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Douglas Coupland and the McJobs

How can a company improve the bottom line? Why not take the 8% or so of workers making the most money.....how can they not be dead wood....and fire them! And, just in case they're not dead wood, offer to hire them back at lower pay! Of course, no company would do such a thing, if only out of self interest, since morale and customer service would surely plummet.

Actually, yes they would! Circuit City just did, announcing they would right away can 3400 of their salespeople. (with severance) Then, after 10 weeks, they’d offer them their old jobs back at the new lower rate of pay. “This strategy strikes me as being quite cold,” said Bernard Baumohl, executive director of the Eonomic Outlook Group.

Yes, it does. And it’s hard to believe the company won’t suffer for it, though Wall Street thought otherwise and bid up the shares 1.9% that day. It’s not as if tanking employee morale won’t be noticed by customers, as it might be if workers slaved in the dungeons or somewhere out of sight. Sharpen your skills in customer service? What on earth for? the surviving salespeople have to ask themselves. Have they not been told in the clearest possible way that their jobs are dead end?

These days companies represent themselves with mission statements, in which they declare their reason for existence with regard to their industry, customer satisfaction, and employee growth. To say that the “employee growth” part is just so much horse manure would be an exaggeration. Progressive companies do exist, generally in thriving industries, where even chronically cynical malcontents are, within reason, happy to work.  But in retail, the number of such companies dwindles.

And what about WalMart? What became of their announcementback in January to implement variable employee scheduling, based on real time traffic flow data. Part time would be called in only when needed and sent home once the need subsided. So if you worked there, you’d find it very difficult to both budget and “have a life.“ If, for example, you need a babysitter while you work, good luck. There's no telling when you'll be scheduled, nor how long you'll be scheduled for. Make yourself available at all hours, which you can do when your part time job is top priority in your life, and you can expect to be called in often. Limit your availability and, well…get used to oatmeal.

Walmart, they say (and now Circuit City?), is a major force in checking consumer inflation. That's no small feat. But when it is achieved by beating the snot out of their own people, you have to consider.

A few years back I worked a spell, part time, for a retail support company that counted store inventory, a company described by one of its own (former) managers as the most selfish company he’d ever seen. This fellow had managed for awhile, decided he wanted no part of it, so dropped back to foot soldier in order to find time for school. The stockholders couldn't be blamed for this one….this was a privately held company. They lowered the starting wage, limited raises to a dime or two at a time, and found innumerable ways to nickel and dime their own employees with regard to travel time, minimum shifts, and so forth. Yet even these misers never canned their best people so as to hire them back at lower pay.

Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, by Douglas Coupland, was published in 1991. It was his first novel, and yes, it was he who invented the term. Hard to believe it’s only been 16 years. Since then we’ve also been told about Generation Y, but this new label is only a rip-off, built on Mr. Coupland’s foundation.

Generation X’s characters are drawn from the disillusioned generation, the first really, to realize that their future would not be the well paying, secure, pensioned jobs of their fathers, but instead the transient, low paying big box jobs, with no benefits and no retirement. The mini-story which is Chapter 8, about the suburban planet where terrestrials do nothing but get fired from their McJobs (Coupland popularized the term, though he didn‘t invent it), is alone worth the price of the book.

One might reasonably surmise that any generation owes it to the next to leave the world in better shape than they themselves found it. Quite obviously, the present generation has failed to deliver. No wonder the younger generation disconnects.

"McJob"was added to the Miriam-Webster dictionary in 2003, much to the annoyance of McDonald's, who suggested the term might more properly be defined as “teaches responsibility,” since many of their franchise owners started as line employees. But Miriam-Webster would have none of it and stuck with their own "mcJob" definition: a low-paying job that requires little skill and provides little opportunity for advancement.

The tragedy is not that these jobs exist. Realistically, not every job can put you on the fast track to the White House. The tragedy today is that not much except these jobs exist. Unless you have some college, of course, and that, over time, has been priced out of the reach of many.

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Tom Irregardless and Me     No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Comments

Screech

Additional info: I once calculated that after graduating college with a BS degree (I love the acrynomn), student loan payments could easily put your net income down to about the level of a Customer Service Phone Representative (they've become anything but, however) for about 5-10 years. So 5 years in college and then 5-10 years at the same income. So you go to college to gain the income of the job you had in college until your 30 something...I'm encouraged.

This problem isn't limited to retail. In the phone service industry (assuming that your job is still in the United States), micromanaging is all the rage. You have to account for every second that you are on the phone, and are always pushed to take more and more calls, even at the expense of documentation and quality. In fact, if you take the time to listen and help a customer, chances are that you will lose your job at some point in the near future. It's only going to get worse, too.

The stock market is based on company growth. It makes sense that at some point a company can no longer grow. So when a company reaches that point, they simply start using "accounting procedures" and gimicks to reflect growth that isn't there. The result is that a large portion of the US Workforce is being forced to work the same hours that people worked from about 1850-1950 (60+ hours weekly) for less spending power. So both spouses working two jobs to have enough

Romulus Crowe

It's been this way in the UK academic world for a few years too, and getting worse. The university I used to work for declared a 'zero-percent' pay rise one year (it was futile to point out to these people that the 'percent' was irrelevant to their number).

They followed this with mass department closures and redundancies. They even suggested that teaching staff would only be paid when teaching - so no pay over the summer, Easter or Christmas holidays. They might have tried that after I left. If so, I wonder how many reported for work in October, and how well they'd do at getting replacements?

The last trick was that all wages were frozen for three years. So when the redundancy wagon came around, I jumped on.

The choice was - work in an institution where morale is crashing and the management are certifiable, on the same pay, for the next three years, or take the redundancy (three years' pay in one big bag) and go home.

I took the money. Now I'm self-employed and have no administrators to pay for, so I earn more and work less. No timesheets, no silly administrative forms, no asking for signatures from five different people before I order anything. Without all the timewasting nonsense, I can concentrate on real work.

I was far from being the only one to take this route.

What these companies are likely to find is that when they try to hire their people back on lower wages, the only ones who'll accept are those that can't get a better deal elsewhere. They won't get their top people back.

Wall Street might be happy with that today but I wouldn't put my money into those shares. I'd be more inclined to invest in the companies who employed the ditched staff.

Starting salaries for scientific jobs are about half that offered for administrative posts now. What will they do when there's nobody left to administer?

tomsheepandgoats

Rom:

What indeed? Can you really base an economy on reading each other's minutes? A question raised in the first chapter of the hilarious Parkinson's Law, by your fellow Brit, C. Northcote Parkinson.

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