This is an essay I wrote for my LinkedIn professional profile about the changing way in which we work, and how hard work by itself is no longer sufficient to ensure success. You can access my LinkedIn profile HERE to read my other posts, and visit my professional profile HERE.
For decades, there was an understanding between employer and employee: work hard for the company, and your efforts and loyalty will be rewarded. For decades, this understanding worked well for both parties, for the most part. Companies understood that their employees were the primary factor in their success and profitability, and employees regarded companies as a second family that gave them opportunities to succeed and advance.
This understanding is, if not eroded, pretty much broken. Many companies have demonstrated they regard employees as disposable assets that can be replaced in the name of making the numbers and chasing ever-higher quarterly results. Companies demand loyalty and enthusiasm from their employees, yet do not feel compelled to reciprocate. Examples abound:
- Long time employees who spent decades making a GE-owned engine plant a success (so much so that President Obama visited the plant to tout its achievements) found out they would lose their jobs to Canada through a toxic mix of politics and corporate self-interest (source: Ex-Im Bank Dispute Threatens G.E. Factory That Obama Praised, New York Times, 10/25/15).
- Millions of dollars earmarked for health care and retirement benefits earned over a lifetime by coal miners and their families being taken away, diverted to bankruptcy lawyers despite assurances made over the years (source: Bankruptcy Lawyers Strip Cash from Coal Miners’ Health Insurance, ProPublica, 10/1/2015 and also Health Care at Risk for 12,000 Retired Miners and Their Families, ProPublica, 10/27/15)
- Ongoing campaigns by corporations to reduce worker protections by gutting federally-mandated workers compensation that aids employees who have been injured on the job (source: Inside Corporate America’s Campaign to Ditch Workers’ Comp, ProPublica, 10/14/15).
- SunTrust bank ordered IT workers to train their lower-wage replacements before firing them, requiring the laid-off IT workers to be on call for two years without compensation. After the resulting public outrage, SunTrust withdrew this clause but has neither confirmed nor denied that employees were forced to train their replacements (source: SunTrust axes rule that laid-off workers be ‘on call for two years’ for no pay, The Guardian, 10/23/15).
- After an outcry and a federal investigation, Disney cancelled worker layoffs which would have forced long time, high performing employees to train lower-cost immigrants using working visas before being shown the door. Disney has offered no explanation to employees for either decision; imagine the effect on morale among employees who had devoted a great deal of time, energy and sacrifice working for such a legendary company (source: In Turnabout, Disney Cancels Tech Worker Layoffs, New York Times, 6/16/15).
The list of examples goes on and on. If hard work does not guarantee job security, advancement or even recognition, what is the point of hard work then? Occasional bonuses, gift cards and health insurance (which is becoming more expensive each year) have replaced annual raises. Many employees are starting to realize that there is a missing factor to how they are spending so much of their time and effort: quality of life.
It is becoming more important to a growing number of employees that their jobs provide a sense of personal satisfaction. Employees are starting to push for more time to spend with their families and a more even balance between work and free time. There is also a growing disconnect between how employees perceive their job satisfaction, and how management does. Indeed, managers seem to be almost completely unaware that their employees want a better work/life balance. Consider the following:
- 98% of working parents say they’ve experienced burnout
- 62% of working parents feel their employer doesn’t care about them, while only 30% of managers are concerned about whether the working parents they supervise feel that way (source: Bright Horizons Family Solutions)
Few people seriously expect a Shangri-la environment on the job, however there is a growing realization that while hard work is a virtue and a positive personality trait, it is the quality of hard work that matters. We are working harder than ever and taking fewer vacations, but is the quality of our lives improving?
There are a variety of factors that affect the quality of hard work: enjoying the process, pride in the end result, a sense that one’s contribution matters and is appreciated, and seeing a positive result from one’s effort. What good is making scads of money if you never have the time to enjoy it?
Businesses ignore this trend at their peril. It is good business to nurture employees and encourage them to be valued members of a company; hiring new employees costs a great deal more than keeping the ones already in place. Not only that, but many people would rather patronize a company that treats its employees well even if it costs a little more. In essence, the cost of employee dissatisfaction is astronomical (lost productivity, absenteeism, poor customer service, higher health insurance costs, hiring replacements), but companies are either doing very little do address it, or trying to minimize the impact by jettisoning experienced (i.e. higher cost) employees and replacing them with cheaper ones.
The result is a lack of trust and loyalty among employees toward their employers, an environment in which both sides regard each other warily. The lesson that can be drawn from the above examples is that if you are going to work hard, your hard work should count for something beyond just helping the company make its numbers for the next quarter. Hard work is rewarding when it results in helping others, improving our communities and making our planet (the only one we have) healthier.
It takes effort, planning and not a small amount of courage, but leaving a job in which your hard work is unappreciated for one that provides a greater level of satisfaction can yield rewards beyond just numbers, not least of which is lower stress levels. What is the old expression? No one ever looked back on their life and wished they’d spent more time in the office. We’re only in this world for a limited period of time; it’s important to make each day count.