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Jewish World Review
May 13, 2008
/ 8 Iyar 5768 5768
Take this job and love it
Every so often I'll read a newspaper story about a recent employee satisfaction survey conducted by a large human resources consulting firm revealing that get ready for a shocker - American workers aren't particularly happy with their jobs. Generally speaking, I believe these results can be ascribed to one of two factors:
1. The HR firms that tend to conduct these sorts of surveys also happen to sell services promising to improve companies' employee satisfaction. The results may therefore be ever so slightly skewed by survey questions such as, "On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate your workplace satisfaction, taking into account any time you've been passed over for promotion, belittled by your boss, stabbed in the back by a coworker taking credit for your work or had your egg salad sandwich stolen from the break room fridge by a certain coworker who continues to denies it even though just last Thursday he clearly had a suspicious-looking dollop of mayonnaise on his tie and then you found your lunch bag, clearly marked with the words "DO NOT TOUCH!!! THIS MEANS YOU!!!" in big letters, right there crumpled up in the jerk's garbage can?"
2. Leading survey questions notwithstanding, the fact is that many American workers are miserable at their jobs. Why, just ask one of them, particularly if his or her job involves contact with the public, and you'll hear all kind of complaints. Or don't even ask frequently today's disaffected worker will thoughtfully share the details of his or her work-related gripes with anyone lucky enough to come within shouting distance.
The exception to this downward trend in workplace satisfaction is found at "forward-thinking" companies like Google, where employees receive a range of perks, including generous medical benefits, free meals, access to exercise equipment, laundry services, child care, massages, ski vacations and free use of company wheelbarrows for carting all their money home. Plus every week certain favored employees are invited to join Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page at the company's secret underground volcano hideaway for a banquet dinner and to participate in further planning for world domination.
Asked the source of their unhappiness, surveyed workers typically place the blame at the feet of bosses who are frequently described as "insensitive," "incompetent" "overbearing" or "much too uptight about monitoring which adult websites employees may or may not be visiting." When confronted with these criticisms, bosses typically defend their management practices, pointing to, for example, recently adopted worker-friendly policies like offering employees the choice of kneeling or merely bowing deferentially when begging for a bathroom break.
There are, of course, countless business books devoted to helping bosses improve their relationships with the employees they manage. Some of the suggestions in these management guides often strike me as remarkably similar to the advice I've seen in guidebooks for parents of small children, such as, "Reward the employee behaviors you want to encourage," "Be very clear about what your expectations are," "Give them the room to succeed or fail on their own," and "Always make sure their immunizations are up-to-date."
Frankly, I find the comparison of employees to small children a little insulting. To the children, that is. Say what you will about this nation's out-of-control toddlers, but one very rarely hears about three-year-olds pilfering office supplies, playing computer solitaire all day or skipping out with hundreds of thousands of dollars in funds embezzled from mom and dad (not until they go to college, that is).
Still, I have to admit there's some merit to the idea of treating children like miniature employees. For example, when our first child was a toddler, my wife and I were the quintessential "helicopter" parents, constantly hovering out of a fear of a range of potential hazards such as small items that could induce choking, electrical outlets, strangers, the hot stove or rabid raccoons that might somehow gain entrance to our house. But now that we have three kids, my wife and I have come to realize that much like employees, small children need the freedom to explore and learn on their own, even if that means occasionally tripping and falling or mistakenly forwarding a photocopy of their rear ends to everyone on their email list.
Unfortunately, much like new parents, many bosses are wary of giving employees too much freedom. One concern is that, without adequate supervision, employees might turn the workplace into a wild, undisciplined, free-for-all of sex, drugs and non-stop debauchery. Most companies, however, prefer to save that sort of thing for the office Christmas party.
Perhaps worse, bosses fear, employees might start genuinely enjoying their work and wind up doing such a good job and improving performance that, as a society, we begin wondering whether all those bosses are really necessary. And no one wants that. No one in charge, that is.
JWR contributor Malcolm Fleschner is a humor columnist for The DC Examiner. Let him know what you think by clicking here.
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© 2006, Malcolm Fleschner