing plaintiff work and this was an insurance defense form—what is now called “captive counsel.” We had a separate office from the insurance side but did not have billable hours. The other attorneys were pretty decent, the hours were reasonable and the location was good. Looking back it seems almost idyllic. (I left for more money and a shorter commute.. and HATED my new job.)

Since then I have not had a law job that was not toxic. So maybe I am prejudices or jaded. But my non law jobs (teaching) have been pretty awful, too. I see corporations placing profit above both employees and customers routinely. So… I think NON toxic workplaces may be the exception. (Anyone reading this who disagrees feel free to chime in.)

Here’s an opinion found on the web: “Meaningful work and a sense of value within the organization are indeed powerful elements of employee engagement. All work is meaningful and valuable (otherwise, why would you be paying people to do it). The trick is for management to help employees see that meaningfulness and personal value, especially during this tough economy and often stressful workplace environment.” http://www.tlnt.com/2011/08/09/a-key-to-better-employee-engagement-having-meaningful-work/

I agree with this chap—but I wonder how many managers do? I know a lot of my military students were in the medical corps, and happy taking care of people. They did not have to worry there about billing or profits, what will they find when they seek employment in the civilian for profit world?

I wonder.

Best Places to Work are Employee Owned—or VALUE YOU!

In the 1990s an Orange County California company (alas, I have blanked on  the name) made a huge profit–which it shared with employees. The company was written up: bosses worked along side the regular workers on  the floor. No one spent their “bonuses” on stupid things–toys. (One employee borrowed a Porsche and drove it to work just to watch everyone’s face—then told them it was a joke.) They paid down their mortgages and debts. This is great place to work.

Elsewhere, a “study shows that the overwhelming success of companies like UK-based John Lewis is due to innovative mechanisms to encourage employee participation and cultivate a culture of ownership. Andrew Bibby explores how this company model of a fully or majority employee-owned business is not only self-sustaining and successful, but is in fact widely applicable.” http://www.ilo.org/wow/Articles/lang–en/WCMS_081375/index.htm

In the 90s employees were given “ownership” via ESOPS—a form of stock—but that did not work out all that well, as the airline industry shows. Many have suffered financially despite a degree of “ownership” by employees. Southwest may be an exception: here’s what their blog said in 2009: “Another thing that’s unique about Southwest is its sense of humor,” says Colleen. “We use words that corporate America doesn’t. Our stock exchange symbol is LUV. We give employees a lot of freedom. We don’t want them to be cookie-cutter copies of each other. When most people go to work, they take off their personal demeanor.”

Sounds like a great place to work to me.

Another company rated well by employees: “Treating their workers well was one of the reasons DPR Construction, a national company of 1,200 employees (130 in Orange County), ranked high in the meaning survey. Workers are free to pursue their passions and are cherished by management, said Jim Washburn, the company’s regional leader. The company also landed on Forbes “100 Best Companies to Work For” in 2010.http://www.ocregister.com/articles/company-279352-school-work.html

Bottom line.. don’t just work—work for joy and appreciation!

Managers Call In Sick More Than Employees

Seen in USA Today: more evidence it pays to be careful where you work. A poll of 60,651 people taken by Replicon shows that managers used 3.6 sick days a year and non management employees used 2.8. It also showed summer is the time most folks call in sick, which does make for some suspicion as to the possibility the sickness is either fictitious—or from too much fun in the sun.https://secure.smartbrief.com/news/bscai/storyDetails.jsp?issueid=9C7E624E-A806-48C0-A7F7-7CA7B00B51D2&copyid=5F53DC70-D9AA-4DFC-A7C3-40BE457E739E

What does this say to job seekers? Note that in the US, no vacation time is mandated by law: “The U.S. federal government dictates that employees are given exactly zero paid holiday and vacation days a year (that means, if you get such things, it is because your employer is being generous/in a benefits arms race with other employers). In most countries workers gat paid vacation by law: “In every country … except Canada and Japan (and the U.S.), workers get at least 20 paid vacation days.  In France and Finland, they get 30… an entire month off, paid, every year.”http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2010/01/31/paid-holidaysvacation-days-in-the-u-s-versus-other-oecd-countries/

What this says to me, boys and girls, is you really had best do what you love, and love what you do. And if you really DO love what you are interviewing for this will be very clear in the interview.

Now, some of you will be interviewing for management jobs. This means more pay—and more stress. So, again—if you love the job, and dare I hope PEOPLE, you are once again at the top of the heap.

Just remember… everyone can’t finish first. That is one reason this blog is not for everyone. Only those seeking true excellence and service.