Poll suggests US workers less motivated to work hard

Tim Egan has a nice piece up commenting on the newest Gallup Poll on US workers. The poll found workers have accepted they won’t receive raises or promotions no matter how hard they work or how good their performance, and have settled on simply doing the minimum necessary to keep the job. But I’m not completely on board with this part of his article:

NYT — You would think the usual suspects were to blame for this sea of seething in the cubicles of America. While productivity per worker has soared over the last two decades, pay has remained flat or gone down. The gulf between those at the very top and those who do all the heavy lifting has never been greater. Too many corporations, especially in a tight job market, promote a view that everyone is replaceable; the workers are mercenaries with bottom-of-the-bin benefits. Take it or leave it.

All of that is certainly at play. But here’s the surprise: the main factor in workplace discontent is not wages, benefits or hours, but the boss. Yes, that cretin from Kentucky Fried Chicken, in countless forms. The survey said there was consistent anger at management types who failed to so much as ask employees about their opinion of the job. Ever.

“The managers from hell are creating active disengagement costing the United States an estimated $450 billion to $550 billion annually,” wrote Jim Clifton, the C.E.O. and chairman of Gallup.

I believe this misses the point by miles. The usual suspects are absolutely to blame as this is one and the same phenomenon.

First and foremost, managers and especially a direct boss is “ma authritah” incarnate. Unpopular policies and growing income inequality leaves workers resentful at management in general and the most immediate representative of that is the nearest boss. It’s one and the same, anger over the very thing Egan downplays.

The second point is the recession has resulted in glaring imbalances between low-level management and workers regarding skill and experience. A low level veteran at a company that happened to do better during the recession will tend to move up some, while even the most skilled and educated workers at the one that downsizes or goes belly up are suddenly desperately looking for work. Some of those laid off will end up at companies that did better where they will now be supervised by the former veteran employee. The imbalance results: highly qualified new workers who can run rings around their boss and their boss’s boss getting paid a lousy wage with little or no chance of ever being in charge, earning a living wage, or able to bring their expertise to bear.

When you’ve overheard a 24 year-old high school drop out try to coach a veteran sales executive on how to handle people on the phone, or try to make helpful suggestions in tech support to a former network admin with a masters in software engineering, this all becomes crystal clear. The twenty-something managers may be competent, they may even have some innate skill, but they’re completely outclassed, blown out of the water, by a flush of laid off, skilled, educated workers with decades of experience in complex, professional fields taking years to master suddenly coming aboard.

There comes a point — especially when some of those workers hail from the more underpaid cube CSR and support jobs feel completely free to speak — that they’ll voice resentment at the entity which ignores them and often actively intimidates them, pays them shit while playing games with raises and promotions, keeps having the same problems over and over and over, even though they were identified and solved long ago in more mature organizations that faced them, and has seen to fit to place a lucky kid, at times seemingly almost at random, in charge of their economic fate.

It may not be fair, but those criticism along with some resentment can spill over onto the kid in charge and/or the kid in charge of the kids in charge. This is especially true when reinforced by a wage imbalance, where the  younger long time staff employees  make enough to comfortably live on and veteran pros who can run rings around them struggle on pay barely above minimum wage.