#18 Are You a Knowledge Worker? (1998)

rat All Rights Reserved © 1998 Thomas W. Day

You know you're a knowledge worker when:

  • You are an expert in computer systems that have been obsolete for more than two decades.
  • You work in a cubicle and never see the light of day, but have to wear a tie/skirt/heels/dress shoes because of a company dress code. You can be fired for "abusing" the dress code.
  • The "knowledge" you've accumulated in the last five years could be doubled in a two day business seminar, but the disused skills you've lost took a lifetime to earn.
  • No one under the age of 30, and not employed by your company, can identify an application for your work experience.
  • Your boss doesn't know how to do your job and wouldn't do it if he could.
  • Your boss doesn't know how to do her job and gets promoted to a position she knows even less about. Her replacement is an tall, good-haired MBA grad in his first "real job."
  • When you complain about the mindless tasks that get dumped on your desk, your boss writes "not a team player" on your salary review.
  • When you don't complain about your boatload of mindless tasks, your boss writes "is not career-minded and does not make active contributions" on your salary review.
  • The company offers a $5,000 hiring bounty for high school dropouts with Microsoft IS certificates and extensive Mortal Combat experience. HR sends you an email "thank you note" for recruiting a new coworker into your department.
  • If it weren't for your coffee drip-line, you'd be asleep under your desk every morning by 9:30.
  • Your office computer is so obsolete it has a teletype for a printer. Your kids' toy computer has features that you don't recognize.
  • You boss, who doesn't know that spreadsheets can add numbers, has a 300MHz Pentium Pro with every bell and whistle known to nerddom. She uses her CDROM for a cup holder and asks you to print her email so she can read it.
  • Your request to telecommute is denied because your boss is worried that no one will know what he does if you're not glued to your desk or attending his meetings.
  • All of your hobbies are more technically demanding than your job.
  • If you're a man over 40, urinating may be more technically demanding than your job.
  • Regardless of sex or age, urinating is more satisfying than your job.
  • Although you can't convince management to hire enough people to do the department's job, your job is identified as "mission critical" when the company shuts down between Xmas and New Years. You are "given" unofficial comp days, in increments of no more than one day per month (and no Fridays or Mondays) until mid-January when management reshuffles and all comp days are cancelled because they violate company policy.
  • Because of your many years of experience and all-around importance to the company, you are asked to wear a clown suit at the company picnic. You make balloon animals for the junior fast-tracking executives.
  • When you turn in your notice, your boss asks you to put off leaving for three weeks so you can train your replacement. HR doesn't notice that the two weeks notice you provided in your resignation letter has extended an extra week. You don't get paid for that week.
  • You spend Sunday mornings looking at the job want ads, wondering how long it would take to learn to do any of the jobs you see listed.

All of your fears are unfounded. Every company with a CEO/CFO/COO or any executive with a title of "vice president of . . .." "director," or "executive manager of . . ." is totally clueless about the function of the business. Anyone with your valuable experience as a cog in the wheel of mindless bureaucracy will easily find a new home in one of the many replicas of your current employer. Don't worry, be happy.

April 1998


#17 Put on a Happy Face (1998)

All Rights Reserved © 1998 Thomas W. Day

The reoccurring theme I hear from Rat's Eye sufferers is "pretty hard on the MBA'ers aren't you, when are you going to say something happy?" Yep and probably in the next life.

I've misdirected my flames at the MBA'ers. I hit people when I aimed at institutions. Sorry about that. Honestly. There are lots and crowds of MBA'ers who deserve flaming, but oddly enough none of them are on this list. Wonder why? The MBA degree is just one idiot idea in a long history of educational institution idiot ideas. "Let's identify the least business-like organizations in the universe and have them teach kids how to manage businesses." Now there's a clever idea. Only academia would come up with something so . . . creative. Yeah, that's the word I wanted. If we are getting buzzed by aliens from superior planets, they must be laughing their asses off.

As a well-fed class of Americans, we're riding pretty high on our marginal economic success. Does the phrase "short-sighted" have any meaning these days? I guess there are reasons for hysterical laughter. Banks have to be loving our record credit card debt ratio. Some lawyers and accountants probably get a kick out of Depression quantity bankruptcies. The 40-some million people who are without health insurance must be somebody's wet dream. The fact that 20% of the children in the U.S. are living below the poverty line has to give sweatshop owners a lot of hope. "All that cheap labor and not a one of them old enough to bring a class-action suit." Those of us who are working and who do have health insurance have dimly accepted the golden handcuffs of middle class. "Turn in your aspirations and ethics at the door. This ain't no Sunday School." People are wealthier and more unhappy than anytime in modern psychological statistics-collected-in-malls history.

Bailing out of the economic reality zone, how about the happy world of politics? That's got to give us a lot of laughs. We have one side of the political isle, the Republicans, who are willing to destroy what little stability we have in the country to further their corporate welfare agenda. We have the other side, Democrats (in case you've been putting in so many hours at work you've forgotten what's what and who's who), who think eight years of Democratic leadership has kick-started the Great Society and the welfare state.

I worked for a company, only a few years ago, whose dimbulb executives insisted on "happy talk" at all meetings and public activities. "Whoopee! We're going broke and we only killed two patients this week." It doesn't take a crabby old man to figure out what motivates that kind of attitude. Ever hear of "golden parachutes?" The happier the working squids can be made to appear, the easier it is for the execs to con zombie investors into writing big "so long, it's been good to know you" checks. The hills and Aspen's mountains are alive with wealthy, retired execs who escaped just before the walls collapsed on the businesses they were supposed to be managing. Seven-eleven's are staffed with the people they used to mismanage.

The thing about the economy is that it seems to work independently of what is going on inside the economy. We do smart things, it crashes. We do dumb things, it booms. We do smart or dumb things, it does whatever the hell it's going to do, regardless. Bill Goodman said, of the entertainment industry, "Nobody knows anything." I say of the whole freaking world, "Nobody knows anything."

We're not smarter than the Japanese. That's not why their economy is crashing and ours is booming. It's just our time in the Midwestern weather pattern of world economics. We're still spending our kids future into oblivion. The national debt isn't shrinking, its growth rate has just slightly slowed. Social Security is still going down the tubes, and will be tubed about the time more of us than ever will be depending on it for our daily dose of dog food.

I'd love to spew happy talk. Honest. It's just that nobody's paying me to write happy talk, I'm as much a prostitute as anyone. So I write what I see until some of you start coughing up the big bucks.

April 1998


Managing Failure

A little while back, I spend a weekend working with two different mismanaged affairs: a training program and a computerized library system. Both organizations were cursed with the fatal flaw in the American workplace: gutless management.

From the top down, both organizations were blessed with a pretty decent workforce and management that had no clue how to manage or do any of the jobs in the business. A distinct lack of courage seemed to be integral to the management “style.” That manifested itself in an inability to “Say what you mean and mean what you say.” If all ultimatums will be moderated in real time, there is little point in listening to the original statements.


#16 Inventing or Stealing the Wheel (1998)

All Rights Reserved © 1998 Thomas W. Day
I work for a company that has taken the NIH Syndrome (Not Invented Here) to an incredible extreme. We're so proud of reinventing the wheel that we call spokes "endpoint clockwise-threaded drawn steel rods centrally affixed to the inner and outer circular attachments" (our terms for "rim" and "hub" would require a paragraph apiece). And, no, we still haven't decided what color the wheel should be for maximum consumer appeal. (If you don't recognize a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe reference, you disgust me.)

Our only exception to this behavior is when the Big Cheese of our industry (affectionately known as "Big M") has defined some completely idiotic practice as a "standard." When we hire away one of M's underachieving executives, we almost always adopt a few of those "standards," so that our products always reflect a consistent corporate incestry. But this doesn't really have an effect on the general atmosphere of doing things "our way." It, mostly, applies to Marketing and our irrational tendency to let MBAs mismanage critical tasks.
One of the most important men of the 20th Century, guitarist Jeff Beck, once said "Amateurs borrow, professionals steal." I think Mr. Beck was referring to riffs and blues songs not copyrighted by American black artists from the 1930's and 40's, but it applies to most everything. If it's out there, and it works, steal it, use it, sell it, and tell your lawyers you got the idea while you were chewing on a mildewed corner of a shower curtain.

Whatever you do, don't waste time trying to find a new way to do an old task. This isn't the way to true and original science, but it is the way to get things done fast and reasonably well. And that's the absolute best anyone can ever expect in MBA-land. Our bottom line is not "excellence," the bottom line is all there is. The best way to make sure you make money today, and a little more tomorrow, is to make "baby steps" (a term borrowed from a particularly irritating person in my employment history). Screw going for a homerun. Just get to first and keep working your way around the bases till you score. (We're still talking business here, but apply the rules where they fit.)

The easiest way to take those baby steps is to "reverse engineer" what someone else is already doing. "Reverse engineering" is the business term for steal it and say you didn't. The really cool thing about idea theft is that it is often considered polite. "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." I am always polite, when it's convenient.

Business theft also so well entrenched that no one knows who stole what from who, anymore. Look at the Lotus vs Microsquash suit from a few years back. Lotus claimed that Excel™ had the "look and feel" of Lotus 123™. Those of us who've been fooling with computers for a few years/decades remember a strong resemblance from 123 and a rusty Apple-based spreadsheet, Visicalc. SuperCalc also appeared a bit before 123 (on CP/M machines) and was doing the job with similar commands and a lot more friendly user-interface. Borland's Quattro introduced three dimensional spreadsheets, also on CP/M machines, which Lotus immediately copied. After wasting a bag of taxpayer money, the court figured all this out and sent Lotus back to work, building awful software for a living.

If you ever wanted proof that the business world turns on theft, go to a car show. I did, a few weekends ago, and I spent the afternoon trying to find the new Volkswagen Beetle and the Dodge Prowler. It's not that I would ever consider buying a new car. I just wanted to find something in the show with a micron of individuality to use as a landmark in the sea of Acura clones. It's a wonder that all these doofus car makers don't join together into one giant company and save themselves the trouble of making all those repair parts. They could still label the cars they ship with their brand name. It's not like we can tell them apart as it is.

Business ethics, an oxymoron if there ever was one, has made theft part of its SOP. But that's probably not a completely bad thing. If it weren't for idea inbreeding, we'd all still be fooling with beads on sticks, or slide rules, or going barefoot so that we could keep track of more than ten cows. It's human nature. We see a neighbor doing something smarter than we do it and we change. I keep waiting for my neighbors to figure out how much time they're wasting mowing their yards.

And there is probably a good reason for the existence of the NIH Syndrome. Somebody still has to figure out what color the wheel should be. If so many goofs weren't keeping themselves so obviously worthlessly occupied, how would we be able to figure out who belongs on the "B-Ship?" The rest of you, go find something to steal and I hope you make enough money to retire someplace warm and sunny.

April 1998


Staying Alive for Who?

I had a heart attack in November of 2012. After a weekend stay in a local hospital and surgery that ended up costing my insurance company more than $100,000 and me about $10,000, I left the hospital with a bag of drugs and $200 worth of cardiac stent in my chest. Two months later, I had a “follow-up” appointment with my doctor and almost by accident he pointed me at a book about diet and heart problems, Why We Get Fat: And What to Do about It, by Gary Taubes. The discouraging thing that I learned from this book and subsequent research related to the references in Taubes’ book is that American doctors are uneducated, uninterested in healthcare, and mostly doing what they do out of greed and ignorance rather than a sincere attempt to provide a useful service to their community.

This is entirely consistent with something I realized at least 20 years ago. Sometime in the 1950’s American doctors were forced to decide if they wanted to be respected, honored contributors to society or be rich. Like all humans, 90% of doctors are weak, greedy, lazy, and stupid and they picked “rich.” Since then, community hospitals became privatized. Medical decisions began to be made at the upper levels of hospital administration, followed by the acquisition of locally owned hospitals by corporate conglomerates where those medical decisions became even less medical and more financial. The best part of this story is that most doctors didn’t even get rich out of their foolish, greedy, lazy decision. Even worse for docs, we don’t think enough of their owned-by-Big-Pharma opinions to listen to them if feel even a little slighted. Doctors, like car mechanics, are just a commodity and we’ll swap docs on a whim if we don’t like their manners.

If you take an interest in your own healthcare, you will find that information about why, where, and who is decidedly unavailable. Try asking your doctor about the model and brand of hip or knee replacement, cardiac, or any other medical device he’s recommending. You will find that it is treated as something that “is none of your business.” The doctor is only doing what he’s told to do, protect the hospital administration from lawsuits by keeping patients (now called “customers”) as stupid as possible. You’re worried about the government interfering with medical decisions? Fuck that. I’ll take a government bureaucrat over a corporate asshole any day. I can change my government. Nothing short of bullets or jail time will change a CEO’s decisions. CEO’s buy and sell governments like gumballs or popcorn.

factory-farm-chickens About a month after my cardiologist follow-up, I decided that the medications I was given were so contraindicated for both my condition and my medical history that I gave them all up. Two of the six meds were contraindicated for patients with depression history: like me. Two of the meds were for high blood pressure and are contraindicated for use together: I do not have high blood pressure. Two of the meds were for early post-surgery use and should have been discontinued but weren’t because doctors don’t bother to learn much about the drugs they’re told to prescribe. Pretty much everything I learned about my cardiologist’s treatment was that he’s just going through the motions. He’s peddling drugs, because a drug company has bought his hospital administration, and devices because a device company sent him to an “educational seminar” in the Caribbean Islands last winter. If I die tomorrow because he over-prescribed me with contraindicated drugs and implanted a device that the FDA will recall in a couple of months, it’s no skin off of his neck because the whole US medical system is bought and paid for and I have about as many rights as a patient as a Tyson Farms chicken.

When I had my first heart attack, my only symptom was a neck ache that felt suspiciously like pressure in my carotid artery. The first doctor I saw, at my usual clinic on a weekend where I was seen by one of their reject “emergent care” docs who couldn’t accurately read a 12-lead ECG and mis-diagnosed my problem. After an overpriced joy ride to an emergency room in a glorified panel truck driven by a pair of goofballs who couldn’t insert an IV with a hammer if my veins were a foot wide and deep, I eventually was seen by a real doctor with real tools who found a “slightly elevated” enzyme “marker” that indicated possible cardiac damage. Three days later, I left the hospital worried about my new implant (based on 10 years in the medical device industry and way too much knowledge of how corrupt doctors and medical corporations are) and a whole lot poorer.

30 years ago, a friend had a heart attack and after he was revived with external defibrillation he told his doctors that if they ever did that again he would shoot them dead at the first opportunity. He started carrying a snub-nose .32 in his pocket just in case, afterwards. I think that might have to be my response. I just don’t think American doctors know enough about medicine to be helpful and I know they can be dangerous, stupid, and lazy enough to do some serious damage. Now that I qualify for Medicare, I’m not sure I want it.


#15 Athletes as Executives (1998)

rat All Rights Reserved © 1998 Thomas W. Day
The baseball strike of 1994 and beyond, the expressed shock at Reggie Lewis’ supposed drug use, and the regular athletes-are-bad-guys editorializing in our local newspapers has made me reconsider what athletes are to our culture.  Doing that made me realize that athletes have been raised above the standard we require for government officials, corporate executives, professionals such as lawyers and doctors, and even coaches.  I guess this is one more sign that our country’s priorities are so screwed up that even sports no longer make sense.
I guess this resorting of occupational importance occurred because salaries for athletes are so widely known and so incredibly large.  The big money part applies to  a whole category of people who’s performance is a lot more important to the country, but we don’t hear about the money they make through the daily papers and television. 
Face it, if a basketball player gets paid a few million as one member of a dozen person team, it’s pretty obvious—even to a half-bright sportswriter—that the team owner is raking in a whole lot more money for that investment.  That is, simply, how business works.  But you never see sportswriters criticize owners for being overpaid, under motivated, and under talented.  Anyone who has looked closely at the problems in American business knows that the source of our market failures is consistently a management failure.  Why would a sports team’s failures be any different? 
At the top end of American business, we’ve had a collection of executive goofballs expose their ignorance and incompetence on a constant basis, but how often does a local newspaper or television station run an expose on those bozos?  Next to never, unless they rake off a few billion in a local savings and loan and the Feds are hauling them to jail.  The press doesn’t usually catch that until the company PR spokesperson issues a “we are not idiots and/or crooks” press release.  What kind of outrage do you think the press would express if a Fortune 500 executive spent a few months drying out with Betty Ford?  It happens all the time and the press says nothing, even though these people are responsible for thousands of jobs and millions of dollars.  The standard simply isn’t the same and you have to wonder “why?”
Athletes don’t get any kind of consideration for privacy or, even, humanity.  For one, they aren’t from the ruling class.  They are working class, for the most part, who make ruling class salaries.  Apparently, that salary covers a lot more than payment for athletic performance.  Judging by the standards sportswriters seem to hold for athletes, their salaries include an obligation to assure sportswriters with employment.  Athletes may also be our middle class frustration scapegoat.  The ruling class has always done its best to find us someone to point fingers at, other than themselves, so that they can avoid making a cultural contribution equal to the wealth they extract from the culture and the middle class. 
Athletes deserve some of this attention.  They are instantly rich, nearly the moment after leaving college.  Many of these instant millionaires never prove to be worth a small portion of their guaranteed income.  Even those who make valuable contributions to their teams and sport are more profitable than most small to medium sized businesses.  The typical first round draft choice will make more money in his first year of full time employment than most of us will earn in our lifetimes.  That has to create some resentment among the working class. 
But that is no different than the children of the ruling class.  They often inherit the equivalent of the lifetime earnings of a pro athlete superstar, without ever lifting a finger.  They can control incredible assets without ever knowing the slightest thing about the businesses they manipulate.  Thousands of lives can hinge on their spoiled brat whims.  Stock markets can rise and fall from the maneuverings of their portfolio managers.  And their personal habits are completely out of the realm of public inspection.  Their business transactions are never disclosed by the media.  Somehow, they completely escape the attention given to a first round draft choice, who at the very least is among the 1,000 most talented people in the country in his sport.  Why is that?  I really want to know.
April 1998


Fighting for Position

http-inlinethumb19_webshots_com-43026-2695184460105101600S600x600Q85 Apparently, I do not understand the purpose of “social networks.” I admit I’m a holdover from previous generations who learned to tolerate diverse opinions; even if those opinions were not respectable. Today, we’re either on one side or the other.

kentstatepapers I got into a Facebook discussion about the purpose of our military over the last 50 years with a kid who seems to believe that having served in our military gives him a “higher power” platform for his opinions.

KatrinaMilitarizedPolice1 After disagreeing with his devout opinion1 that any military service gives the service member some sort of religious standing, he wrote: “Ah, I see you very well now, Thomas. You're a one-note choir without anything to add to _this_ topic unless it involves knee-jerk opposition to your military and everything it does, stands for, or is capable of. You disregard even the possibility of something valuable or noble in soldiers, whom you see as lesser citizens -- even lesser humans -- than yourself. You blithely generalize that hundreds of thousands of your fellow American citizens would be ‘perfectly happy’ to shoot you up on any order, because apparently you can see into their heads and hearts better than can their peers.

 Kent3 “If you say it loud enough and long enough, to enough people, that may make it true -- for you. Some of us have a broader experience of fellow soldiers, and expect them to comport themselves faithfully and professionally because that is more than their job. It is their sworn oath, undertaken on your behalf and mine.

t1larg_bonus_army_gi “You've shown yourself a condescending bigot, sir, and have confused your personal contempt with understanding.”

timephoto1 I’ve heard this definition of “bigot” before, but failed to understand the intended meaning (something considerably different than the traditional Webster’s definition). I’ve heard it from biker gangbangers, when I disrespected their “right” or moral authority to terrorize the general public. I’ve heard it from modern country musicians after I questioned their rural authenticity, when the only thing they know about the country is that audiences in the country are insufficient to support the lifestyle to which they’ve become accustomed.

Katrina Aftermath With Jack’s response, all of a sudden, I got it. What “bigot” means is that I am unwilling to submit to their threat of banishment or worse if I don’t, at least, pretend to be afraid of them. It gives them a position from which any sort of violence, from cyber to physical, can be justified. It’s obvious where members of our military would learn this response.

wikileaks-collateral-murder-rescuers The good thing about these probably-short-lived social networks is that disparate people and opinions have the opportunity to break across social, physical, economic, and spiritual barriers. The sad fact is that we Americans have lost most of the capacity to see across those lines because of our personal history (what you would call "bigotry"). While the technology our country has concentrated on developing has been massively destructive to the world, our democracy, and our nation's future, it's nothing new. Failed empires have pounded on their chests exciting young men to useless, amoral, destructive wars, invasions, and to overreact to oversized (relative to real) threats as long as humans have recorded history (and likely beyond).

g20_police_state1 It is no surprise that men and women who have given a portion of their lives and sanity to this pretense of national "defense." Our discussion has reminded me of friends returning from Vietnam who desperately wanted those who didn't engage in those atrocities to "honor" their sacrifice. I can't express how sad I was for them and for the many wasted lives resulting from the damage they  suffered, physically and mentally. Some good friends returned from that war so angry and incapacitated that they never recovered. This insistence on "honoring" the warrior even if the war was evil seems to be a new thing. My father's generation spent a lot of energy trying to forget what they were forced to do in WWII. Korean War vets were the first guys I knew who had a sense of desperation about getting credit for having done something questionable or awful.

72convention Vietnam and Iraq vets have a lot in common in that they both have massive sins to live down and want to be told they did something less awful than their senses witnessed. I get that, but can’t help them with their illusions of morality. They fell for the oldest trick in human history and want to be comforted for their error. There is a reason the military wants young men for this task and it is not because they are “the best and the brightest.”

 Kerry_Fulbright_Commission As for my belief that more than enough of our current members of the military would be “‘perfectly happy’ to shoot [me] up on any order,” I think history has already demonstrated that to be likely. This is very much the old Churchill question about prostitution. Based on the response of too many members and ex-members of the military to any sort of dissent from within (including the article from which this discussion originated), I think Newspeak is the only language the military can handle. My phrase was “most military members" will be perfectly happy to fire on American citizens if they are so ordered.” We could debate their happiness, but I have no doubt that at least 50% of the current mercenary military would fire on order. From what I’ve seen, military happiness is a rare condition, so they’d be as happy as usual, at worst.

7674379946_97270b11ae A discussion that includes the possibility that our oversized military has often been used to defend interests other than that of the average citizen is off limits and “unpatriotic.” However, there is a good reason why police departments give priority to military vets and it is not a politically correct reason; it is because they will follow orders regardless of morality, legality, or any other rational argument. I suspect in my lifetime, we will find that the “volunteer army” will be volunteering for some pretty nasty domestic duty.

1 The words that inspired Mr. Lewis to such irritation were, “. . . the original post used several examples of men (like John Kerry) who openly opposed the militaristic bend of the nation of the time as cowards and called soldiers who disguised their identities as cowards. Clearly, the ‘thought’ is that if you're in uniform, you should conform. If the JCS comes to congressional hearings and television interviews in uniform to promote their wars, it seems disingenuous to disallow their opponents the same ‘credibility’ platform. ‘Most military members’ will be perfectly happy to fire on American citizens if they are so ordered, so using that generality doesn't make me feel much safer in my opposition to the military.” [NOTE: For the math-disabled, “most” means more than 50%.]


#14 Minding the Store (1998)

rat All Rights Reserved © 1998 Thomas W. Day
Lately, there has been a lot of yak being tossed around about the lack of useful employees. Supposedly, there is a nationwide shortage of engineers, computer scientists, technicians, and bottle washers. Congress has taken time off from it's inane examination of the President's alleged hillbilly sexual activity to wring wrinkled hands and whine southern accented whines about why we need to loosen up immigration so that their rich buddies can free up more money for political contributions. CEO's have taken a few moments away from their golf clubs to lecture grade school administrators on how to turn out higher quality employees. You'd think this was the real deal, if there was some action following all the whining.
Those of us at the bottom looking up know there are enough MBAs to make sure that every product built in the US has had the quality siphoned away in the interest of improving make-believe bottom lines. As a nation, we have enough lawyers, accountants, and doctors that schools are closing the doors on those departments to make room for more MBA drones. There is even a boom in "Human Resources" programs in those mislabeled "prestigious institutions" of purposeless learning. Other than school administrators and government employees, it's tough to imagine a more perfect waste of time and paper than that hopelessly goofy crowd. Clearly, we are still in good shape, skilled employee-wise, if we can toss off valuable education time in these two goofball-filled areas.
If this employee "shortage" actually required the production of any useful activity there would have been some kind of economic reaction. In case you were worried that the state of the union was about to go bad, don't. Fortunately for the ruling class, the critical employee shortage is in the area of skilled technical types who will work for minimum wage. It's not like companies are rethinking allocating money from brain-dead execs to areas that actually have functions. We haven't even tightened up the obvious stuff. We're still subsidizing the higher education of technical folks from every country in the world, with our "public schools."
Companies still expect to be able to find all the technical skills they need by snagging employees from other companies and countries. Public K-12 education is still doing its swan dive into the dumper and absolutely no attention is being paid to root causes or meaningful changes in how teachers are educated or managed. There may have been no other time in history when the status quo was more well stuck in the mud.
The surest sign that there are more than enough hirable people in the job market is that next-to-nobody seems to be thinking about making companies more attractive to stick with. You'd think that being obviously employee-hostile would be the first thing sent down the sewer in an employee's market. Other than a few strangely logical renegades, most company policies seem to be going the exact opposite direction. This, too, ought to make you secure in the knowledge that the powers-that-be-stupid are safe from having to work for a living.
If anything is happening, companies are getting to be way less fun places to hang out. The childhood scourge of freedom and individuality, the dress code, is more entrenched now than since the days of when the words "Big Blue" actually described a major company. HR snoops are prowling the halls, making lists, entering snide comments in employee records, and ensuring that work is about as pleasant as dental surgery.
Phrases like "snappy casual day" reinforce HR's power over the functional classes. Studies that show dramatic improvement in productivity and job satisfaction, when business attire is practical and comfortable, have no effect on these power freaks. In fact, they seem to get a kick out of flaunting the idiocy of their rules and policies. Do you think this would be the case if company profits were really pressed to become efficient?
And it just goes on and on. More people are stuffed into positions where they are required to eat lunch at their desks. Don't even think about taking a break (unless you smoke, but that's another story). The pitiful few who don't have MBAs are doing jobs that used to be done by small departments. While mismanagement is whining about the lack of skilled labor, their own employees are spending so much of their lives at work that they don't have the time or energy to keep their skills current. Sayeth the goofy execs, "Which is why we need to import more workers from other countries."
Somehow those countries, with whom we aren't competitive, have skilled employees to spare. How do they do that?
In the midst of this mythical skilled labor shortage, management has shown a well tuned disregard for employees personal lives and aptitudes. Henry Ford and the original HR goon, Harry Bennett, would be proud; and amazed. The list of primitive and mindless mismanagement exercises are almost as impressive as they are repressive.
Time clocks have made a comeback for non-exempt and exempt labor. Those beloved monitors of employee existence are being introduced under the guise of "project monitoring." But we know what they're for, don't we? There isn't a chance in the world that mismanagement could do the math required to actually put project expense data to good use. They are operating at the peak of their abilities when they add up the hours to see if we're at work 40 long ones a week.
Wackiest of all is when HR recruits IS into their making-life-miserable programs. While the IS guys are supposed to be the very people that business needs more of, HR has sucked them into monitoring how much time users spend on the Net, messing with email, or ineffectively using those wonderful Microsquash Orifice tools that we all love so much. You'd think they'd spend at least as much time making networks do something predictable and practical, but you'd probably be wrong. So far, no one has ever found a practical use for networks.
It would be really cool if I could list as many positive things about the current state of employment, but I'd be lying if I did. When business life is bad for salaried office workers, it's a lot worse for hourly workers. Worst of all for hourly manufacturing workers. And worse yet for the hundreds of thousands of temps, who have about as much protection from crappy management as rats get from wolves.
The real mystery is why do all those skilled labor types from other countries want to get our green cards? Is it really possible that their mismanagement is worse than ours? That's a sobering thought. If it's true, what are we worrying about?
March 1998