Monday, October 12, 2009

by salt. by dice. by meal. by mice. by dough of cakes. by sacrificial fire.

"Across both public and private sectors what readers experienced as "management" was pervasively problematic. It just wasn't what it said on the tin. Wherever they looked, readers found a glaring discrepancy between "official" and "unofficial" versions, between talk and walk.

The talk was empowerment, shared destiny, pulling together: the walk was increasing work intensity, tight performance management, risk offloaded on to the individual. The talk was flat organisations: the reality, centralisation and a yawning divide between other ranks, required to minimise their demands for the greater good, and a remote officer class whose rewards had to soar to motivate them to do their job. Employees were the most valuable asset - until costs had to be cut."

~Simon Caulkin, "Farewell, with a last word on the blunder years"

This is the single largest problem we're seeing, and it's become universal in terms of employment, world-wide. (I'd almost be willing to say grid-wide, as well, but it's still mostly a real-world issue.)

"A woman working for a regional newspaper group in the UK as an editor was informed that she would become editor of 3 newspapers, and was then told she now had to manage 5 newspapers. Feeling overwhelmed she visited her GP, who told her that she was so stressed (read stuck to the ceiling) she was proscribed to take at least 4 weeks sick leave. Her boss on learning of her GP’s advice warned her that [any time] taken off would be a career changing decision – read don’t bother coming back. Nice."
~SMLXL, Modern Life is Rubbish

In France, this is particularly problematic. France Telecom, Renault and Peugeot, among other firms, have been exceptionally hard-hit by corporate suicides--that is, people who choose to take their own lives at work.

The national suicide rate, in fact, for France, is just a bit under 15% for every 100,000 people. Paired with that, one in every ten French citizens claim antidepressant medication and treatment on their company's health-care plans.

"Of course, institutional stupidity and failure to take responsibility are characteristic of all top-down organisations - in fact, they're two sides of the same coin. Hence the reductio ad absurdum, also charted here, of gleaming hi-tech organisations too witless to stop themselves auto-destructing."
~Simon Caulkin, "Farewell, with a last word on the blunder years"

People are quickly starting to realize, world-wide, that the experience of their grandparents--staying in one company for life, retiring from that firm when the time came--just isn't happening. Even bright talented people shift around, and usually not by will--they move when they feel forced to, when they feel they aren't being heeded, when they feel that their job will be axed soon--and many of them don't move soon enough, ending up on the cutting room floor, the casualty of yet another spate of downsizing.

"'Who needs me?' is a question of character which suffers a radical challenge in modern capitalism. The system radiates indifference. It does so in terms of the outcomes of human striving, as in winner-take-all markets, where there is little connection between risk and reward. It radiates indifference in the organization of absence of trust, where there is no reason to be needed. And it does so through reengineering of institutions in which people are treated as disposable. Such practices obviously and brutally diminish the sense of mattering as a person, of being necessary to others."
~Richard Sennett, "The Corrosion of Character"

This, I feel, has begun to leak into Second Life--that concept that any avatar is replaceable, that any worker can be fired or hired, with no better recommendation than 'well, they look good on paper'--or even worse, 'their av looked okay'.

It's very dismissive, this concept, and I think especially in virtual worlds, there needs to be an honest pause to consider. Is this person helping my company? should be the first question. Is this person doing what I need them to do? If not, then obviously, let them go--but it must be said, most employment options in Second Life lack multiple facets. Each employer in general wants only one thing. There is little room for multi-tasking, let along use of broadened skill sets.

"Perhaps the collapse of orthodoxy will make it easier to salute and cherish such exceptions: companies that refuse the dominant logic, such as John Lewis; academics who risk their careers by engaging with big issues (would Darwin, Freud and Marx be employable in today's universities?); courageous public-sector managers who find ways of circumventing the draconian targets regime to do what they know to be right."
~Simon Caulkin, "Farewell, with a last word on the blunder years"

The more I go on, the more I realize I had an exceptional opportunity, beginning my life on the grid. I started in a company that just wanted pretty decorations--and truly, that's all I was. But I went from there to being a person in my own right; after all, in how many strip clubs did the patrons discuss Catholic hierarchical structure and Latin declensions with the dancers??

More than that, as I grew in experience, my employers gave me more responsibility. By the end of it I was an estate manager on the land; I was the club manager; I was responsible for new hires. I was not just pretty pixels on a pole.

Though, to be fair, that is also completely illustrative of the problem. With little raise in what they paid me, I was expected to be entertainment, human resources, event coordination, management and security. Were there others on staff to do these things? Yes, but I was rather the all-in-one.

And when the club stopped being profitable, in terms of tier and time invested, the owner of the club closed it, rather than work out how to make it profitable again.

"People are both clinging on to their current jobs, however much they dislike them, and dreaming of moving when the economy improves. This is taking a toll on both short-term productivity and long-term competitiveness: the people most likely to move when things look up are high-flyers who feel that their talents are being ignored.

The most obvious reason for the rise in unhappiness is the recession, which is destroying jobs at a startling rate and spreading anxiety throughout the workforce. But the recession is also highlighting longer-term problems. Unhappiness seems to be particularly common in car companies, which suffer from global overcapacity, and telecoms companies, which are being buffeted by a technological revolution. In a survey of its workers in 2008, France Telecom found that two-thirds of them reported being “stressed out” and a sixth reported being in “distress”.

~from the print edition of The Economist, author and date unknown

There's a lot of stress and tension, both on the grid and in the world. How will I pay rent? is a common question in both places. How do I keep my job is another--even jobs that, in any world, the person doesn't particularly want. There is a creeping dread growing by leaps and bounds at the thought of being in the job market again--even young fresh minds, brilliant and inventive, dread the thought of the interview process. And once the job is acquired, the rent issue is stabilized, the keeping that job question keeps back--will they still pay me? and when do I get axed? are two questions that should never be asked, in terms of a worker employed--and yet they, too, are common everyday questions now.

"A more subtle problem lies in the mixed messages that companies send about loyalty and commitment. Many firms—particularly successful ones—demand extraordinary dedication from their employees. (Microsoft, according to an old joke, offers flexitime: “You can work any 18-hour shift that you want.”) Some provide perks that are intended to make the office feel like a second home. But companies also reserve the right to trim their workforce at the first sign of trouble. Most employees understand that their firms do not feel much responsibility to protect jobs. But they nevertheless find it wrenching to leave a post that has consumed so much of their lives."
~from the print edition of The Economist, author and date unknown

We are creatures of loyalty. Pixel-brained or flesh, we equate work with home, employment with caretaking, workplace with family. It takes a lot of dissatisfaction and ill treatment to get the average person into the mindset of escape-from, over endure-for.

In this economy, worldwide, we are now seeing the results of that dissatisfaction and ill treatment writ large. Middle management is effective, and causes the largest problems; but upper management is no longer content with anything that doesn't improve the bottom line. And the bottom line is now profit. The bottom line is now paying off the shareholders. The bottom line says people are disposable, any cog for any gear, and just as easily slotted in somewhere else, regardless of where their talents lie.

"Management seems to have responded to the new stresses in the world's increasing globalization by passing them along to the workers, and operating under an ersatz 'we're all in this together' bonhomie while they sharpen the knives for the next round of cutting. This leads to a growing alienation of people from their work, and from those that they work with."
~Stowe Boyd, from the /message blog

If the people over you are more interested in preserving the bottom line, and the people next to you are keeping their heads down to avoid being shoved over themselves, there is no job loyalty. There is no security in position. There is only when does the bad thing happen? And who gets attacked this time?

To create anything of value in the world beyond, we have to recognize the worlds we're creating virtually. To improve anything in the real world, we have to improve it on the grid, first.

If we can't do that, then we have no hope left.

(Regardless of what any particular reader may think, this had nothing to do with recent employment situations in my life. I just found it a fascinating series of articles.)


Alexandra Rucker said...

A lot of issues I've seen with in-world employers is that many of them are the flash-in-the-pan varities - here today, gone in a month or two, when they realize tier doesn't stop.

They just don't seem to have the realistic view of what it's like to be the employER rather than the employEE - an HR staffer that didn't think to run background checks comes to mind as an example. :)

Beyond that, as far as real-world examples go... a show called Extreme Workplaces profiled some of the "cool places" to work - where flex time IS seriously flex time, and employees are actually valued, among other things - so sometimes it's a matter of looking around to see what's in the area.

I've reached the point where I'd rather have "fun" than "work dread", but so far all that's available are varying shades of "work dread".

(School looks far more interesting at this point...)

Emilly Orr said...

I honestly think another problem is the concept of micropayments itself.

There is this odd perception of micropayments on the grid; for the buyer, 500 to 2000 Lindens seem to be on the high side, depending; but for the creator, 200 to 500 is cheap. Thirteen RL cents seems an insanely low price to pay outside of SL; but in SL, people really weigh that thirteen cents as if they're going to beggar their children, or lose their car, if they give it up.

It's very odd.

That being said, I still think there are good things that can happen by working in world. Making things, working for others, using SL as an interim medium to facilitate at-home work...there are emergent markets that can grow in these spaces.

It's just getting people to realize that...

Rhianon Jameson said...

Not to defend the system, but it's clear that, as with much in life, there are tradeoffs involved in the employer-employee relationship. Too much "job for life" and the employee has no incentive to break a sweat to earn money for the company. Too little and the result is the same, because the employee is constantly looking for the next job.

But just as corporate cultures differ, so do bosses within a corporation. Some are great: compassionate, interested in employees' job development, happy to see them succeed. Others are tyrannical egomaniacs who think their employees are serfs. One would like to think that, over time, the latter fade away, but that doesn't always happen.

The only sure way of getting away from a bad boss and a bad corporate culture is to go into business for yourself...which carries with it its own risks and headaches. God bless those with the entrepreneureal drive - and bless them doubly if they also turn out to make good bosses for the rest of us.

Emilly Orr said...

I would tend to agree, and the same corporate culture does not work for everyone, it must be said as well. Though I will say, having been fired from one position (J.C. Penney's, as it happens) for averaging three seconds longer on call times overall (when my row was the *only* row to take and process Alaskan and Hawaiian calls) than the average of other call center workers, I think a little less emphasis on time per call, and a little more on achievements or sales made per call, might have been better.

Then again, there were those I worked with in that position who thrived under such stringent control. It takes all kinds.