#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

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