Work Futures Weekly | For The Greatest Good Of Everyone
| Hard Work | Wellbeing? Ha! | US Treats Its Workers Worst | John Maynard Keynes | Bulletproof Backpacks | It’s Bosses, All The Way Down |
source: Chang Duong
Shelter Island NY — 2019–08–18| Perhaps weekly is the wrong word, but here are the highlights of the last few Work Futures Dailies I sent out.
The quote of the week is by John Maynard Keynes, and from which I’ve drawn the title of today’s weekly. I almost entitled this issue ‘Bulletproof Backpacks’ but that was a step too far, even for me.
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Poking in the Shadows: What about ‘Hard Work’? | We have to stop treating blue-collar work as an edge case
The great majority of the time, in the discourse about the future of work, we focus almost exclusively on the full-time managerial/professional/creative class, and exclude other groups from consideration, except as numbers in spreadsheets. So, freelance professionals and creatives — a growing population, perhaps 25% or more of the working population — are treated as an edge case, or as if they were indistinguishable from their full-time colleagues.
But the biggest edge case of all may be the working class, who are often involved in what I have called ‘hard work’ in the past: physical labor, like carpenters hammering nails, health care aides lifting patients from one bed to another, assembly line workers installing dashboards in a car factory, or waiters running meals from the kitchen to the front of house. Some of their jobs involve cognitive skills, similar to the ‘soft work’ of knowledge workers tapping their keyboards, but they may do their thinking standing up, with tools other than keyboards in their hands. They are the janitors cleaning the marble floors in the lobby when you come early to work, the security guards checking your badge at the elevators, and the folks wheeling in the sandwiches for a working lunch.
And much of their work is routine, which is a stark contrast to the trends for ‘soft workers’, where a premium is placed on creativity (at least conceptually), self-expression and innovation: the earmarks of ‘disruption’. This may put ‘hard workers’ at odds with the prevailing norms of today’s business culture.
The Economist turned me on to a new report, Employee Wellbeing, Productivity, and Firm Performance by Christian Krekel (London School of Economics), George Ward (MIT Sloan) and Jan-Emmanuel De Neve (Saïd Business School, University of Oxford). As the Economist noted, many American businesspeople consider ‘stakeholder capitalism’ a veiled form of socialist mumbo-jumbo:
The assumption is that firms which focus on stakeholders will struggle to survive in the Darwinian world of multinational business.
It is easy to be cynical about some of the language used by those who argue that employees should be treated better. One obvious example is a book called “Humane Capital” by Vlatka Hlupic, which includes a foreword by the Dalai Lama and is dedicated, portentously, “to humanity”.
But there is a serious point hidden amid its grandiose statements. Too many companies operate a top-down “command and control” system, Ms Hlupic argues, when they would be better served by giving employees more freedom to make their own decisions.
However, hard-headed executives will only be won round by hard facts. A convincing case can be found in a recent paper by Christian Krekel, George Ward and Jan-Emmanuel de Neve. The study, based on data compiled by Gallup, a polling organisation, covers nearly 1.9m employees across 230 separate organisations in 73 countries.
The authors studied four potential measures of corporate performance: customer loyalty, employee productivity, profitability and staff turnover. They found that employee satisfaction had a substantial positive correlation with customer loyalty and a negative link with staff turnover. Furthermore, worker satisfaction was correlated with higher productivity and profitability.
Of course, correlation does not prove causality. It could be that working for a successful firm makes employees more contented, rather than the other way round. However, the authors cite studies of changes within individual firms and organisations which seem to show that improvements in employee morale precede gains in productivity, rather than the other way round.
I wonder about business leaders that would have thought otherwise. But this lines up with other research I’ve reported on recently regarding the enormous benefits of psychological safety to the organization.
I think it’s amusing when the Economist suggests that a company that puts employee wellbeing first — ‘In short, staff will be treated as people, not as mere accounting units’ — will see great returns, but still goes on to refer to workers as ‘assets’.
Yes, America Is Rigged Against Workers | Steven Greenhouse says of all advanced industrialized nations, the US treats its workers worst:
The United States is the only advanced industrial nation that doesn’t have national laws guaranteeing paid maternity leave. It is also the only advanced economy that doesn’t guarantee workers any vacation, paid or unpaid, and the only highly developed country (other than South Korea) that doesn’t guarantee paid sick days. In contrast, the European Union’s 28 nations guarantee workers at least four weeks’ paid vacation.
Among the three dozen industrial countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States has the lowest minimum wage as a percentage of the median wage — just 34 percent of the typical wage, compared with 62 percent in France and 54 percent in Britain. It also has the second-highest percentage of low-wage workersamong that group, exceeded only by Latvia.
All this means the United States suffers from what I call “anti-worker exceptionalism.”
Academics debate why American workers are in many ways worse off than their counterparts elsewhere, but there is overriding agreement on one reason: Labor unions are weaker in the United States than in other industrial nations. Just one in 16 private-sector American workers is in a union, largely because corporations are so adept and aggressive at beating back unionization. In no other industrial nation do corporations fight so hard to keep out unions.
The consequences are enormous, not only for wages and income inequality, but also for our politics and policymaking and for the many Americans who are mistreated at work.
And unionization is rising for that reason.
Go read it.
Quote of the Week
Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.
| John Maynard Keynes
Bulletproof Backpacks in Demand for Back-to-School Shopping | A growing number of companies are marketing them to parents who are desperate to protect their children from gunmen. | A sad sign of the times.
It’s Bosses, All The Way Down | Conventional thinking about emergent leadership is all wrong. | Stowe Boyd
Originally posted on Work Futures on Medium.