Why Work Sucks and What We Can Do About It
There is an actual book called Why Work Sucks. I learned about it reading Joan Blades's and Nanette Fondas's, The Custom-Fit Workplace: Choose When, Where, and How to Work and Boost Your Bottom Line, which answered that exact question -- and offered some concrete solutions.
As Blades and Fondas showed in their carefully researched book, The Custom Fit Workplace, 55 percent of American workers are unhappy at their jobs. Many have told pollsters that they would forego some pay in exchange for flexible work options. While job-sharing and other work flexibility tools exist, workers are reluctant to ask for them because we are in a recession.
But, actually, now is the time to ask, the authors argue. It may seem counterintuitive, but as Blades and Fondas laid out, flexibility is not only good for employee morale, but it is good for the bottom-line, too.
The hard part is asking. Allowing workers such flexibility calls not only for progressive management, but a complete change in our thinking and culture.
Today, our workplace does not work for most folks with caregiving responsibilities, or anyone who wants a life outside of work, because it is paternalistic. Even as we have moved from an assembly-line, industrial economy to an information, project-based one, work is set up for one person -- presumably a man -- to work long hours while someone at home -- presumably a woman -- cleans house and picks up after the kids. It is no wonder so many women in the workplace report being unhappy.
But it isn't any better for men, who, are more involved as parents and caregivers than ever before. Nearly 40 percent of men in 2008, compared to 19 percent in 1996, are their parents' main care provider, according to this article in the New York Times. Furthermore, with the decline of union jobs has gone a decline in worker rights. Thus we have this authoritarian work culture, in which workers are treated like children who must be micro-managed, and they are painted as slackers for requesting more flexible work options -- even if they would be working smarter!
As Blades and Fondas noted in their practical tips for employers, there is no evidence that offering flexibility -- with a trial period, which is key -- to employees will make them less productive, but actually, the opposite has occurred for those workplaces that have implemented such progressive policies, and have encouraged their workers to use them. Employers such as Costco, Cisco, SAS, Del Land, AT&T and Johnson Moving and Storage, have saved money on reducing staff turnover, energy costs -- AT&T actually closed an entire complex to let its employees work from home, saving the company $6 million -- and an increase in productivity as the workers, who reported being happier, were not embroiled in commutes and office politics.
Businesses have been able to utilize the skills of new mothers, by allowing them to bring their babies to work, or offering onsite childcare, or simply a safe place for women to express milk. Fondas and Blades were able to capitalize on nursing, tying a decrease in sick days to babies being nursed.
Companies save on re-training and recruiting new employees by allowing workers "custom-fit" jobs. And there are so many options out there for all kinds of industries and workers needing a certain schedule.
First of all, the custom-fit 21st Century workforce is a Results Oriented Work Environment, referred to in the book as "ROWE." The idea is it doesn't matter how many hours an employee takes to perform a job, but whether the job is done.
Of course, some jobs, like those at hourly-wage retail jobs, still require face time, therefore telecommuting is not an option. However, Fondas and Blades explored an array of options that may be a custom-fit, including baby-to-work programs and onsite childcare, job-sharing for workers who can't or don't want to work full-time, and ample time to let an employee know when he or she will work. For many retail workers, they often don't know what their schedules are even two weeks down the line. This proves to be a nightmare for the parent who must line up childcare, or folks caring for their parents. To imply that caregivers shouldn't participate in our workforce is unreasonable and should be unacceptable in modern society, which leads me to the important thing I gained from this book.
Custom-Fit Workplace allowed me to see the American workplace more clearly, and for the absurdity that it can be. When I was a scared 20-something, commuting and working in a newsroom, I felt guilty cutting out before 5 p.m., even if I got in at 7:30 a.m., had turned in my story and was merely surfing the Internet to pass time.
I'd use my sick days as mental health days because, at times, I felt burned out, especially after our company cut staff and imposed story quotas on the reporters. When our company started giving us an additional (unpaid) week's vacation in the wintertime, I admit, I was secretly thrilled because I needed the break. I needed money, too, but that week allowed me to recharge the batteries and come back stronger and more focused on my job.
Perhaps not surprisingly, I quit my job in favor of contract work after I had a child because the company demanded a commute, travel, plus a full 40 hours in the newsroom. There was no telecommuting policy, not even for a day. (I asked.)
The bottom line is this isn't the best nor most efficient model for a business to keep its employees and make money. Imagine what we would accomplish if work were less sucky for all?