Published on March 13, 2010 By Artysim In Current Events

---WARNING---

This article is not "American Bashing" although I am sure some will interpret it that way. Since I don't post very frequently anymore I'm also going to combine several topics into a somewhat nonsensical rant. If you don't like it, or are unable to stomach my observations/criticisms or writing style, please go and stick your head in the nearest toilet (preferably a dirty one) and flush repeatedly. I guarantee you'll get more enjoyment out of it than reading what comes next.

Okay, still with me? Good.

First off, let me address why I post so infrequently and/or pop in and out of various topics for no rhyme or reason. It has to do with work, and life, and what is called "work-life" balance. This is code for-

"I'm painfully busy, and for me to meaningfully involve myself in a discussion takes so much of what little free time I have left that it's not worth it to deal with the fallout of an angry girlfriend" Now in no way am I criticizing the girlfriend. In fact, she's entirely justified to be angry because by the time I have any free time it's 9 or 10 pm which means we've only got one or two hours of 'us' time in the day. Even the simplest of minds should be able to understand what happens if I plop myself down on the couch at 9 o'clock at night and say

"Hey honey, how was your day? That's great, okay, now I'm gonna go and type stuff on the computer. Oh, and thanks for making supper, keeping it warm in the oven while I was away and doing the dishes AND, can you take the garbage out too while I'm on the internet??"

I hope you get the picture.

As to why I'm out the door at 7:00 AM and home by 9 or 10 PM almost every day, it's a combination of things:

1) Work is busier than normal. This is however temporary and will be slowing down to a more normalized schedule in a few months as various projects wrap up.

2) I'm working on getting the next level of my professional certification, which means a lot of studying and book-work after the day job is done. This is also temporary and by the end of the summer/beginning of the fall I should be done. Even after that I'll still continue to expand my horizons whether it be career oriented or just personal interest, but that will become relegated to a few hours of casual study per week versus hitting the books every.single.night.

3) No matter what, you still have to live life. This means snow-shoeing in the winter and running in the summer. For example on the weekends we will make trails into areas that are too deep for snowmobiles to get into on their own. The snowmobilers are grateful in that with a somewhat broken in trail they can haul their ice fishing gear into lakes (augers to drill holes and such) and give us some of their catch. Anywho. Also included in this topic is the social life, seeing friends, shooting pool blah blah blah.

The point of all of this is that while I'm busy RIGHT NOW, I know in another few months I won't be. It's the great sine wave of life, peaks and valleys, up's and down's. Also, much of the busy-ness I'm involved in is self-imposed, not forced on me by a tyrannical corporation.

And now we get to the actual topic of the article- what do YOU look for in an employer?

The reason I ask this stems from a discussion I had the other day. A good friend of mine called and was catching me up on all the ins-and-outs of his life. Most recently, he's had two interviews with large American companies, one of them was Apple and the other was another technology giant "xyz"- I honestly can't remember, so take your pick and insert a name as you please. Both companies offered him a job and he turned down both of them.

I was -somewhat- shocked but had a nagging suspicion as to why he did it. Each company was going to give him a nice big wad of cash, good benefits and the classic 'golden handcuffs' of an employee stock option plan.

The reason he turned them down is that they quite literally demanded his soul. It was very clearly spelled out that in exchange for some money and stocks, he was expected to live, breathe, eat and sleep the company line. Everything else would take a permanent back-seat.

Now, of course it wasn't said in those exact words. It never is, but is rather couched in the corporate Orwellian newspeak of the day talking about how the company needs "energized, dedicated employees who genuinely share in the company vision, who will 'drill-down' on problems and revel in new challenges, embrace new paradigms and move forward blah blah blah"

Now, if you've ever worked for a big, soulless corporation you know what those words mean. And the proof is in the pudding, meaning that all you have to do is take a look at the lives lived by the rank-and-file.

It is my honest observation that the average employees of most large American tech companies get squeezed for every ounce of productivity they're worth, night and day, weekends and evenings. And to add insult to injury, if you speak out of line or express a contrary opinion to the edicts of management, at best you've just torpedoed your advancement within the organization, at worst just lost your job.

In short, chances are very good that you will become a well paid slave, but a slave nonetheless.

I haven't reached this opinion overnight mind you, but over several years of working with various counter-parts in major American companies.

In most (though not all) instances this is the recipe for my southern friends:

1) Non-union. In fact, completely ignorant of what a Union really is or can offer them. The couple of times that I mentioned to them that I was a unionized worker you could hear a pin drop in the room, like time had stopped.

Because they are non-union, and work in a large corporate monolith, the only thing that matters is that they bring as much value to the organization as humanly possible. Their opinions in the great scheme of things are irrelevant, and as already mentioned, stating this opinion can be a serious pitfall.

In my current job however, I've had the pleasure of telling directors and vice-presidents that their idea is terrible and won't work for the following reasons. While they're never happy to hear this, it's a much better environment for the free flow of ideas when you don't have to worry about losing your job.

FYI, here's how getting fired in my union works- you need at least 3 documented indiscretions on your file (with obvious exceptions for big things like setting the building on fire of course) and for each instance the union has to agree that it is an indiscretion -and- the worker has to be formally advised each time. The company can't sit back and quietly save up three problems then come in one day and say "gotcha sucker!!!" but after each time the worker must be made fully aware of what they did wrong in order to give them the opportunity to rectify things.

For example, if I am brought into a meeting with executives as a technical resource and I state that someone's idea is bad for reasons X, Y and Z, while that person won't like me there's no way in hell it could ever come back as a mark on my file. If, however I say that the director of so-and-so is a complete and utter moron who shouldn't be allowed to breed, obviously that is a different story.

2) Worked-to-the-bone- Seriously, I've yet to meet an American counter-part who isn't completely terrified of getting laid-off, out-sourced, down-sized or let go because they are percieved to be working 1 % less than any of their co-workers. This breeds the 24/7 work mentality in which people are chained to their blackberry's and busy answering e-mails from their boss at 10 PM on a saturday night.

3) Brain-washed. Yup, I said it. Here's why. Human beings can get used to just about anything given enough time. If you take a person, no matter how nice or smart they are, and stick them in the pressure-cooker I've just described, you either leave or adapt. Many have chosen to adapt....gotta get that paycheque and health benefits right? meaning that they have become VERY used to never questioning the reasoning behind their orders. They have become used to being on virtual beck and call 24/7, putting their personal life, family life, and wellbeing in the backseat whenever it is demanded of them. In short, they've forgotten or simply don't know about the moniker "work to live, not live to work"

Now, part of this brain-washing is tied heavily into the indoctrination Americans (and Canadians too, although not quite as severe I think) are bombarded with our whole lives;

We are taught that -if- we work hard enough, if we keep our noses to that grindstone and stay out of trouble and don't make waves we can live the dream. We can make it big, have a nice house and the good life. This is, for the majority of the populace, a complete and utter lie. Yes, some will always win the race and get to the cheese at the end of the maze and live that often dreamed of "good life" But the rest of us, are more akin to the rodent that has the cheese dangling in front of their nose which is attached to a stick strapped on to their back.

Most of us will instead generate wealth for the company we work for while the CEO sits back and says "Hey, look at all this wealth I'm creating!!"

 And when we lose our value or even lose a couple percent of productivity as we grow older, we are tossed aside like refuse. If, in between you didn't manage to squirrel away enough of the kernels that were tossed your way while you spent the best years of your life serving the corporate God on bended knee, well sucks to be you.

I guess that's the big distinction I'm trying to communicate- most of my American counterparts working for big tech companies aren't doing their jobs because they find it personally fulfilling or enjoyable, but rather because they honestly believe that if they just sweat a little more on the shop floor one day they will be able to reap the fruit of their labors. What they don't understand is -most- of that fruit is going to enrich their employer, and even if they have a full career that is technically succesful and they get that nice new house in a gated community, one day they'll wake up to find that they've spent a lifetime of labor without actually getting the chance -to- live the life they worked so hard for in the first place.

Is it better in Canada? In some ways no, in some ways yes. It depends. We have mega-corporations here that do the exact same thing. Some big employers actually are good companies to work for, but most offer you the typical faustian deal- we give you a big chunk of money, you give us your SOUL!!!!

At the end of the day though, what matters to me is that I find personal fulfillment in what I do, NOT that I work as hard as humanly possible to bring the absolute maximum benefit to my employer. Please don't interpret this as me saying that I'm lazy. What I'm saying is that if I give it my all I do so because I genuinely want to. And in this type of work environment, I'm happy. There's a balance between my work and my life. Sometimes I work late, although it is not expected of me. Other days, if I have plans after 5 PM and I'm working with some engineers in another timezone, I'll apologize but tell them my work-day is done and it's time to hang up my hat and go home. There's no hushed whispers or unspoken rules that I've broken when I do this, whereas in the mega-corporate world to actually leave work at 5 PM on the dot is often considered lazy or the mark of a bad worker.

It's an old cliche' that's been so over-used it's lost it's meaning, but it really is true; "Do what makes you happy"

If you don't know what makes you happy, then find out. If you can't do what makes you happy (but obviously need to pay the light bill and put food on the table) then by all means work a job that you hate, but don't for one second surrender your soul for a paycheque. Make it your goal to do that thing that makes you happy and work towards it. One of my best friends is a millwright in a sawmill. For anyone who doesn't know, that's REAL man's work. He comes home after a 12 hour day physically and mentally exhausted, hands permanently stained from industrial work. Does being a millwright make him happy? No. He's content with it, and doesn't really mind which is good enough for him. What makes him happy is photography and he has a side business doing just that. Once in a while he'll sell a picture or two. What matters is, he's not slaving away in the mill thinking that one day for all his hard work he will magically attain millionaire status.

So what am I saying? It's time to throw away the American dream. A job that pays good money and benefits but demands every ounce of your being, every iota of your physical, mental and emotional energy is not worth it. And that is exactly what many corporations are now demanding precisely because unions have been busted since the 80's and many employees are running scared with the economy, outsourcing, the threat of losing health coverage etc.

Life is too short to waste on chasing something that for most people, statistically will never even come close to getting and ultimately WILL NOT bring happiness even if you do get it.

So what do I look for in an employer? I look for an environment in which I can be myself. To work in anything else means misery for me, and one of the best things I've ever done was recognize that and act accordingly.

Remember folks....work to live, not the other way around.


Comments
on Mar 13, 2010

I don't usually agree with you Arty, but on this issue we share some common ground. I'm not big on unions. In the best case (and yours seems like one of them), I feel that they breed mediocrity.

But on the other hand, I say that a man must stay true to himself. Or as Popeye would say, "I yam what I yam!".

I expect to be compensated based upon the value that I provide to an organization. Recently, I was looking at an employment advertisement for a startup organization based out of Toronto. VC funded, they are bleeding cash. Not too unusual. Looked at a picture of the working environment, and it felt (to me) uncomfortable.

Thought about the working requirements. The ad said, "9 to 5ers need not apply". Thought, okay, I can do that.

Then thought about the rewards. Didn't really see anything other than some bragging rights associated with working at a startup with some degree of potential.

I'll give freely of my time and money when it comes to charity. But when it comes to a profit-making organization, I expect to be paid.

Now, that said - I'm more than prepared to put tons of free effort into my own startup. I just would never expect someone else to donate freely to *my* cause.

on Mar 14, 2010

I would have to ask if your "friend" has ever had a real job before?

 

on Mar 14, 2010

Bunnahabhain (what does that mean by the way?) -sorry for the long reply in advance-

I don't usually agree with you Arty, but on this issue we share some common ground. I'm not big on unions. In the best case (and yours seems like one of them), I feel that they breed mediocrity.

Most people these days aren't big on unions for exactly the reason you quote above. And, there is some truth in it. Here's the secret about unions-

In and of themselves, they're not inherently good or bad, or by their virtue breed mediocrity. Unions are just like any other organization of people- if properly structured and actively participated in by folks who give half a damn, the end result is usually pretty good.

If however, no one participates in the Union and is content to let it be a mysterious self-managed entity that exists in the ether, then of course the train goes off the rails.

I will say this one huge plus about working in a union... I have much, much more freedom and autonomy than my manager. And that's not a dig against management but rather I feel sorry for front-line managers, even directors and so forth in the corporate model. Here's why; the CEO, VP, or other high-echelon person makes a decision, that the company is now going to initiate a new policy called "smile-tastic" or other such thing. This policy requires you to smile all day and whenever talking to someone extoll the virtues of the company.

Now, a manager, whether they agree with this or not, MUST comply. If they think this is a terrible policy/idea for several very legitimate reasons, if they speak out against it, regardless of how correct they may be, they will at the very minimum be branded as a non-team player by the higher-ups, or could lose their job all together which is much more likely in today's shark-tank environments. Basically, if given a poo sandwich, not only do managers have to eat it, but they have to smile while doing so -and- genuinely convince everyone watching that they really do love the taste.

Being in a union however, I can voice my true opinions about a subject and don't have to worry about major backlash. Now don't get me wrong, that doesn't mean I can bad-mouth managers or call people idiots and such, but rather I can say "I think the smile-tastic policy is bad for reasons a, b and c but offers some good points for reasons x and y, but overall I disagree with it"

And most importantly, I don't have to worry about losing my job because an un-named higher-up arbitrarily decided that I'm just not smiling enough or happy enough, or for some other reason that is un-quantifiable but for which other people in non-union work gets fired all the time.

Thought about the working requirements. The ad said, "9 to 5ers need not apply". Thought, okay, I can do that. Then thought about the rewards. Didn't really see anything other than some bragging rights associated with working at a startup with some degree of potential. I'll give freely of my time and money when it comes to charity. But when it comes to a profit-making organization, I expect to be paid.

I agree with you one-hundred percent. If it's your baby, of course you're willing to pour your heart and soul into it. But to ask others to give the same level of commitment for little compensation with a vague mumbling that if things are on the up and up the pay -may- go up is part of a vicious cycle I see many small businesses fall into.

Just after I graduated from college I was offered a job with Bell Canada. I was all excited, new grad about to start his career with a big company! Then a week after I was offered the job, Bell merged with a company called Group Telecom and there was a company-wide hiring freeze that myself and the two other grads from the class who had been offered jobs were affected by. The manager was very apologetic and said that technically we all still had the job, it was just that it may not be available for at least six months or a year, but by that time depending on how the industry and company were doing he couldn't guarantee it would be any better then.

So I was obviously pretty let-down, a new grad already cash-strapped with debt and now with only a vague promise (nothing in writing) that I may at some unspecified date be able to work.

So I hit the pavement and got a job with a local mah-and-pah telco, you know one of those outfits that hooks up hotels for high speed internet and does small to medium sized office jobs (phone systems and a smattering of internet) etc.

Right off the get-go in the interview I was getting bad vibes. This was an outfit that on the outside looked really good. They had all kinds of vendor re-seller awards and everyone seemed really friendly. The owner had started the company literally out of his car, driving around from site to site with his tools and cables in the back of his truck and now had grown it into a 15-20 person operation with uniformed technicians driving branded company vans.

I couldn't quite put my finger on it at the time, but in retro-spect I should have listened to my gut and never taken the job in the first place. Here's why;

The owner of the company demanded that everyone invest the same amount of time, energy and dedication that he was putting into it. However, the rank and file techs were payed -WELL- below the industry standard and we had to sign a form stating that all our overtime would be banked for lieu time. That way if the company hit a slow patch in the winter we might get a day off here or there but still get paid for it.

I quickly realized what a cash-cow this was for him. He had us working from 8 am to 10 pm every day with a half-hour for lunch, and he was steadfast on emphasizing the half-hour. One day we were on a construction site and left at noon to grab lunch at a nearby mcdonalds. Obviously you have to drive there, go wash your hands, order, eat, drive back etc. We got back on site at 12:35 PM and he was standing there and lectured us about taking too long.

After two weeks I finally found out what was rotten- most of the people who worked for his company were all family or in some way closely related to him. This was a family business that everyone was heavily invested in, and of course they were being well compensated in ways other than their official paycheques (lots of the whole yearly bonus and under the table shenanigans) Of course, because they were family and were getting well looked after they poured their lives into this company just as he did.

Where things broke down for him was hiring people off the streets. Because the owner was such a talented, hard-working fellow his company had grown to the point that there was more work coming in than they could handle. He was forced to hire non-family to adjust for the demand, but he expected these people to break their backs for just above minimum wage with the promise that if you broke your back long enough, hard enough, and gave enough of your soul to the company then in a year or two (depending) you would get an un-specified compensation based on what you put into it. And of course, if you were to get a 20% raise from 8 dollars an hour to 10 dollars that would mean that your productivity would have to increase by 20%, right?

Anywho, long story short I see many small businesses fall into this trap every year. Sorry for the long-windedness

 

on Mar 14, 2010

I would have to ask if your "friend" has ever had a real job before?

Yup, in fact he's working for a software development company in Calgary right now.

He chose this outfit over Apple or the other big tech company, he makes less money than he'd make for the big outfit but he's much happier.

Prior to that, he worked for a medium sized networking company for 4 years, during which time he poured his soul into that operation thinking that for all his hard work we would be amply rewarded in due time.

Well, in september he got his reward, in the form of getting laid-off. Basically the company lost some contracts in an area unrelated to his but some other folks were more buddy-buddy with the higher ups and so he got the boot in order that these other folks could get shifted around.

He learned that just because you give it your all doesn't mean you'll necessarily get compensated in return, rather in reality in most cases you WILL be squeezed for every ounce of productivity and then discarded when it is convenient to do so.

He says that getting laid off from his last job was the best thing that could have happened to him as it rather opened  his eyes to just how brain-washed so many of us are as we chase that carrot that's actually dangling from a stick strapped to the back!

on Mar 15, 2010

I do think that MNC are the organisations of the future. I also believe that the average American worker is a sincere, devoted and his/her productivity is amongst the highest in the world. I am not sure that the work place is so soulless as is made out to be because I have not worked in one.

Unions are BAD for the Comapny and are incredibly disruptivr.

on Mar 15, 2010

He chose this outfit over Apple or the other big tech company, he makes less money than he'd make for the big outfit but he's much happier.

You basically summed up the whole article and comments with that one line.  There is no law that says "Thou shalt maximize income" or that "thou shalt maximize enjoyment".  Simply put, to each his own.

Before getting into my situation, I will comment on your Union issue.  Clearly you like unions because you have a good one that protects you from your management.  But that speaks less about the union than your management.  I do not need protection from my management, so I do not need a union.  I do not work for companies where I need such protection (much like your friend).  However, not all Unions are like that clearly.   They were at one time, but most unions now are in it for themselves.  Not the worker (otherwise, companies would not be going bankrupt).  The UAW, SIEU and others long ago lost sight of what a union was created for, and instead now look to the dues ad THEIR due, and not an asset to help the worker.

Now about your job situation. Basically you are where I was a year ago.  No one told me to work 100 hour weeks, or 16 hour days.  I did so because the job needed it and I felt an obligation to the organization because of the way they had treated me.  Very fairly.  I also knew it would not last, and it did not.  No union.  Just right.  So best of luck and I look forward to you contributing more when you have the time.

In my career (let's keep it professsional which would be the last 32 years), I have worked for more organizations than I would have thought starting out.  And almost all of them were good ones.  But not all of them ended that way, but they did start that way.  Just like people, companies change.  The first one was a company that I was glad to work overtime for!  It was a multi billion dollar company where you would walk down the hall and bump into the CEO or the mother of the CEO (a real character) and they would call you by your first name.

But a bunch of Harvard MBAs took over.  And when I was laid off, it was not the same company and I was glad to go.

The next one was the best company I ever worked for.  Again, a multimillion dollar company that I was glad to go the extra mile on.  I was with them for many years, and only when their source of funding dried up, did they let me go.  But I loved that one even after that as well.  Then there weere more like the first one.  Started out good, went bad (because of management changes).  I am in one now that I hope stays the same as far as management because I love the people and the work.

In all of this, money was a driving factor until I reached a level where I earned enough for a comfortable life style, just not rich.  And in all of them I had no problem telling the bosses when they were full of poo.  And in none of them did I ever FEEL the need for a union.  I can walk down the hall and into the office of the director.  Or call the CIO up on the phone to voice a problem or an idea.  And if I screw up, they can call me on the carpet.  But like smart people, they are not going to fire me because I inserted tab A into slot C one time.  SO I have no fear of management, nor do I need some leech siphoning off some of my money to make someone else rich at my expense and interfering with my dialogue with my bosses.

So what do I look for in an employer?  What I have always looked for.  Openess to the bosses, willingness to listen to new ideas, and a friendly work environment (that includes co-workers). for the most part, that is all I have ever worked for.  But a few changed over time, and I was glad to leave (and one did not and I hated to leave - but the only constant in life is change).  It has worked for me.  It may not for you, but then I guess I am lucky.

Your friend is a lot like me.   I do not want a gazillion dollars and that type of atmosphere.  So I have not pursued that path, instead persuing one where I can be happy and paid well to boot.

on Mar 15, 2010

A Union can't make you enjoy your job. They can keep mediocre and poor performers on the payroll.

on Mar 15, 2010

Bunnahabhain (what does that mean by the way?)

It's Gaelic, actually. It's also the name of one my most favourite single malt scotches. Here's a link to how it is pronounced: http://www.dcs.ed.ac.uk/home/jhb/whisky/sounds/bunnahab.au

As to long replies - they make for interesting reading.

In my case, I started my first permanent job in 1982 as a mainframe computer operator. Those were tough times (economically), and I felt pretty lucky to have landed something, even if it was with the Ontario Government! I had the right experience, as I had worked the previous summer doing similar work at IBM.

Being young, smart, and energetic, I put a lot into my work. For most of the day-to-day stuff, the union was pretty irrelevant other than taking a few bucks off of each of my paycheques. If memory serves me right, I was making about $13,000/year.

I moved along quickly, and while my manager recognized my ability, his hands were tied when it came to my advancement. There would have to be an official opening first. It would have to be posted and a formal process for applying would be observed. Interviews were done by a team of 3 - one union, one management, and one personnel.

My job was classified as a "data processing technician - 3". Due to the nuances of how the job and payscale evolved, that was the lowest position that anyone on my team held. I was surrounded a few 3s and 4s. A larger number of 5s, and couple of 7s. The sevens made about 2 1/2 times my salary.

Within the first six months, I was working at least at the level of a tech 5. I often challenged the tech 7s with questions that they could not answer. I was trusted by my manager and co-workers to take on the hardest tasks, and to temporarily take charge when more senior staff were absent. When there was any down time, I filled it with study and programming. Many of my co-workers would play cards or take a nap.

When another datacentre moved out of town, we had to accept one of their staff who didn't want to move. He became my senior, but he knew way less than me. I had to train him, and do the more menial tasks when he was around, for I was a 3 and he was a 5. No one wanted any union trouble, so that was just the way that it had to be. He was also lazy and full of himself.

Due to the economic conditions, combined with a large number of comfortable "lifers" there, it took a couple of years before I was able to apply for a promotion. I aced the interview and got the promotion - to a tech 4.

A few months later we all had an issue with statuatory holiday pay. You see, we all worked 12-hour shifts in my department as the computers had to run 365 days per year, and it was common for someone to work some overtime on a holiday, or to just take the day off.

For some reason that was never explained to us, it was decided that we would only be paid for 7 1/2 hours on a holiday, even though we worked 12. Something about other union members complaining was the rumour. The thing was, we were on a totally different schedule from them, and it was specified in the contract.

So, what was a brash young fella to do? Why I called the union rep and left a message. No call back. Called again. No call back. On the third attempt, I finally spoke with someone who told me that the union was really concerned about the low-paid secretaries and such, and that my area, with its highly-paid employees weren't much of a priority to them. He ended the conversation with, "and if you tell anybody this, we'll deny it", and he promptly hung-up the phone.

That didn't sit too well with me, and when the economy picked up in 1985, I quit and went to work in the head office of a national retailer. I have never worked in a union since, and I've never looked back.

I stayed with that employer for 10 years until they decided to outsource, and I took a severance package. Worked as a consultant for nearly 5 years after that. Moved to a large financial institution, but left within a year for a startup once I realized that I was being setup to fail (that's a whole nuther story). Spent 19 months at the startup listening to promises of "I want to make you all rich" from the CEO, until the layoffs started to occur.

I've been at the current company since 2001, and have been in management for the last 5. It's a small company that has its own set of issues - particularly in the area of communication.

So I feel comfortable in saying that I've been around the block a couple of times. That I expect young people to work harder when they are starting off their careers. That I expect to have to work extra when I join a new organization until I have proven myself. And that I expect to be rewarded based upon my contribution to an organization. I don't watch the clock, but I do manage my time well. I live up to my commitments, and that includes personal ones as well.

So like you, while I enjoy my work, I "work to live, not live to work".

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