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?


Working Mom Misery – Stuckness

I have been struggling with work big time since I had my son two years ago.  I can’t wrap my head around how other women do it – working full time and being a mom while staying happy, that is. From reading around the web, I see I’m not the only one suffering from “stuckness” – physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially, maritally…

I have one little boy who is almost two. I work full time because I have to. I’m a college grad with almost 10 years of work experience, but the best I could find after being laid off a few years ago then having a baby was an entry-level administrative job that is so boring I want to blow my head off. But I don’t see any other options right now. I’m stuck. I’ve driven myself crazy trying to think of other viable ways for me to be home with my son more often (not to mention I want to have another), but it all comes back to the same thing – right now, I need to stay put or we go without food, shelter or medical care. What really REALLY sucks is that even though I am away from home 40 hours plus (commuting time, lunch hour, etc), my husband (also a college grad and underpaid full time worker) and I are still just short of making ends meet. Yes, I do have wonderful health insurance and other benefits through my work, but is that worth being miserable and STILL having to pick and choose which bills to pay? After all, don’t we work so we can provide a good life for our children? If I can’t afford to buy my son the things that he needs, or things to keep our house nice, or at least have some financial peace, then what the hell is the point? I feel as though I am robbing myself and my family of any benefits that come from working full time. I don’t love what I do, my salary is just above the poverty line, there is no opportunity for advancement – hell, there aren’t even social benefits!  I am alone in an office for most of the day and only work with a few men who I rarely see.

So here I sit, miserable and depressed, unable to be the mom and wife I long to be because I am so tired all the time.  I feel like I’m balancing on a fine line between happiness and insanity because all day long I go round and round in my head with the same miserable thoughts and no way out.

 The only thing that gives me hope is that I do believe something will change, and things will improve for us. They always do – I have faith.  I know I’m in the majority when it comes to struggling with this, and other people seem to come away with it happy and well adjusted. In the meantime, maybe I’ll come up with a brilliant plan in all these hours I’m wasting away bored out of my mind at work.

My Pregnancy and Birth

I’ve been going back and forth for the first four months of my baby’s life about whether I should write this blog. There are so many mom blogs out there and I’m sure the last thing the web needs is another one. I am scared to put my true feelings about motherhood in writing. I don’t necessarily want my family and friends to know how I am really feeling, so I finally decided to write the blog anonymously. Whether anyone reads it or not, I think I need to get my feelings out. I am by nature a writer, so this seems like the best outlet for my feelings. If anyone out there reads this and can relate, that’s more than I could ask for.

I have been trying to ignore the horrible thoughts I keep having about regretting becoming a mom, but I can’t help it. I love my baby more than I thought I would, thank God, but sometimes I feel like kicking myself for going through with getting pregnant and having a child. I know in my heart of hearts I wasn’t and am still not ready to be a parent.

I’ve tried to imagine how my life would end up if I chose not to have kids. My husband would probably leave me because he did want kids; I might find myself wanting kids when it is way too late for it; or I might end up old and alone with no family around me. Those things seem unbearable, and besides, everyone told me I would never regret having kids no matter what and that I would not be able to imagine life without them. I so desperately want to believe that.

I was really hesitant about getting pregnant, always feeling like I wasn’t quite ready. My husband, on the other hand, has been ready for at least the last two years. Last year, I turned 30 and decided I was “getting old” and it was now or never for a family, so we got pregnant. I was nervous and scared the entire nine months, punctuated by moments of excitement, mainly because of the excitement of others around me.

The day I delivered my son wasn’t even close to the best day of my life. In fact, it rivaled my worst day. After 18 hours of being in labor, I had to have a c-section because I wasn’t dilating. I had a major panic attack and hollered and cried and hyperventilated during the entire surgery, putting my baby at risk. Afterwards, the pain was so intense, and the painkillers they were giving me weren’t working. The nurses kept massaging my uterus before checking to make sure the pain meds were working (which they weren’t). I nearly blacked out from the pain. Meanwhile, 2 other nurses and my husband were trying to force my baby onto my boob to breastfeed while I was so pumped full of drugs and in so much pain I didn’t even know where I was.

Needless to say, the first time I saw my son was not the moment of joy and love everyone had told me it would be. All I could think about was a) get me out of this pain and b) please let me sleep.

The next few days in the hospital were not much better. The hospital policy and my decision was to have the baby room-in with me so we could get to know each other and he could nurse on demand. However, I was not prepared for the sheer exhaustion of going through 20 hours of labor and surgery only to be woken up every 1.5 to 2 hours by a screaming baby. I was also not prepared for the amount of pain I was in from surgery, and I couldn’t seem to make anyone understand – not my husband who kept waking me up telling me to feed the baby, and certainly not the nurses who kept scolding me to get out of bed and walk around the next day. For those of you who have had a c-section or other abdominal surgery, you know what it feels like, but for those who have not, the best way I can explain it is this: every time you move, even if you are just shifting in bed, you feel like the staples in your incision are literally tearing out along with your skin and insides. Now imagine this feeling as you are trying to get out of bed and walk around. Those first days it took me about 10 minutes to get to the bathroom 2 feet away from my bed because I would double over in pain after every step, waiting for it to subside. And this was AFTER I had taken painkillers.

Four days later I was finally released from the hospital, and could not be more relieved to be at my own home. I thought things had to get better and easier being at home, right?