The Last Luxury

Today, my co-worker and I were jokingly telling our boss that we were going to file a religious discrimination complaint against our company because they provide coffee, but refuse to purchase us a water cooler. My co-worker is mormon and doesn’t drink caffeine. My boss says “Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you guys, they’re getting rid of coffee too. The company is no longer paying for it. You’ll have to buy it yourselves.”

Wow. So I knew last week’s all company conference call with the CEO was serious when he told us we were $10 mil in the red, but cutting out coffee? Really? Listen, I’m all for tightening our belts. I do think it’s time we all started being more responsible with our money.  BUT, there is a point at which it’s taken too far. If you look at some of the most successful companies, companies who have been able to hold on and maybe even prosper even in the worst of times, you usually find that they also have happy employees. I think the CEO of my company has failed to take into account the tremendous benefit to a company of taking care of its employees.  The most obvious, of course, is low turnover.  But there are other benefits as well. Studies show happy employees take fewer sick days, are higher performers, and speak highly of their companies outside of the workplace.

A more grateful person would probably be happy with my job.  I have a 401k and health insurance. I am eligible for a small raise once a year. I get two weeks of paid vacation and 6 days of sick leave. I make twice the minimum wage and have a nice boss. I am incredibly lucky right now just to have a job, I know that. I was unemployed for almost two years, and I know how much it sucks. Unfortunately for me, just collecting a paycheck isn’t going to sustain me for very long.

Greg Smith, president of Chart Your Course International, researches employee satisfaction and helps business leaders create better workplaces. In his research, he has found that there are 5 keys to increasing job satisfaction and retention among employees:

  • Provide a positive working environment
  • Reward and recognition
  • Involve and increase employee engagement
  • Develop the skills and potential of your workforce
  • Evaluate and measure job satisfaction

I would add one more to this list, at least for women and mothers: 

  • work/life balance or job flexibility

 My company does not get a passing grade in any of these categories.

Provide a positive working environment – No drinking water, no break room, no radio, no coffee. No perks. On my first day, my manager said my job is to be in the office every second of the workday because there’s a one in a million chance we could get randomly audited. When I asked about the lunch hour, he kind of hemmed and hawed and basically told me (disdainfully) that the law requires employees get a lunch break, but it’s important for someone to be here all the time. I said “well, what do my counterparts in other offices do for their lunch hour?” He said “they mostly just eat at their desks.”

Reward and recognition – Well, last month we did get an email from our managers saying we did a great job exceeding our numbers, immediately followed by 3 paragraphs of what we are doing wrong. 

Involve and increase employee engagement – If this means keeping employees in the dark on everything going on with the company until we hear it from the mouths of our customers, then we get an A+!  I’ve never met anyone else in a company of 3,000 except my direct manager and the three guys I work with, and no one has ever asked my opinion about anything.

Develop the skills and potential of your workforce – See above re: employee engagement. We seem to operate on a “not your job description, none of your business” mentality. Weird. Most companies love their employees to be interested in other aspects of the company beyond their job description. Not this one.

Evaluate and measure job satisfaction – This one is so desperately needed and could probably solve some of the other problems above. Once a year we are required to fill out a 2-page evaluation with each answer limited to space for 3 or 4 sentences. The questions are all geared toward how we are contributing to the company. There is no opportunity to write open comments, suggestions or opinions, and I’m pretty sure human resources doesn’t even play a part in this process.

Now granted, I don’t even drink the office coffee unless I am super desperate (we don’t have a dishwasher to wash the coffeepot which I find utterly disgusting). However, it’s the principle. That can of coffee represented the one tiny luxury this company afforded its employees. I suppose I should just be grateful that I am in a comfortable, climate controlled office and that I get paid reliably every two weeks. Well, it’s semi-climate controlled. The air conditioner doesn’t work when the temps get above 90 degrees.

But my feeling is that I am sitting in this office for 8 or more hours a day 5 days a week – I need a little incentive to dedicate 3/4 of my precious few hours of the day to lining someone else’s pockets (cuz let’s face it folks, I ain’t gettin’ rich on a 25 cent yearly raise). Job happiness is about so much more than pay. I wish my company’s decision makers realized that. Instead, they choose the reactive route so many other companies ascribe to as well: Provide employees with the absolute minimum to do their jobs. And what do you think employees give back? The absolute minimum to keep their jobs.

If I had any other options, I would leave in a heartbeat and never look back. I would much rather be at home watching my son grow up than spending most of my week at a company that doesn’t even know I exist.

I’m curious about other people’s opinions on this topic. Do you think work is just work and it is wrong to expect anything more than a paycheck? Do you think an employer’s only responsibility to its employees is to pay them for the work done,  or do you think employers should provide more “human” benefits? What makes or would make you happy at a job?


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. rangewriter
    Oct 16, 2011 @ 22:39:46

    Do you think work is just work and it is wrong to expect anything more than a paycheck?
    Right now, in this job climate, it may be asking too much, to expect more than a paycheck. That is a sad fact. It would be wonderful to have a job that provides a daily or even weekly or monthly dose of positive feedback, personal satisfaction and enrichment. But the reality is that a job is a job. It is what we do to keep the roof over our heads and food in our tummies. You can be sure that field workers picking tomatoes, moving pipes, or haying get zilch but a paycheck. Same for cleaning services, resource extraction, car mechanics, and a gazillion other jobs.

    Do you think an employer’s only responsibility to its employees is to pay them for the work done, or do you think employers should provide more “human” benefits?
    I think smart, forward thinking employers cater more to human needs than your average employer. The larger a company grows, though, the more distant upper management is from what is happening at the ground level. At one time, HP was considered to be one of the best places in America to work. That is no longer the case. Benefits (monetary and otherwise) are wedded to the market economy. When workers are a dime a dozen, there’s no explicit need to provide more than the law requires. When the labor market tightens, as it did in the 50’s and 60’s, then employers begin offering incentives and perks to gain and keep a good workforce.

    What makes or would make you happy at a job?
    I sold out for job security. I was always very afraid of not being able to support myself. I wast blessed to have a job that payed well and included a comfortable array of benefits. I loved the blessing of 4 paid weeks of vacation per year (after working my way up to that level) plus something like 12 days of sick leave per year. Those perks, along with health insurance, kept my nose to the grindstone even when I hated every living moment of the job. I was a lucky. I know those types of jobs no longer exist. America does not reward its work force with time off and that is sad because time off is so restorative. Something else I would have really appreciated was a flexible work schedule…one that allowed me to put in my daily 8 hours when I would be at my best. But that is not always possible in the workplace.I suspect that even brain surgeons and astronauts get bored with the routine demands of their professions.

    Maybe it would help to think about working for a living rather than living to work. Let’s face it. Work sucks. But, if you must work 40 hours of your week, try living for and in those other 128 hours.


    • dirtysocksandfaxmachines
      Oct 18, 2011 @ 19:16:31

      Those are good points Linda. I’m afraid you are right, and I knew the answetrs, I just hoped it wasn’t so. With all the talk about the horrible economy and job market lately, I’ve been really curious as to whether things really are as terrible as my generation thinks they are. I bet “work life” isn’t really as different now as it was 20 years ago. Sure, you were more likely to get a pension and have job security in 1980, but I’m sure there were negatives back then that we don’t have to deal with now.

      In a way, I think my generation just needs to toughen up and stick things out for a while. Yes it sucks, but if we persist in doing what we need to do, it will get better. It’s difficult to do that in our instant gratification world, but change does not happen overnight. I am trying my darndest to adhere to my own advice. I am trying to think about my parents’ generation – they worked hard and sacrificed when they were my age, and now their debts are paid off and they have time and money to have fun. And their lives weren’t miserable in the meantime – although they may have hated having to work and save, I bet they would say in general they have had good lives. I’ve heard people in their 50’s say things like “I’m not beyond scrubbing toilets if my family needs to eat.” I am trying to think that way. I think that is an admirable attitude.

      So I will keep working on my attitude and keep plugging away. But I can’t promise I won’t bitch and moan in the meantime.


  2. rangewriter
    Oct 20, 2011 @ 09:39:48

    Maybe this is a good and safe place to bitch and moan. That’s what keeps the world turning, eh?
    It is really hard not to get caught up in the consumerism that we see at every turn. And I do think the tension of not having job security has got to be very difficult to deal with because it just never goes away, always that nagging worry about what if…? Hang in there, you’re surely not alone in your misery. BTW, I love your bog title. You come up with the best lines! 🙂


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