The Way We Work is Broken & It’s Time We Face it
Many ask why we got ourselves into this political gridlock and many more questions where the divisive status of our great America comes from. There are many answers to these questions, but my perspective is grounded in seeing a chronic and dangerous problem in America today—the problem of work (or lack thereof!)
One of the rules of good management and one of good governance is that organizations (including political ones) should reflect the environments and culture in which they are embedded in order to function properly. If they are too different they tend to malfunction, because the differences between themselves and all their stakeholders cause issues an problems.
I think that one thing we can almost always conclude about the organization that we call the “United States Congress” is that it closely reflects the culture and environment in which it is located (after-all, that is what democracy is). Right now that reflection can be described as divisive and uncertain. But, there are other things that are reflected by Congress from the American people, and that is the value placed on a hard day’s work.
I heard a lot of criticisms of congress for “failing to do their jobs”—some even went as far as to say they shouldn’t get paid, and in response, some elected members of congress offered to donate their pay for the days that the shutdown was still on-going (albeit for different reasons than the ones I want to tell you about). Clearly, work ethic in congress is broken, but it’s only because work ethic in America is broken—congress is just us.
Only in America today can you have so many congressmen and women not do their jobs, while retaining their pay and not have a serious problem with voters. And perhaps, voters don’t have a serious problem with this, because voters themselves aren’t doing a full day’s work when they go to their places of employment every morning. I think it’s so much easier to let these things slide when you yourself benefit from the same trend of not doing your job at work.
Today in America it seems that’s its ok for people not to work. Gone are the days of sacrifice and the image of a sweaty man or woman coming home after a hard day’s labor feeling good about how much s/he has accomplished today, and after getting their second wind, they finish up by taking care of their family responsibilities and working around the house. Gone! Gone! Gone!
Now, Americans are asking for way too much pay and not delivering enough value—have you heard of all the manufacturing jobs moving to the ASEAN? Or perhaps IT jobs moving to India? Better yet, service jobs moving to the Caribbean.
Ah Yes! The most productive workers on the planet, you say—the metric is based on production per worker, but what they don’t tell you is that American workers have a lot more automated assistance from great software and machinery than any other workforce in the world. When you crunch the numbers you can’t differentiate between workers with no machinery and workers with machinery. In others words, that metric is based on the productivity of the automated machines as well. But workers demand double, triple and up to 10 times the pay of their Chinese competitors.
Sorry, I won’t pin any of our work ethic problems on the workers who, at least when compared with a white collar workers, like me, do A LOT MORE work. In my experience, we have an unbelievable and untracked amount of time wasting in the workplace today, especially by white collar workers, and as measured by current metrics, most of the waste is invisible to employers. Whether its Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or any other social network, or the myriad of bathroom going, chit chat, and procrastination routines that American white collar workers do today, it all amounts to billions, or even hundreds of billions (USD) of wasted productivity, and yet we all demand a relatively high salary when compared to millions of other workers in hundreds of other countries that do the same exact work.
Or perhaps we can look at the difference between CEO pay and worker pay. CEOs earn 273 times (on average) more than the average worker. I know we can make arguments that CEOs might have more social and human capital that they can demand a high salary for, but then we’d have to expect much better results from those CEOs than the average worker as well, and yet it is estimated that 38% of all CEOs fail in their duties to maintain or increase shareholder value.
Work is broken! Congress or not—its broken! We don’t reward work anymore; we reward short term-ism and perceptions epitomized in corporate balance sheets and income statements. So why shouldn’t congress do the same by also rewarding short term-ism and not doing their job(s)?
And, if you’re not convinced by all that then maybe we should look at the separation vs. job creation rates calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics which describe the percentage of open jobs in the US at any given time versus the number of people taking on new jobs. Estimates are that between 3 and 3.5 Million jobs at any given time go unfilled. Good or bad economic times change that number, but in no significant way, leading us to believe that our workforce isn’t seeking to update their skills so that they can take on a new job in a different field. The ratio of job applicant to jobs in construction is estimated to be 25 to 1, in the sciences it’s the complete opposite. And still, the American worker complains that there isn’t enough opportunities for him/her and thousands stop looking for a new job only months after they start and become beneficiaries of our tax dollars.
But, let’s say that the worker has a good work ethic, updates her skills, earns a good wage, and takes care of her duties, she might still not get rewarded for it because work in America is biased towards rewarding financial accomplishment, like who can build the biggest hedge fund and who has the audacity to risk their clients’ money on horrible investments—we saw that in the last recession. Work is broken!
Organizations reflect the culture and the environment in which they are embedded: Congress is only reflecting the work ethic so saliently displayed by fellow Americans.
When we do an honest day’s work, stay on top when it comes to fairness, pay equality, re-training our workforce, and demanding reasonable pay for a job well done—perhaps then, and only then, will congress really start to do its job like we ask it to, because simply put they are us and we are them!!!