A recent study cited in The Wall Street Journal on jobs has indicated that American workers have far fewer expectations concerning employment than ever before. The high employee turnover numbers that dominate the employment scene today have become the new normal. The issue worthy of consideration is what would cause employees to have lower expectations from a job, or employment in general. Several decades ago, a job was something that Americans tended to keep for some considerable length of time. The last few decades have meant high turnover as well as insecure jobs for a great number of Americans.
Work satisfaction has decreased in the past several decades, as has the length of time employees spend with an organization. It might be that dissatisfaction is a motivator for people to leave organizations, and more people are dissatisfied, so they leave more often. I won’t give the Millennials credit for “re-inventing” the work week or the work day: the nature of work has changed a great deal, but the Millennials are not as influential in that equation as technology has been. In the past, work had to be performed at specific times in specific processes, whereas today’s work, largely the work on computers, can sit until the employee is ready to work on it. Things such as mechanical processes on foods and materials still require the work be performed at certain specific times. When the metal is melted, it has to be poured into the molds. When the food is mixed, it has to be cooked.
The growth of white-collar jobs and the application of computers have allowed the work force to juggle hours around, but the Millennials didn’t invent that, they just took advantage of it, and, again, most of the hour-juggling is white-collar work that has extended expiration dates. Despite the brilliant Millennials and their re-arranging the workday, I still do not see all-night car repair shops, or twenty-four hour bricklayers, painters, electricians or carpenters. We certainly have the technology to perform blue-collar work like bricklaying and carpentry at night with the powerful LED lights now available, but I am not seeing much of that happening, if at all. The skilled trades might start earlier or stay later, but the blue-collar work is mostly day work and within certain boundaries, because again, things like bricklaying and carpentry are process-intensive and certain work has to be performed at certain times, rendering fewer opportunities for getting ahead, and make-up work is usually weekends.
The lowered expectations of the workforce might be caused in some measure by the 2008-2009 economic crisis; some workers are just so glad to be employed that any job is worth being happy about. The Wall Street Journal article cites components of employee dissatisfaction as promotion policies, bonus plans, training opportunities, and the performance review policies. Translation: they are expecting less from management. It is a well-known fact that employees who are satisfied are usually happy with their bosses. Employees leave bad bosses and tend to stay with good bosses. Bosses are an integral part of the working environment.
The most disturbing fact is of the recent survey is, however, that the employee expectation of bosses and management is not high, if recognition, performance review, job training and promotion policy are considered important. Some wages are creeping up, but job security is low and, the article says, “the idea of a job for life has vanished.” While I do not consider employers obligated to offer jobs for the rest of one’s life, the idea of job security as well as retirement has fallen to new lows. Perhaps the managers in today’s business environment are just dealing with the situation that has been put in front of them. But perhaps today’s workplace could take more measures to increase the feeling that the jobs will be secure.
The steelmaker Nucor almost never lays off employees. In the midst of the Great Recession, in 2009, Nucor lost $249 million, and didn’t lay off a single employee. Nucor, by the way, is listed as number 8 among small employers on the Journal Sentinel’s Top 100 workplaces list. Perhaps Nucor knows something that other employers do not. Nucor does, however, change pay rates depending on production, so that wages can fall to $12.50 an hour, and rise to almost twice that. The smart thing about Nucor is that when they need more talent, they still have their workforce. Companies that hire and layoff as well as outsource might learn that keeping the skilled workers, referred to as “talent,” can benefit a company in the long run, long run meaning job security. The steel industry is prone to booms and busts more than other sectors of the economy, but having the talent available means that the firm can take advantage of increases in demands. In a fast-moving economy, a quick response can mean fast profits and the ability to exploit opportunities.
Companies do not owe any employee a lifetime job, but many firms must understand that loyalty is a two-way street. The idea of loyalty is that the one to which you are loyal will reciprocate. We’ve all seen the loyal employee who took on the tasks that no one wanted, who cleaned up the messes and solved the problems, only to be dumped at the first sign of trouble. Perhaps this is an issue of character. I see less and less loyalty in organizations, coupled with indifference on the part of managers. Organizations have character, and that character starts with the managers and reverberates through the employees. I know as a manager, when you show loyalty, it often comes back, and loyalty often brings with it the feeling of security. I don’t, however, recall any classes on loyalty, nor any way to measure or quantify it. Napoleon Bonaparte knew almost all of his 1500 officers by their first names. There is something to be said for that.