April 14, 2013
February 28, 2013
Many advocates of pro-family work policies have expressed outrage over Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to ban work from home options. Mayer says she wants her employees to work in one location, which will let them interact more effectively. There is also the issue of control. Many employers want to see their employees doing the work.
I’m of two minds about this issue. On the one hand, work from home options give parents time to run errands and care for children while they complete their professional tasks. That’s a good thing for working parents. The negative side is that there is no separation of workplace and the home, and some companies will find a way to take advantage of what is presented as “convenience” or “flexibility.” One of my clients who works from home regularly puts in 10-12 hour days six days a week. He will take calls late night and on the weekends. In his case, work from home seems – at least to me – to be a very bad deal.
Of all industries, IT is most open to work from home relationships. If employees don’t like the Yahoo CEO’s new work arrangements, they will look for new jobs and Yahoo will end up losing talent. My concern is that all work from home options are not alike. Some are really work more – work all the time – schedules. That kind of work-life balance is not good for working parents or singles.
June 23, 2012
When reporters and commentators talk about the economy, they focus on unemployment. More sophisticated experts discuss falling wages and the loss of consumer buying power. Those are both very important topics. But there is another economic measure that impacts how we work and live: Productivity.
Whenever productivity is discussed, it is taken as a measure of the economy. It’s easy to assume that more productivity is a good thing. However, we also need to ask who benefits from productivity and who loses. As I said, salaries are flat, many benefits have been cut. Fewer people are doing more work. Who wins that game? Investors and company owners who get bonuses for productivity. Who loses? The people who are doing more work for the same or less compensation.
Every week clients tell me new stories about how they have been being asked to do more, to work late into the evening, to take work home. Across industries, workers feel stress and overburdened. At the same time, they are afraid to confront their managers because they need their job and the income it provides. We can measure an unemployment rate and productivity. It’s much harder to measure what people are feeling and how their jobs affect their lives. The next time you hear an economist gushing about increased productivity, remember that workers are paying the price, working more, leading less productive personal lives. They are not the winners in the productivity game.
August 16, 2011
Recently I’ve come across a few articles and books that make this claim: You can be happy at work if you just have the right attitude. In other words, you can “will” yourself to be happy. I’m all for making the best of any situation. However, this career management strategy strikes me as unrealistic and even dangerous.
In the preface to Working, Studs Terkel talks about how work hurts, how people attach themselves to their job, how they are wounded by a lost job. Nothing has changed since that book was published in 1974. In fact, with recent waves of salary cuts and layoffs, the pain may be increasing.
One of my clients was demoted and her pay was cut 20%. Should she will herself to be happy and stay in a bad place? Absolutely not. Should my client who has had his workday extended without compensation mutter affirmations and positive thoughts? No, he should making find a new job his #1 priority.
Anger is not healthy, but neither is passivity wrapped in new age jargon. If you’re unhappy at work, the situation is not likely to change on its own. Start looking for a new job – and lay off your employer. That will make you feel happy.
February 4, 2011
Writing in the February issue of Psychology Today, Carlin Flora explores “slashers,” people who have two careers at the same time. For some people, working two jobs is a great way to get through hard economic times. For others, it’s a strategy to ease into a career change. Others use their slash careers as a way to balance the job that pays the bills with the kind of career that feeds their passions.
What does it takes to have two careers? Flora says that “hustler personalities” are best fit for this role, since it often involves marketing one’s skills. She also says that good time management and organizational skills are need to balance both responsibilities. The article profiles the following types of slashers: computer geek/comedian, corporate recruiter, water aerobics instructor, PR coordinator/horror writer, and investment banker/bird trainer. These combinations tell us that people can balance the 9-5 with some other interest that will feed their minds and, in some cases, help fill the wallet. Think about “slashing.” It might be a new way to manage your career.
December 31, 2010
Huffington Post offers an interesting slide show about ten types of careers that have high rates of depression. While this overview is interesting, it doesn’t address a simple question: Does the job cause the depression? Some people are prone to depression. They may tend to take a certain kind of job. Again, the post is interesting, but don’t take it as anything more.
If your job is putting you in a bad mood, keeping you up at night, or driving you to tears, your mind and body are sending a message: it’s time for something new. No job and no salary can compensate for poor health. We need to value our lives as much as our jobs.
November 25, 2010
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.
September 11, 2010
An article on AOL’s Daily Finance site (via Huffington Post) explore the current psyche of working people in America. It’s not pretty. Half of all people surveyed said they would consider changing jobs once the economy improves. They report being overworked and under greater stress than ever before.
On the happy news front, the article claims that job postings have been up 10% each month since the beginning of the year. Employers need to be careful. It’s easy to beat people up when they are afraid and unable to move. Once the job market opens up, employers who ask for more while giving less will be the ones who suffer.
August 25, 2010
Writing in Yes! Magazine, Juliet Schor outlines a different model for employment – working sharing. This idea is catching on in the U.S., and it was one of the main reasons Germany kept a low unemployment during its recession. The concept is simple. Companies shorten the work week for some workers, hire new employees to work those hours. Government steps in and subsidizes the lost hours, so no employee loses income. This is an alternative to traditional unemployment.
Germany was not the only company to follow this model. Korea, Norway, the Slovak Republic, Japan, Belgium, Italy, and Finland used some version of shared work. 17 states in the U.S. gave employed workers unemployment benefits when their hours were cut.
Schor, a professor of Sociology at Boston College, thinks shared work could take a bad situation and turn it into an opportunity. Employees will be less stressed and have a better work life balance. There will also be ecological benefits because people will spend less and enjoy life more.
I really like this kind of thinking, which is common throughout Yes! However, I doubt that many American companies or citizens would buy the model. Recently some politicians were labeling unemployment benefits as “welfare.” We live in an era when screechy political and media voices can turn simple government programs into “Socialism.” What would they do with a common sense proposal like work share? This great idea is too radical for Tea Party Nation. It will be dismissed as “French.”
August 17, 2010
The Chicago Tribune reports that more people are working from home. Many people fantasize about being able to work in their pajamas. Frankly, it’s not that great of a fantasy. It’s still work. A deadline is still a deadline. Worst of all, there is no separation between where we work and where we live.
The people I know who work mostly from home often work 6-7 days a week. They get up early and stay up late to meet unrealistic deadlines. Where is the convenience? Also, work from home jobs often involve either part-time or contract status, which means little or no job security.
Work from home sounds good. For some people, it offers the ideal work environment. For many others, it’s not such a good deal. Consider all the angles before you decide to work from home.