Same to you, boss.

I don’t read business sections terribly closely, but this item from the NYT caught my eye this morning. It’s about the attitudes of workers in their 20s and 30s — their attitudes toward their employers, that is. A taste:

These younger workers are often viewed as demanding, self-absorbed and presumptuous, but also as ambitious, free-thinking and eager to learn. They form “a dramatically different labor market that is changing not just the way people are hired and fired, but also how they view their jobs, their employers and their careers,” … Because of an unsettled economy and an employment market that has not been kind to these workers, they think there is no reward for loyalty and are reluctant to make long-term commitments. Though they have been called disloyal and unwilling to pay their dues, the reality is that they are adapting to a workplace in which “corporations broke the old arrangement unilaterally…They’ve seen what’s gone on with their parents’ generation, and a lack of trust in the corporation is a perfectly rational response to that.”

I remember, at one point in the last few years, thinking that eventually the bean-counters — who were able to put a price on what their employees were worth down to the damn penny, and calculate so neatly how much they could afford to lose if they raised the cost of health care while lowering the cost-of-living raises — would have to finally put a price on what the rest of it would end up costing. In other words, they’d have to face the music and realize that while they were slashing costs to make the quarterly numbers, they were breeding a culture of distrust and indifference in their own work force.

Looks like that’s finally happened.


Posted at 7:08 am in Uncategorized |

14 responses to “Same to you, boss.”

  1. Colleen said on October 28, 2003 at 8:44 am

    Yeah. What you said. Nanny nanny boo boo to the employers. The NERVE of those Xers…wanting to know what their SALARIES and BENEFITS are going to be! Wanthing to know what’s in it for THEM! Tsk.

    I’ve never understood why the benefits for the employee are the last thing talked about, and why they are treated like some dirty secret. Newsflash…lots of us don’t work just for the warm fuzzy feeling it gives us, we work for the money. Fuzzy feelings are just a nice bennie. Tell me what I can earn before we waste everyone’s time with an interview.

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  2. Nance said on October 28, 2003 at 8:56 am

    I like the part where the HR recruiter says that young applicants “never ask where the company is going to be in 10 or 15 years.” Yeah. Maybe because they’ve learned the hard way — or their folks have learned the hard way — that it hardly matters, when companies are not lovingly shepherded by one caring steward, but squeezed like lemons by a string of CEOs who also don’t care what the long-term plans are.

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  3. alex said on October 28, 2003 at 9:04 am

    Wow–that’s precisely the phenomenon I’ve been a part of now for nine years. And, yes, it’s really tight these days. Very little work available in my field.

    In one of my last long-term gigs, I fell out of favor because of the “face time” thing. I’d been accustomed to working with a creative director and a V-P of advertising who loved their contractors and knew they’d get the best work out of us if they just let us do our thing and didn’t make us play office.

    In a big shakeup, they were gone, replaced by people with the old-school attitude. The new boss wanted me sitting in on meetings that had nothing to do with me or my job, never mind I’d get paid for my time. She wanted a strictly deferential attitude. And she was a suit–not a creative–who got stuck in a position way out of her league, so she tended to micromanage everything we did because she didn’t trust us.

    All in all, it made for a poisonous workplace. And right now they’ve gone back to hiring. They’ve got two permanent full-timers doing what I was doing part-time. Either they’re not very competent or they must be incredibly bored because the workload in that place simply doesn’t justify their positions.

    The NYT piece is dead-on, I must say. I’ve acquired more skills as a contractor than I ever did as a permanent employee. In the corporate world, they act like it’s such a big privilege when they finally let you do something any moron could do. The places where I’ve contracted were always glad to have people who could just dig in and have at it. Having demonstrated that I wasn’t afraid of work, I managed to get plenty of it. In fact, I’d be the one they’d call to help pick up the pieces after a big bloodletting. I learned to do all kinds of jobs.

    Not sure what my next step will be. My primary concern is making ends meet. The NYT piece says the Gex-X and Y-ers don’t want to pay their dues. At 42, I’ve paid my dues many times over and don’t want to go back to another dead-end job in a demoralized workplace.

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  4. Chan S. said on October 28, 2003 at 9:34 am

    Heh. Payback’s a whelping Pomeranian.

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  5. ashley said on October 28, 2003 at 10:32 am

    That’s exactly one of the reasons why I bailed, got my Ph.D., and got a professor gig.

    Tenure rules.

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  6. Randy said on October 28, 2003 at 11:17 am

    Best example of an old school/new school clash I can think of:

    My colleague was sent to a conference last year, and our employer wanted to save money on her airfare by getting a Saturday stopover. She spent a full day cooling her heels in the conference city, and gave up a weekend with her family to save the company money.

    She asked if she could have a day off in lieu of the day she spent on the road, and was told that “professional development is a perk, and anyone who wants compensation for a perk won’t be getting any more perks”.

    We have now instituted “perk time” for all the extra hours we put in here and there that our employer thinks we should just give away. We are just awful, us Gen Xers.

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  7. alex said on October 28, 2003 at 11:54 am

    Perk time–now there’s an idea!

    When I think back on all the down time I had in full-time salaried jobs, and the evenings and weekends I had to spend in the office when poorly managed projects were in crisis, being paid hourly as a contractor seemed a much better deal for me, and for the company, too.

    (It also allowed me to stay above the fray of office politics, which are always much more venomous in an atmosphere where everyone’s fearful of getting shitcanned on a moment’s notice.)

    To me there’s nothing worse than having to sit in an office with nothing to do and not being allowed to make use of my time in any other way than pretending to look busy. If there’s nothing to do, I shouldn’t have to be there. If there’s something to do on a weekend, fine, that’s when I’ll be there.

    Reading this thread today is strengthening my resolve to remain self-employed, but these days finding a free-lance gig is just as hard as finding a full-time job. Sometimes I wonder if it’s not who you know but who you blow.

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  8. Nance said on October 28, 2003 at 12:08 pm

    Here’s my favorite Saturday-stopover story:

    A newspaper which shall remain nameless brought a job candidate in for an interview over Thursday and Friday. They told her they were sending her back Sunday to save money, and she valiantly agreed, but they neglected to arrange any sort of Saturday activities/lunches/whatever — they basically left her in her hotel room in a mid-size midwestern city which shall remain nameless, and also has a really, REALLY dull downtown.

    So she watched a Spectravision movie in her hotel room.

    When the bill arrived, the editor of the newspaper wrote her a furious letter, demanding reimbursement for the…ready? Ready? Yes, the outrageous, inexcusable SEVEN-DOLLAR charge.

    To her credit, she wrote him a furious letter right back, and didn’t take the job.

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  9. Jennifer said on October 28, 2003 at 2:06 pm

    What’s the point in asking about “long term?” Most likely if they hire you, they’ll lay you off this year, or the next year, or at the very latest in three years because you’re at the bottom of the totem pole.

    The place I’m at now has a lot of long-term workers, but I want to laugh when someone who’s been there forever gets celebrated for all their time. Being a young’un, I know I certainly won’t still be hired here in a few years at the most. “Career status,” my arse.

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  10. Bob said on October 28, 2003 at 3:32 pm

    What’s with all the bitching about Saturday stopovers? I’m often puzzled by all the unimaginative nincompoops who think the only way to spend time out of the office is at home in familiar surroundings with familiar friends, and who spend their down time on business trips in hotel bars or in their rooms watching crap on cable. They can’t contemplate recreational diversion in any form other than a fancy pre-packaged vacation at some popular mass-destination spa or resort, sharing all their “unique” experiences with all the other unimaginative nincompoops.

    When I worked for GE, and later for Lincoln Life, I grabbed at every Saturday stayover I could get. Usually, the company was quite willing to pick up the extra night in the hotel and the extra day on the rental car, because the savings in air fare more than made up for them. I had a day on the company’s tab to explore local historic sites and scenic venues and soak up some of the local color. Some of those stayovers were in backwater places, but I always felt like the time was well spent. You don’t have to be in a tourist mecca to find interesting experiences, unless you’re an unimaginative nincompoop.

    I even had a pretty good time in Youngstown for a couple of days. I’ll admit, going beyond that might have stretched things.

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  11. danno said on October 28, 2003 at 5:23 pm

    Boy, somebody has finally had the balls to tell it like it is!! Even working for state or local govt. isn’t a ‘sure thing’ anymore!!!! Fuck the CEO’s and their fuckin umbrellas too!! Have you been following the lawsuit between Conseco and Steven Hilbert?? Want a good laugh??!!

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  12. Randy said on October 28, 2003 at 5:55 pm

    I once had a Saturday stopover in Omaha. Truly, there is very little to do in Omaha without a guide.

    I sat in the hotel bar and drank Jack Daniels and Coke, renewing my tawdry affair with American cigarettes while listening to two rednecks debate whether you should stop and help someone you just hit with your car. When they agreed that you wouldn’t have to help a black guy, I figured it was time to go back to my room.

    Good times…

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  13. Bob said on October 28, 2003 at 6:22 pm

    Like I said, unimaginative…

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  14. Bob said on October 28, 2003 at 6:48 pm

    Back on topic, I’ve had experience with the way companies fill what should be full-time professional jobs with temps, to avoid paying decent compensation and benefits.

    In 1988 my employer, a local systems integrator who is no more, eliminated me and several other employers in an effort to recover from the effects of fiscal malfeasance by one of the principals of the company. Problem was, they tried to recover without ditching the guy who caused the problem, and without his ceasing the malfeasance. A few months later they were dead, but that’s another story about corporate jackals.

    The job search didn’t go very quickly; the typical IT help wanted ad read something like, “Seeking 25-year-old MBA in computer science with fifteen years experience in a system exactly like ours.”

    To tide me over, I signed on with a temp agency and was promptly placed in a part-time data-entry slot in a magnet wire plant. I had previously worked several years for another magnet wire manufacturer, and knew the product lines and technology well, and the boss soon found enough work to give me 40 hours a week. The job I was doing would have paid around $25 – $30K plus benefits as a full-time regular employee, and I was pulling in a rollicking $5.25/hour with no benefits other than workman’s comp if I got hurt on the job. Overtime applied only if I worked more than 40 hours in a calendar week, and I got no paid vacation or holiday time.

    Magnet wire manufacturing is a continuous process, and wire mills generally run 24/7, holidays included. I worked (and I mean WORKED) Thanksgiving Day and the Friday after, both holidays on the company calendar, for $5.25 an hour straight time, while the two twenty-something fork lift operators whose job requirements didn’t even include literacy, pulled down double time at $20 an hour looking at comic books in the office.

    After I carped long and persistently, the boss got me a big raise to $6, and told me that he was working on getting me a permanent slot if I was interested. Another manager whom I knew from my previous wire mill job informed me off the record that the company had a hiring freeze in place, and that any outside hires had to have personal approval from the CEO.

    After six months at hell-hole sweat shop, my job search paid off and I landed a good job with another company for $35K plus benefits and a $1,000 hiring bonus. That came about just a weak before what I had expected to be a bleak, impoverished Christmas.

    Oh, and about the comic-book browsing fork lift drivers — I read in the paper about a year later that one of them had been arrested, along with his brother. They had murdered their grandmother, rolled her body in a carpet, and stashed it in the attic of the garage at her lake home, and were looting her substantial assets to buy themselves new cars and such. What a waste! If they’d just been smart and careful enough to not get caught, their value systems would have made them CEO material.

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