Post of the Day
June 24, 1998
Subject: Re: Staffing in the 90s and 00s
I've been reading this thread with great interest about PeopleSoft's positive treatment of employees. Its reputation is one of the reasons I follow this stock. Meanwhile, I've done some research concerning people-related issues in employment. I would love to see the "sentimental" part which jrushton talked about materialize more, with PeopleSoft leading the way. Originally, I was just going to list 5 books to get readers to develop alternate perspectives, but after doing so, I felt I could not leave them hanging without explanation. While my post is long, for change to take place regarding treatment of people at work, it's going to take a grass roots approach where workers develop awareness.
Many high-tech companies now view the employee as an expense, not an investment. Even here from where I write, the technical hotbed of Silicon Valley, I see this getting worse when layoffs still occur. Some workers feel their only choice is to jump ship more often and demand more money in case they're laid off to pay high rents and mortgages. Consequently, a great deal of worker apathy is found here and other parts of America. Unfortunately, many others, from workers to upper management are in denial -- some still believe work by definition must not be enjoyable. Or worse, when something is wrong, because America has a very strong feeling about individuals controlling their fate, it's easy to believe the only ones who need fixing is the individual. Organizations then don't see worker-related problems like burnout as their responsibility too. They instead view employees as interchangeable parts, thinking if the local ones are too problematic, get others in developing countries who are anxious to work for a fraction. A number of Americans wonder, "If the economy is so great, why don't I feel any part of it?"
|"Many high-tech companies now view the employee as an expense, not an investment. "|
As I saw bits of this thread such as "cash vs. loyalty", "return to middle management", and "people getting tired of the Mercenary 90's", I remembered these topics as covered in books which may be your shocking wake-up call as to how some corporations view workers. Those of you who have asked the above question about the economy may finally get some answers.
1. "The Judas Economy: The Triumph of Capital and The Betrayal of Work" -- by Wolman & Colmosca. This is a highly controversial book where the chief economist of Business Week and his partner contest the overly optimistic view of the economy, including the myth that if you don't like corporations, quit and make it big as your own boss. It also touches on fads of the day like reengineering where Hammer says when he came up with the idea, he never thought about the effect on people regarding "doing more with less." One striking story shows how no industry, even high-tech, is immune from being sent offshore for profitability. For example, one hospital in Virginia which used to pay $25,000/yr. plus benefits per medical records clerk has replaced this department with a comparable one in India which does the work for only 10% of the cost. The advantage is that since the work is done 10 time zones away, when the remaining U.S. hospital staff goes to work the next morning, the records are all ready. And how do you transfer records over many miles? The same way you got here -- the Internet!
2. "America: Who Stole the Dream?" -- this book explains how people in America are working longer, yet are disgusted that even hard work won't protect them against layoffs. In terms of high-tech, you may be surprised to read here words from top executives of companies like HP and Intel who say that they no longer see themselves as American corporations, but instead, global ones. Consequently, if their competitors are getting cheaper employees from other countries, they feel no moral obligation because having one puts them at an economic disadvantage.
3. "White-Collar Blues" by Heckscher. Heckscher heads the Dept. of Employment Labor Studies at Rutgers. He conducted a study of 250 middle managers to see how they felt about the work ethic after all this change, esp. with more horizontal hierarchies. To his surprise, the managers did not seem more competitive to go after fewer management positions. He saw that instead of people viewing each other as enemies, they worked in isolation. He also noticed this spilled into the worker groups as well, when people only do as little as necessary to appear busy and do not interact much with each other.
4. "Work Abuse: How to Recognize and Survive It" -- by Wyatt & Hare. This book by two San Francisco workplace psychologists points out how 95% of Western organizations mistreat their workers, largely through the misuse of power. Apparently, PSFT is one of the 5% which does not. Wyatt & Hare contend that the only time you'll see the workplace treat workers better is when corporations see a direct economic correlation between positive treatment and profits. You can read more about this at http://pw1.netcom.com/~workfam1/
5. "Corporate Executions" by Alan Downs -- Downs was one of the country's top experts in orchestrating layoffs. But after one too many downsizings, he gave up that post. He talks about the extremely dispassionate way the AT&T layoffs took place. In order to downsize quickly, the group did not look at each division to decide which individual to keep and which to let go. Instead, each division was represented by a PostIt note. If the division was not profitable, its PostIt note would be ripped, and so would be gone all its employees just as mercilessly. This book also explains why Wall Street responds favorably to layoffs. (Downs now consults with companies towards other means, such as keeping workers during bad times by paying them for 4 out of 5 working days until the company recovers.)
|" It's easy to become depressed by this, yet at the same time, I've noticed getting more in tune to financial happenings such as via the Fool can constructively help you figure out your place, financially and emotionally."|
So I hope these books can help educate readers how to best proceed. It's easy to become depressed by this, yet at the same time, I've noticed getting more in tune to financial happenings such as via the Fool can constructively help you figure out your place, financially and emotionally.
And now, on a more informal basis within the world of high-tech regarding middle management positions . . . When speaking to recruiters, I hear them say, "Nobody wants to be in middle management any more!" When speaking to technical workers, they point out the high salaries are in prized specialized skills (oddly enough, some they mention are PSFT's products, along with competing SAP R/3, etc.) You also hear that one dread of working in high-tech Silicon Valley is how any layoff can come when a company has one bad quarter. And the ones who get cut first are not the ones with technical knowledge, but instead middle management! Another part which drives this is the oversold concept of "empowerment", the belief that with self-directed teams, who needs middle management?
There may be some turnaround soon. But as I once read in Fast Company, there are so many lies regarding the value of personal attributes by corporations. For instance, one you hear repeatedly is "People are our most important assets." As this article put it, "If corporations were really honest, they'd say, 'Financial assets are our most important assets.'" That's really nothing to be ashamed of; without great financial assets, none of us from stockholders to workers have an employer to appreciate. And every so often, you do hear of someone trying to address the human side, from an entrepreneur in Inc. Magazine who declared that no one in his company will work more than 40 hours a week to companies like PSFT. One can always develop awareness, plan and invest accordingly!