Tick Tock, Don't Stop - A Manual for Workaholics by Robert S. Swiatek - HTML preview
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PrefaceHe works sixteen hours a day, seven days a week. Where did the time go? A woman’s work is never done. I’ve got to keep busy. I’m swamped with work. There aren’t enough hours in the day. A man works from sun to sun. I don’t have the time. I have got to run. She is a slave to her work. Time waits for no man. She’s just so busy.
The above phrases should sound familiar. Taken in combination, some may even seem contradictory but they all apply to our non-stop pulsating world. When I began this book, I had a different title in mind, but I think the current one more aptly describes my intent.
This work is all about “work,” which is an obsession with many people on this planet. Human beings can’t relax and spend time doing nothing, but instead need to keep “busy.” Most people in the new millennium must bei
constantly occupied; otherwise they get bored, that is, fidgety, uneasy and irritable. Many primitive people are quite content to sit for hours at a time doing nothing.
We don’t have the time to appreciate a crackling campfire or wonder in awe at a glorious sunset or a thundering waterfall. Even vacations are rushed to the point that the return to the home front dictates a few days more off for recuperation. It seems we have transferred our work habits with all the hustle and bustle to our time away and that makes matters even worse. If you don’t believe this, why do so many people check their Email while on vacation and why do they have to check in with the office?
While I am alluding to beepers and pagers, we have all types of new technology that should enable us to lead better lives and work considerably less than previous generations. Unfortunately the workweek has not only not changed, it has gotten even longer. Perhaps all the “improvements” in the way we accomplish things have not been for the better. It really shouldn’t take us longer to get a job done using some machine. Even if it takes a bit less time with a computer, that gadget may not be all that worthwhile. This consideration is something that cannot be overlooked. The long hours at the office or even at home when we log on to our PC to get Email has not helped in the long run. The endless days of work have had many ramifications, including the breakup of the family and the breakdown of individuals. If our society is to progress, drastic changes must be made and soon.
This book will try to remedy some of these concerns. You may not be completely free of the burdens of work but, by reading this, you may be able to better cope with the 9-to5 routine. There is no one who shouldn’t read this and I sincerely hope that it will have some beneficial effect on your life.ii Table of contents
1. What did I do?
2. Sure it’s work but…
3. Show me the big money
4. What can you pay?
5. Boss spelled backwards is double SOB
6. “No soup for you!”
7. Working to save the union
8. Another union
9. Dangerous work
10. That’s not for me
11. A job I liked
12. This agent is not secret
13. We’ll create a position
14. You pay for the shoes
15. Work and revolutions
16. Have you done your home work?
17. There’s a better way
18. Why we work
19. Working it out
You may wonder where work originated. As soon as there were human beings on the earth, work was around. If prehistoric man decided to become a couch potato, he didn’t really have that option as there were neither couches nor potatoes, let alone satellite TV. Since food and drink are necessary for survival, the caveman had to make sure he had plenty of both. Certainly one could survive without food for some time, but not without water. Nonetheless both were needed at that time to sustain good health just as they are today.
Perhaps the early caveman, whom we shall call Charlie, came home to his cave mate Millie with his new find from the woods. Out for a stroll he happened to stumble onto some blueberries and he tasted one. He was quite pleased with the taste so he picked a few more and indulged, and the remaining berries he brought home to Millie. When she tried them, she liked them too so he spent afternoons harvesting those little nuggets. After a time, he may not have been able to find anymore or even worse, Millie had a reaction to them.
“Those blue things are good, but they really leave my digestive system in knots,” Millie said to her friend.
“Maybe I can find something in the field that won’t cause us to run out of toilet paper,” Charlie replied. Well, those weren’t his exact words but I think you get the point.
The master of his domain headed out in search of some other food and noticed these beautiful animals gliding across the landscape. He also saw small animals hopping in front of him in the meadow. Suddenly a thought occurred to him. These creatures could be a nice substitute for the blue stuff but somehow he would have to subdue them. His job (a definite reference towards “work”) was to come up with a scheme to “bring home the bacon!” Perhaps he figured he
could entice the animal to eat some of that blue food, provided the creature liked it, but who wouldn’t? While the deer was indulging, Charlie could smack him on the head with a rock or large stick and then bring him home for supper. He couldn’t shoot him since he didn’t have a gun. The NRA wasn’t around then. Eventually he succeeded in overcoming this animal and brought him to the cave.
Of course there were still some slight difficulties, as the meat was inside a layer of skin and the deer had to be “processed.” When this was done and Millie and Charlie sat down at the dinner table, they may have been a bit disappointed.
“Charlie, this tastes gamey and I don’t like it,” Millie offered.
“You’re right dear; it needs something.” Partaking of the raw flesh, which really hadn’t aged, wasn’t exactly their idea of good eating.
“Perhaps we should barbecue it!” Charlie’s better half suggested. Well, she really didn’t offer that suggestion but perhaps putting the meat into or above the fire (assuming they had that luxury) could do something to improve the flavor. So let us assume that they did have a fire going close by. Millie took it upon herself to make this venison more edible by cooking it.
Thus Charlie worked at capturing game and harvesting food for the table while his partner was also working by preparing dinner. Since neither party minded doing his job, it may have been work but it certainly wasn’t drudgery. Perhaps the person who had to do the dishes afterward did consider it an inconvenience and something to be avoided. You will note that neither got paid, as their reward was something to keep them going from day to day.
It couldn’t have been too long before either or both of them got tired of deer and berries. Millie may have been outdoors one afternoon and tried some green leaves she
found and it may not have been too long before they had salad on their table. At around the same time Charlie brought home pheasants and rabbits and their menu now became varied.
Charlie ran into another human being, whom we shall call Frank, and they exchanged business cards. Well, that really didn’t happen but they got to be friends. They didn’t kill each other off in a brutal and violent way because Tarantino and Craven weren’t yet on the scene to give them any ideas. Our hero was quite creative and had another brainstorm. He could have more time for leisure if he could get his neighbor to do his hunting for him. His idea was to somehow convince Frank to hunt and process the meat and Charlie in turn would then reward him with a portion of the spoils. Thus the agent was born.
You will notice that Frank never realized that he was getting the raw end (pun intended, get it?) of the deal since without Charlie he would have had the whole animal to himself and he was doing all the work. If Frank came to this realization and refused Charlie’s offer, the former may have come up with a counteroffer, namely that he would hunt the game, Charlie would process it and they would split the meat. Another possibility is that Frank might have offered to do the processing while Charlie did the hunting and trapping, with a split of the venison once again occurring as in Frank’s offer. Thus we have the first business deal as Charlie and Frank became incorporated.
Not long after this arrangement Charlie met a guy who had trinkets around his neck and was really impressed by them. He asked Tom, the owner, where he got this beautiful necklace and the response was that he made it by collecting different shells and stones as he wandered about the area.“If you’d like, I can make you one just like it,” Tom offered. vii
“That would be great and in return you can have some of this processed deer meat, if that suits you,” Charlie added.
“What does it taste like?” was Tom’s reply. “Come in and try some.”
After Tom had a taste, he said, “You’ve got yourself
Thus the first barter took place, where goods were exchanged and money was not involved.
Some time after this Charlie was out and about when he saw four guys who seemed to be bored. This sparked an idea in his brain, as he was a bit weary of his food producing endeavors. He approached them and offered to teach them to hunt and process animals that were captured. In return he would let them take home some of the spoils (in this case the game and not what spoiled.) They figured “why not”, so he spent some time teaching all the fine points and before long his business was even better since he minimized his work. Thus the first manager was born, the teaching profession began and the first firing as Frank was no longer needed. The business world can be very cruel indeed!
One day Jeff, who had been working for Charlie the longest, indicated to his fellow employees that he liked his job but what he took home for his efforts was less than expected. Charlie gave him and the others meat from the legs of the deer but he felt that there was much tastier venison on other parts of the animal.
“We can’t just complain to the boss,” said Jeff.
Tim replied, “What if we organize and all have the same demands?”
“That could work, but we could also all get canned as Charlie might be able to find someone else to replace us,” added Lloyd.
“If we do this in the proper manner, stand firm and are unified, it might develop in our favor,” Jeff chimed in.
Thus the first union was formed and probably not long after this Tom stopped working one morning and pulled out a thermos and poured himself a cup of coffee. Lloyd reached into his pocket and pulled out a short funny thing that he brought over to the fire and lit. He then put it in his mouth and before long, he exhaled rings of smoke from his lips. This was the beginning of the coffee break and the pause for a cigarette.
The union meeting may not have come about for many years and perhaps the same could be said for the work break but each did eventually happen. It was just a matter of time and certainly the organization that existed in the twentieth century was much more intense than those first attempts to unionize. But there was a beginning sometime very long ago, even though there were neither dues nor cafe lattes at that time!
As you can see work has been with us for a very long time. The first jobs were necessary and today many tasks are done for the same reason. People need to put food on the table and they have to pay the rent. Thus work is a must. And yet many people work when they really don’t need to do so. The idea of necessary work comes into question. It’s based on society as it exists today, inspired by the almighty dollar and our desire for possessions.
We shall also see that there are all kinds of work. In some ways work today is so much different from prehistoric times while at the same time it is so similar. This book will cover some of the issues that Charlie faced. It will state many of the reasons why we work and have to do so, the role of the union, housework, management, laziness, creativity on the job and work without pay. Our caveman friend may not have encountered it, but this book will mention an aspect of work that has been around for centuries and cost thousands of people their lives: slavery. Sadly, it has not gone away.It will also will get into unnecessary work, dangerous ix
work, “working” professional athletes, work of entertainers and agents, work that is good for you and work that can kill you. Also covered will be the cost of working and the argument of working against collecting unemployment. Other connections to work discussed will have to do with the idea of control, the creation of jobs that really don’t need to be around, consulting and a few other related topics. It will also delve into the question of “illegal” work and some of the arguments might surprise you.
Finally solutions are proposed to guarantee that we don’t become workaholics or, if that is already the case, what options we have to change for the better. Most people, myself included, spend a great deal of their lives working, so this book applies to us all. The insights offered may get you to think about your current employer and the rat race that overwhelms you. Many people have done a great deal of thinking in this regard and have changed their outlook as well as their jobs. You may be joining them in increasing the quality of your life.x 1. What did I do?
You may be wondering what qualifies me to write a book on work. Like many people reading this, I have been working the majority of my life. Most recently I spent a short stint on a contract at a health care company. Prior to that I was a software consultant for a year and a half at one of the most visible student loan corporations in the country. I have been contracting my services for over twenty years and I started studying computers in the early 1970s, so I have a fair amount of experience in both consulting as well as in computer software.
Over the last few years, I have had contracts from as short as a week to as long as two years. My work has taken me to the east coast from Maine to Florida, with most of my endeavors in the state of New York. I have worked for six different lending institutions and four food manufacturers. I have also put time in at three different health care corporations in three different cities, even though the name was the same. This might give you a clue to what company it is.
I had contracts for other major corporations that sell computers, and I have worked for one power utility and one telephone company service, both in New York State. I have worked with consulting firms and taught a few computer courses. I worked on Y2K projects for a few clients, including a county government. Other contracts involved the entertainment industry and some small businesses in various locations.
During my consulting years, as well as when I worked as a full time employee in the computer industry, I managed to do quite a few different tasks. I designed systems, wrote programs and did all kinds of testing, including unit testing and system testing. The former involved testing of the program by itself whereas the latter had to do with working with other programs in a group or system. I did regression testing and even testing for the Y2K problem.
I also had to look into other programs that abended, that is ended abnormally, or others that didn’t work exactly as planned and in each case, determine how to make them work. I documented programs and systems and taught programming courses in COBOL as well as seminars on specific computer systems. I did all kinds of analysis and became very familiar with job control language, which is needed to actually run programs. I was even a computer operator for a short period of time and I installed systems that I had written and tested for various clients. I also worked on conversions of one mainframe computer to another.
I worked on mainframes but also on mini-computers and microcomputers. I worked with the programming language of COBOL so much that I became an expert. I also got to know other languages such as FORTRAN, APL, PL/1 and BASIC. My work dealt with batch programs as well as online programs. I worked with plain files as well as with different kinds of databases, some relational and others hierarchical.
You can see that I had a great deal of experience in the world of business and computers, specifically software. Before I stepped into the business rat race, I spent eight years teaching high school mathematics at locations in New York and New Jersey. Leaving education for the realities of the world of business was quite a change despite the fact that each had many similarities. Just talk to any teacher and you will realize that the profession is grossly underpaid for what the majority of participants do.
In the secondary schools I taught algebra, geometry, trigonometry, general mathematics, calculus, advanced algebra and computer math. I even developed the computer math course, which was challenging and exciting. At one of the schools I was moderator of the chess club and I also helped at the football games by working at the popcorn concession. I also did wiring for the school video systems.
At the first teaching assignment I had, I coached an elementary school basketball team and was the baseball coach for the high school junior varsity for a single season. At the same time I worked part time in a supermarket, including the dreaded graveyard shift every weekend from midnight Friday until 9 on Saturday morning.
I actually spent a total of eight years at this one supermarket, working all through college as well as graduate school in addition to those two years while I was teaching. My jobs included bagging groceries, building displays, stocking shelves, cleaning up spills in the aisles and an occasional Sunday inventory. During my last few years there, I had my own aisle to stock and I even did all the ordering for it. I worked the aisle part time while all the other stock clerks had to spend forty hours a week stocking their aisles. This prevented me from being called up front for bagging, as the manager wanted me to get the groceries I ordered on the shelves.
One summer, while I labored in the grocery store in Cheektowaga, a suburb of Buffalo, I had another job at a supermarket in the city. I drove a pickup truck in search of grocery carts that people had removed from the store. Carts were smaller then, so lifting them onto the back of the truck wasn’t that difficult. My pay was based on the number I retrieved. Because I didn’t slack off, my hourly salary was better than when I was stocking shelves.
During one summer while I was teaching, I worked at an establishment that provided souvenirs for Niagara Falls. Another summer I took a computer course but also did some work without pay at a speech clinic in central New York. I was enticed there by my girlfriend and it was a good way of being close to her and the experience of working with young children was very rewarding.
I also spent three years while in high school working on a truck farm, getting vegetables ready for the market. The pay was a pittance but it did give me some cash for minor expenses. When I graduated from high school I had a short stint working at an ornamental iron shop, readying iron lawn furniture for sale. It was a dirty job and fortunately I was there only for a month or so and I still have all my fingers.
I made a few dollars mowing lawns for people, but it only involved a handful of homes. One summer I assisted in distributing a sample of a new laundry detergent in tablet form. Another summer job involved a short stretch at a grain mill in downtown Buffalo that produced breakfast cereals. I also had a great job weighing trucks at a stone quarry that provided gravel for new buildings. The pay was better than at the supermarket and I read quite a few books waiting for the returning trucks.
I also did a bit of math tutoring and I taught mathematics in night school for one session. I had a job doing cleanup at a movie theatre complex but I quit that endeavor after a few days. The job just wasn’t for me so I quickly replaced it with a job pulling orders for loading trucks at a spaghetti factory.
More recently, I had a long span between computer contracts so I took on a few other unusual jobs. One involved dropping off cookbooks at different business establishments for a few days and then returning to either pick up the book or money for the book. The real hope was that more than one person would buy the book and thus more money could be made. For each book a small commission would be given the distributor, and the percentage increased as the sales did. The only people who profited were the managers, as you really had to hustle. After spending about a week or two, I figured out that I made less than a dollar an hour, so I left.
I went from there to a company that produced a product that was supposed to make your car look like new. It was some kind of car polish or paint and I have no idea if it worked. Our jobs were to fill the containers with the chemicals and get boxes filled with the bottled product. I stayed there for a few weeks and then moved on to a box factory. All that company did was produce containers for such diverse products as food and vacuum cleaners. It was so strenuous a job that if you weren’t in shape before you started, you would be in a week’s time. I left there very quickly when I got a computer contract in Rochester at a local bank. I was exceedingly grateful.
I was going to mention that this summary covered most of the work I did over the years but I need to mention other tasks for which I received no compensation. I worked around my father’s house while it was being built. I did menial tasks and I carried bricks for the laborer who did the exterior. I also weeded the garden and assisted on many other projects. Now I have my own garden so I do many of the same tasks and also cut the lawn, trim shrubs and remove dead tree limbs and cut up for campfires outdoors.
I have a monster mall for splitting wood as well as a chainsaw so I have provided firewood for many of the woodstoves and fireplaces that I have had in my homes. Now the wood is only burned outside, as I have neither fireplace nor woodstove in my house. Not too long ago I built my own bookshelf and it came out quite well, simple though it is. Over the years I have painted rooms in my houses, stripped bare and refinished window frames and furniture. My brother helped me install a new floor in one of my bathrooms and I did some wallpapering on my own, which came out fine.
I do my own taxes each year and have written some of my own software at home for keeping track of spending. I used to do my own tune-ups on the car but now I just manage the oil changes, which I am on my way to doing right now. I don’t do it that often but I do clean my own house and naturally I do the dishes each day, as I don’t own a dishwasher. I cook a lot and don’t mind creating meals for others to enjoy, including one item that I make without a machine, bread. I have made my own beer and wine on occasion and they have come out very well.
As you might guess, I shovel the snow in my driveway. The current snowstorm dumped about 4 inches with more to come, so I’ll probably have to shovel again later today. On other occasions, when it was warmer, I did some minor landscaping when I had a deck and sunroom added to my house. I have a project that is still in progress of covering the grounds around my house with a combination of annual as well as perennial flowers. My garden each year has a wide range of herbs such as dill, thyme, oregano, basil, sage, caraway, cilantro, tarragon and anise.
I think that covers most of the jobs that I had over the years. As you will agree, they have involved many different tasks. Naturally there are many types of work that I didn’t do, and I will talk about some of those jobs in other chapters. Suffice it to say that I am qualified to write a book on work. I have spent years doing it and I have been introduced to all kinds of ways of earning a few dollars.
2. Sure it’s work but…
For any work that is performed, there must be some return for the amount of effort spent. Without it, the person involved will either rebel or question whether the whole thing is really worth it. Some of the benefits might be better health, a feeling of joy and happiness, satisfaction or sanity. One outcome that really is not always necessary is a financial benefit or even some kind of barter. This chapter will deal with that specific category of work that is done even though no pay is involved.
I have been at my present address for over ten years and each summer my sister and I have a corn roast for friends and family at my house. The event actually started at a home I owned outside Syracuse some years ago. The number of attendees can be as high as seventy or eighty, with a good percentage being children. Fortunately we get plenty of help, as this is a big endeavor in which we do most of the cooking, planning and cleanup. I have my own garden and it provides some of the ingredients for many of the dishes served.
The corn roast features food, music and, of course, the people in attendance. This implies a great deal of effort as menus need to be written, guest lists created, and music selected that will please most of the participants. Don’t forget about the grass that needs to be mowed and all the housecleaning. A tent, as well as tables and chairs, corn, beer, soda and a port-a-john, all need to be ordered in advance. Then there are all the small things like balloons, games for the children, setting up the kiddy swimming pool and volleyball net, and the work never seems to end.
Once the big day arrives, there’s still much more to be done such as last minute pickup of the corn, soda and beer, the baking of bread, the actual cooking of the corn and hot dogs and all the movement of the food from the refrigerator, oven or stove top to the serving tables. Eventually it’s over and all too quickly, but don’t overlook putting away the leftovers as well as all the cleanup and undoing of what was done before. Thank God for the volunteers, who are more than happy to pitch in. A day or two after the event, either my sister or I decide that we won’t have it next year. However in a few weeks we change our minds and the anticipation begins again.
You may ask why we do it. It’s a monumental task but we look past the work and see the festivities of the day with all the smiling people, great food and music. Even when the rains came, which they have occasionally, we didn’t let it dampen our spirits. In fact the children had a great time when the skies opened up and even some of the grownups didn’t mind. Sitting by the fire outside at the end of the evening, we realize that it was all worth it.
There are other benefits of all this time spent. People get together with one another. Some people wouldn’t see certain others except for this event. I won’t have to cook for a few days and I will get leftovers for my freezer, which means more future meals with little effort. I do clean my house in preparation although this is not the only time of year that I get out the mop and vacuum cleaner. I mentioned the youngsters before and they all seem to have a splendid time. The age variation has been from infants to senior citizens in their eighties and I receive many compliments on the roast each year.
Over the years people have reached out to me and I have not been able to pay them back in kind, nor will I ever have the chance. However, the yearly corn roast is an opportunity to give to others, who in turn can then do the same to their friends, neighbors and relatives. This whole process keeps repeating and it is a great example of people reaching out to others. Giving to others is one of the best things you can do for your fellow man.
You may agree that this creates good will and you do feel better, but believe me, it gets more difficult each year. The first reason has to do with topping the previous year’s effort. Second, with each corn roast the laborers get a year older and this poses a challenge. So how do you minimize all the work? One way would be to have everything catered (and I do mean EVERYTHING) so that all that would have to be done is make a few phone calls. Well, I do make some calls and someday I may enlist a service to bring in a barbecued pig, but even then we would still manage to do much of the cooking.
As I have already alluded, you have to look beyond the work and plan well. The goal is to get as much done in advance as possible and delegate tasks on the day of the event. If one person does one thing like cooking the hot dogs and someone else is in charge of the kitchen, this makes it easier for us. This will also give us more opportunity to spend time with the guests. It certainly won’t eliminate work, only alleviate it. Certain things are best done on the specified day such as bread baking, which I do myself. However, you can make gumbo, soups, baked beans and certain other dishes ahead of time and put them in the freezer. You just have to remember to remove them from the frozen depths and thaw them in time.
You will also need to make lists. These include a list of dishes, music, people to invite, work that has to be done and when and a list of groceries that need to be purchased. I usually have most of the week of the corn roast off from work so I have plenty of time to clean, cook, cut the grass and do other miscellaneous jobs. It feels great to not have to go to the office and I just do one thing after another until everything is done.
Maybe this narrative has scared you off from hosting a big party but I should add some words of encouragement. I will do that by referring to another small get together that I had some years ago. Shortly after I moved into my first house, Christmas season was upon us, and some of the people I worked with suggested having a party. I volunteered my home and I came up with a few menu items and the result was a get together of about fifteen or twenty people. It was a very nice party and I am not sure exactly what I cooked but someone took a picture of me in my Japanese smoking jacket carving a roast of beef. That’s the only food I remember from that impromptu occasion.
I do know that I didn’t spend much time cleaning or cooking. You really don’t have to slave over a hot stove and spend a lot of time scrubbing floors on your hands and knees. I still have photographs of many of the people at that party and I do remember playing music from my record collection. That may give you an idea how long ago this event took place. If giving a party means you’re going to be nagging and whining because of all the work, then you should leave it up to someone else.
Hosting barbecues or holiday parties is one type of effort without pay but there is another that I would like to discuss. A few years ago I moved back to western New York and it wasn’t long before I joined the Amherst Male Glee Club. This group has been around for quite some time and it is a great organization, what with the vocalizing and socializing. My former classmate in high school introduced me to the group and I met some great people. We sang at festivals where other groups performed but we also sang at senior citizen centers and other similar places where listeners enjoyed hearing us. I had to quit the club because of my work schedule on the road but I still attend their annual variety show.
This yearly event, the Red Blazer Varieties, is quite a production in itself and there are performances in March on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings of a specific weekend. Almost as soon as this weekend is over, preparation begins for the next year’s show. During the fall, there are two-hour rehearsals just once a week but once the Super Bowl is over, things really get moving. There’s an additional rehearsal each Sunday afternoon and then on the Sunday preceding the show, a complete run-through starts sometime in the afternoon and it ends when the director is happy with the result. If that wasn’t strenuous enough, there are more rehearsals on the following Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. Just thinking about this overwhelms me!
So why do these people put up with all this effort? People rave about the final result. The guys do it for the enjoyment of singing and performing as well as the camaraderie. I’m sure that many of the men in the group would probably feel the same way about the corn roast that I feel about the Red Blazer Varieties. In each case the people who make each event a success don’t even get involved in thinking how much effort has to be expended. If they did, the event wouldn’t come off!
The annual corn roast doesn’t raise any money but the Amherst Male Glee Club does do charity work as I have already mentioned. No matter how much effort is involved in raising money and helping others, the end results are incredible. People on the receiving end get uplifted but probably not as much as those contributing. There’s nothing better to cure the blues when you’re feeling like your world is collapsing than helping others. You will forget about your troubles in a flash and your spirits will be instantly uplifted. You will also realize that you have no problems at all in the grand scheme of things.
A few years ago I wanted to get away from the normal grind of work and some of life’s disappointments and fortunately my friends invited me over for the weekend. The bad news was they needed some help putting up insulation. As gruesome as that job was, I didn’t really mind since it took me away from thinking about my blues. To this day my friends remind me of the “insulation weekend.” We did get a great deal accomplished and their companionship and fine dinner was something I can’t forget. Their home was in the country away from the rush of the weekly grind.
I will spend an entire chapter on housework but let me just mention another type of work that is very beneficial. It seems that if you live in the country, you will probably perform harder work in the physical sense than if you are a city resident. On the other hand the amount of stress will be only a fraction of that found if you are an urban inhabitant. The great outdoors away from the glare of the bright lights has much to recommend it, one aspect being gardening. You can certainly have a small garden if you live in Los Angeles or Chicago, but living in the suburbs will provide the opportunity for a more fruitful harvest.
When I bought my first house, I lived next to a wooded area and my small bit of property had many trees and a great deal of shade. However, growing tomatoes and other vegetables requires a great deal of sun, so this wasn’t the best place for produce or most flowers. At my second house I had sun for most of the day and the results were much better. The same applies to my present home. Each year I try to grow different produce and this year is no exception. I haven’t grown sweet peas for a few years so that is one of the vegetables that I will be planting as well as pinto beans and Spanish onions from seeds. A few years ago I had great luck growing honeydew melons and before that, eggplant and leeks.
There are many rewards from gardening over and above the fruits and vegetables or beautiful flowers, the latter of which I avoided until a few years ago. Working the dirt with your hands in the clean outdoors is a great feeling as well. The exercise you get is unsurpassed and there is nothing like a homegrown tomato or an ear of corn from the garden. It doesn’t get any fresher then going from the cornstalk into a pan on the stove and into your mouth. The afternoon you spend will feel a great deal better than any day at the office.
Of course, gardening may not be for you just as your preferences for a hobby may be something that I would avoid. But taking pride in your flowerbeds or spending a fall day hunting deer or turkeys can be just what you need to restore your fast paced life to normalcy. This list doesn’t end here as people have all kinds of things that they like to do in their free time. It takes effort so certainly it could be considered work, but it really is a very beneficial and productive hobby.
You might ask what determines a “good” hobby. Some people love to watch movies while others prefer sitting in front of the TV. I recently purchased a DVD player so I look forward to watching flicks with perfectly clear pictures and dynamic stereo sound. Fortunately, I don’t watch one movie after the next and indulge in one bag of chips followed by another of pork rinds. Being a couch potato is certainly not a good hobby although you can watch television without falling into this class.
Over the last few years a big deal has been made out of extreme sports. People skateboard down ski slopes, climb vertical walls of ice, skydive, bungee jump and compete in triathlons. You must be in excellent shape, but there are great dangers in any of these endeavors. Even apparently simple sports such as riding a bike or competing in a marathon can pose problems.
Running 26 miles is a grind on your body. I certainly wouldn’t do it. I was at a friend’s house recently and he was watching the Olympic trials for the marathon. I will never forget the scene as one runner was determined to be in those games and persisted even though the TV displayed the fact all too vividly that his body wasn’t very happy with what was happening. The clincher was the fact that he was a doctor!
I also recall watching a program on an ascent of Mount Everest during which so many people lost their lives, even experienced guides. One fellow made it despite losing parts of his hands to frostbite and he, too, was a doctor. I know his family was not too happy with his decision to do that mountain. It got even more complicated when they saw him in the state in which he returned.
I could go on about other “hobbies” that people have but I will spare you the details. Apparently these preoccupations will always be adventures for some and much dreaded times for others. The trait that differentiates a good pastime from an undesirable one has to do with how it makes you feel, including health wise.
As you can tell from the tone of this chapter, the jobs described here can be classified as hobbies or volunteer work. In some cases there could even be a combination of the two as the glee club described earlier points out. Whichever category it is, you will note that there is no remuneration for either. But the benefits far outweigh any paycheck that you can imagine.
3. Show me the big money
I mentioned in the last chapter hunting and gardening, but some people enjoy skiing, playing golf or softball on the weekend. And yet some individuals make a very decent living just “playing.” The adjective “decent” is an understatement as the April 2, 2001 issue of U. S. News & World Report mentioned that the average player in major league baseball gets paid over $1.8 million. The highest paid athletes in this league earn over $15 million per season, with the top player today getting in excess of $25 million. By the time you read this, that number may get to $30 million or higher, or there could be a strike that completely ruins the sport.
When I was growing up, Mickey Mantle was my hero as he could run, hit for a great average, hit towering home runs, consistently steal bases and make great plays in the outfield. Compared to today’s stars, his salary was paltry. Even if you adjusted his salary for inflation, it wouldn’t compare to that of today’s average players, and he was truly one of the great superstars of the game. He did command a better salary than most of the players of his time, however.
You may wonder why these athletes get paid such big bucks. Many people feel that because of their skills they can fill the stadiums with fans, and they should be rewarded accordingly. That is indeed true but I believe that no one deserves or should earn $27 million a year. You can pay them well, but how much money does someone need to live a good life? The salaries are way out of line and the result is greed on the part of the players as well as on their employers.
Management has gone way overboard in this regard and it can only destroy the game itself. To begin with, where does this money come from to pay these players? Some owners have other businesses, which generate a great deal of cash and thus are a source for some of the funds. More often though, the money comes from television and advertising. Don’t forget that the fans ultimately chip in by buying tickets to the game.
The only problem that could result is that the fans will someday (if they haven’t already done so) get tired of paying these outrageous prices for seeing what many agree is a fairly dull game. Watching the event on the tube has got to be quite boring, even if the game is the World Series. A baseball strike at any time in the future will result in the loss of many more fans, so much so that the sport could be ruined. If you think that the slack could be made up by broadcasting and commercials, where do you think the money comes from for ads and the networks? The answer once again is the fans! Without the fans there is no league because there is no cash.
If you think about making a living as a baseball player in the majors and dream about being in the World Series, you may want to think again. There was no World Series in 1993 as the baseball strike washed it out. As I mentioned earlier, another repeat of that curtailment could ruin the sport as most fans may just find other ways to spend their entertainment dollar. Even the minor leagues could fold if the American and National Leagues cease to be, although they could survive on their own.
The World Series of 2000 illustrated the frustration with what the sport has become. I saw only a few innings of the fall classic although I didn’t care much about it, despite the fact that it was a subway series between the Yankees and the Mets. There were many games that seemed to last until almost midnight and these were not necessarily high scoring battles.
To begin with, the games were supposed to start at 8 p.m. but 8:15 was closer to reality. Because of television coverage, the breaks between half innings dragged on and on and so did the games. If you are an adult or a kid and cared to watch the game, the length of the game and the late hour of the last out became a huge impediment. I’m making this statement now but it was also made by at least one commentator on the air.
Years ago many youngsters dreamed of being a major leaguer and ultimately coming to bat in the World Series. With the ever-increasing salaries, the thought grew even more attractive. Of course this was made possible by the television networks and commercials so that revenues could be raised. How ironic is it that this source of funds could ultimately lead to the downfall of the sport!
Perhaps management will come to their senses and realize what is happening and reduce the salaries. Some players will balk (and not just the pitchers), but other players will fill in the gaps. There are quite a few upcoming stars ready to step in from the minor leagues and these athletes have already spent time in the majors. Of course there could be trouble from the players’ union but it looks as though there may be no other choice. Being a professional baseball player can get you a very decent living as long as the sport survives.
If you decide to earn a living playing in the National Basketball Association, you will be delighted to see that it too pays quite well. Salaries are on a par with major league baseball and this is reflected in very expensive ticket prices for a seat at a game. Once again management can be blamed for the escalation of salaries and television helps out to pay expenses. Nevertheless the league can run into the same problems and is in danger of becoming a thing of the past.
I don’t watch pro basketball on television or at the arena so I can’t make too many more statements on the sport. Over the last few years quite a few exceptional basketball players have jumped (no pun intended) from their high school team to the NBA without spending time in college programs. There are also those stars that spent a year or two in the college ranks and then moved on to the pros without finishing their senior year. In each case the outrageous salaries have driven them to do this.
One of the side effects of this bypassing college (besides not getting the education offered there) is that these players are not as well known as those who spend three or four years in college programs. This lack of familiarity with the players has kept many fans away from the game. This is ironic in that these stars move from high school to the pros to make the big dollars but in turn this very process could eventually put an end to their means of making a livelihood if the league folds.
For the most part, football players who make it to the National Football League are also grossly overpaid although at present their highest salary doesn’t match the baseball professionals. That could change, though. Football has the same problems as baseball and basketball because of the high salaries. Television and commercials provide the cash to pay expenses just as in the other two sports but here too the fan watches the game and buys the products that the networks sell. Obviously some of the fans are leaving, being replaced by new ones. But what happens when these fans get fed up?
Consequently the price of tickets soars from year to year and this has made the game less affordable to more and more people. What seems to be happening is that the loyal fan is being replaced with a corporate one. The seats that were once purchased by rabid supporters of the team are now being bought out by various corporations and given to individuals who care to attend the game.
This corporate mentality has been present at the last few Super Bowls as the attendees are big name movie stars, sports icons, big business moguls (that could be an oxymoron) and other very well to do people. The real fan has been squeezed out. This scenario may be a good thing insofar as the league does not have to worry about filling the stadium since big business will do it. There’s only one small concern. What happens when they buy the tickets and no one cares to attend even if the ticket is free? Eventually they will cease getting this block of tickets and once more there will be that possibility of the league folding.
The predicament in the NFL has many causes, one of which is the salary cap. You would think that this cap would prevent these problems but it has had just the opposite effect. However, there is another effect that needs mentioning. It has created two classes of players. The first class is that of the superstar and what is left is the second class. The latter refers to the players without whom you couldn’t have a champion but their salaries are from $200,000 to around $700,000. This is not small change but certainly a far cry from that of the higher echelon, who earn at least a million dollars per season, and that’s being conservative.
The “second class” players are the punters, linemen, linebackers, long snappers, defensive backs and third string quarterbacks. Some of these men play a great deal but are not at the glamorous position, such as the starting quarterback, the flashy running back, great receiver or the lineman who makes one sack after another. The salary of these participants is less than that of the superstars but without these minor players, there would be no championship team.
Whether a player is a superstar or one of the “second class” athletes, there is not that much difference in ability. After all, they are all drafted from the same source, the colleges. The skill levels are not that disparate. Certainly a few individuals may stand a bit above the rest but they are all exceptional athletes, otherwise they wouldn’t be in the league. So then, why is there such a variance in the salaries of these players?
Because of the salary cap, free agency has been a huge influence. As players develop and become stars, they can command bigger and bigger bonuses and can move to a team that will reward them with more money. This has been occurring for the last few years in the league. And yet it seems that when a player does get all this big cash, he may already have reached his peak. Thus he is getting way overpaid at this point. Skills decline as players approach the age of thirty. Another factor is that once some of these stars get the fat paycheck they figure that they don’t really have to “be there” for every play. They will still be a factor but they may not give one hundred per cent on every down. They have arrived!
If you like to skate and hit people, you could get a job as a player in the National Hockey League. As you could guess from the price of these events, the salaries are also outstanding for playing a game, even though they are not as high as the other three sports mentioned earlier. The reason has to do with coverage of the game, which has not been on a par with baseball, football or basketball. Another factor is that hockey is played in an arena that holds 20,000 seats whereas football can seat 80,000 fans. But then the season is longer for hockey so that makes attendance similar but the problems that could result are also parallel.
There are many other sports in which to make a living but you have to be truly exceptional to make millions of dollars at these endeavors. You can hit it big if you are a great golfer, racecar driver, tennis player, boxer or soccer superstar. Even if you are not the greatest in these sports you can still eke out a decent living. Today the number of sports professions vastly exceeds those choices of just twenty years ago.
As far as these big salaries go, I think for any player who gets a huge amount of money, all the more power to him. However, if a team treats a player well and then offers a nice raise and the player still moves on to another team where he can make even more dough, there is no loyalty on this player’s part and certainly greed comes into play. I will agree that professional football is a very dangerous game as are boxing, hockey, car racing and a few other sports. The players need to be paid well for this risk, but I will spend more time on this aspect in a chapter on dangerous work.
There are other select professions where you can capitalize on specific skills. Many of the top fashion models command a yearly salary in excess of a million dollars. That’s not bad change for displaying yourself, and it’s not limited by sex, merely by looks.
Actors (here I mean both female as well as male) at the top of their profession can do even better than models, although they really need to perform. Nonetheless, there have been some people in the industry who earn a yearly salary in seven figures while other better actors are around making decidedly less. It’s all name recognition and how many tickets are sold at the box office. This is not any different from baseball, basketball or football since they, too, are entertainment.
Just as the salary creates two classes of football players, there are three classes of actors. The first type I have already talked about. They are at the top, such as Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts. The second class consists of the good performers who just don’t get paid as much as those in the upper echelon. They still make a comfortable living. Lastly, there are the actors who are struggling to get roles, living from one day to the next. They take all kinds of jobs between gigs, such as restaurant work or driving a taxi. They could be the actors on Broadway doing Shakespeare but they also appear in commercials or in soap operas to pay the rent and put food on the table. They are just looking for that big break.
Another person who gets paid in the category of the academy award winners is the news anchor. There aren’t too many of these and each one has probably moved to the top by going through the ranks. Each one may have started in the mailroom or as a foreign correspondent in a strange place and after some time got to be among the best. The ratings certainly affect how they get paid.
Certain game show hosts can do quite well also. Not long ago the show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” became an instant hit and its host Regis Philbin benefited tremendously from its success. To give you an indication of how highly the show is rated, it’s on a few nights each week. Regis was known before the program aired but the result for him was a very big paycheck. Somehow I don’t think the success of the show was solely his doing. It probably would have had a big audience no matter who said, “final answer?” Nevertheless he did do his part and more power to him.
These are some of the $1,000,000 jobs in our society today. In the chapters that follow I will talk about people who earn high salaries in other professions, although the payoff will not be as much. In addition there are some considerations that can’t be overlooked.
4. What can you pay?
I talked about some high paying jobs, many of which result in people getting overpaid. But what about jobs for everyday people? What determines how much a computer programmer or a teacher will be paid? What factors are used to figure out how much to pay a secretary or a truck driver? If I am starting a company and need five workers, how much should I pay them?
Many factors come into play. The first consideration is the minimum wage, which is somewhat of a starting point. Some employers will pay their help nothing more than this amount, while others will pay more. Some workers will not even get paid a minimum wage. It has to do with another factor, supply and demand. If I am an employer and need five workers, those five are my demand. The number of skilled people to meet this demand is the supply.
As an employer, supply and demand works in my favor but it can also work against me. If there are ten available laborers who can work for my company, I may not have to pay them any more than minimum wage. I could probably even pay somewhat less. However, I am not implying that this is advocated, as I would not pay someone less than the minimum for reasons that I will talk about later. On the other hand, if there are only four individuals who can fit in, even if I pay double the minimum wage, my company might fail because I don’t have enough help.
So often you see signs for pay higher than the minimum wage. This is because the boss can’t find qualified people to work or the supply is less than the demand. Once the former increases, the pay would tend to decrease until it reaches minimum wage or falls below it. This is great if you’re the boss but not so good if you are the worker involved.
I mentioned that I worked at a chemical company at one time. My pay was somewhat above minimum wage. You may wonder how this amount was derived. This may be the way the owners of the company calculated how much to pay the laborers and people at the top of other businesses may even use some variation of this process.
The owner calculated how much he hoped to make with this product, that is, for sales of the entire inventory. He probably had two numbers in mind. The first was a dream amount. If he could reach that it would be great but he could settle on a smaller amount, the more realistic number.
He took into consideration the cost of the materials to make the product, the cost for rental of the building and the utilities and so forth. He then subtracted these costs, not including the cost of labor from the total amount of sales from the product. He took that amount and subtracted his dream number. The result was the amount that he could spend on labor. He then calculated the number of man-hours necessary and divided this into the labor costs. The result was the hourly wage. If it seemed too high, he may have lowered it somewhat or if it was too low, he may have done a recalculation using the more realistic number described above.
For any business, the process of determining the hourly pay is somewhat similar. Of course many other factors could come into play that I haven’t mentioned, such as vacation pay, sick pay, holidays, loss and damage and insurance, to name a few. It does get more complicated, but the idea is the same. There are some assumptions: the product is a good one that will sell and the workers will perform on the job. Naturally good performance will be rewarded, which means pay raises. Supply and demand is still in the picture.
Getting back to my job at the chemical company, you will note that the workers fell into three classes: managers, skilled laborers (they could operate a machine) and general help. I fell into the last category. Obviously they did not all receive the same pay, as the managers were the highest paid followed by the skilled help and the general workers last. In some cases the machinists could get paid more than their supervisors could. These different rates of pay were probably somewhat arbitrary. I will spend an entire chapter later on management.
As you can see, in general, skilled workers earn a better living than those who are unskilled. College graduates will do better financially than high school graduates, but the latter will get higher pay than those without the same education. If you are a teacher in a high school, middle school or elementary school, your salary will be based on the school budget. Thus the costs for salaries, utilities for the buildings, school supplies and the administration and other miscellaneous amounts are added up and this determines the budget. Since inflation increases each year, as do teacher salaries, you can expect school tax bills to do the same.
You could work in a school district where the superintendent and board of education keep the budget under tight control. They may even do such a good job that the end of the year results in a surplus and this helps to minimize the tax increase the following year. If they do this by getting rid of more experienced teachers and replace them with younger blood that results in lower salaries, that may not be a good thing. It would be fine if they eliminated incompetent tenured people and the new group was gung-ho, full of great new ideas and a big improvement. Unfortunately when you sign a contract in a school district you may have no way of knowing how the school district operates and how much school taxes rise each year.
When I was teaching I never owned a home but rather rented an apartment. Thus you might think that I never paid school taxes at that time but it was buried in the rent. That is, I paid my rent and the landlord in turn may have used some of it to do his part relative to the budget in the district. Since leaving the teaching profession I have owned a few homes and thus I have paid school taxes, which I don’t really mind doing. Many people do object to paying these taxes insofar as all their children are finished with school. They will even show up at the school board meetings to protest the budget increase. I’ve always wondered if my feelings would be the same if I were a teacher in the same school district in which I lived. If the budget failed, I wouldn’t get a raise. If instead it passed, I would get the raise but my tax bill would also increase. It seems like a no-win situation.
Fortunately I won’t have that dilemma since I am no longer teaching but also because of my feelings that school taxes are an investment in the future. For those who are teachers, their pay is also based on their degrees as well as on their experience. There are quite a few factors that enter into calculating their salary and there is one other factor that I haven’t mentioned. If you teach in New York City, you probably will be paid more than if you labor in the suburbs. This would also apply to Los Angeles, Chicago or any other city. Location also affects those in other professions.
Consider the job of computer programmer. As far as salary goes, experience plays a role as do supply and demand but so also does the area in which the person is working. Thus I can be a computer person in Rochester, New York and make more money there than if I had the same position in Buffalo. If I wind up in Washington, D. C. or New York City, I may even get paid more. But the same job in Florida or Mississippi would probably pay less. It all depends on where you are working.
In some cases the disparity is random, but most of the time it is justified on the basis of living costs. Housing is much more expensive on the east and west coast as compared to the interior of the country and this itself could be arbitrary. Insurance rates are lower the further away from the cities you are and the cost of food and gasoline are probably higher than in the suburbs and rural areas. Don’t forget the costs of utilities. These also play a factor in determining expenses. So you can move to San Francisco or Los Angeles for a higher salary, but it will cost you more to rent an apartment. Then again maybe you are not a city person. Ultimately it’s your choice.
Another option might be to weigh all your costs and do comparisons depending on the salary that a particular locale provides. Thus working in the city of New York will result in both a higher wage and living costs than a job in Buffalo. Your final yearly earnings could make it worth your while on the understanding that after a few years you can move back to the place where you’d rather live. In the long run you could retire sooner. As I stated earlier though, you have to consider other factors that could turn into big headaches and ultimately bad health. Some of these roadblocks are the pressure on the job, commuting considerations, friends you’d leave behind and may not be able to replace and the effect the departments of taxation will have on your paycheck. The final decision needs a great deal of thought.
Being a plumber, doctor, engineer or electrician doesn’t make your decision to move any easier as all these same factors still enter into the equation. Perhaps the disparity in wages is not so great in some of these professions but supply and demand once again enter into employment. There are some areas of the country where so few people may be working in a certain profession that if that happens to be your career choice, you may have no choice but to head to some other locale.
Whether you earn $100,000 a year, half that or the minimum wage, you probably wonder what a “fair wage” is. This term depends on circumstances of the worker. For example, when I went to college I started a job at a supermarket at $1.10 per hour. I was quite happy with that amount but I lived at home so I didn’t need cash for rent or most food. Also, this was the year 1960 when hamburgers at McDonald’s were fifteen cents and a gallon of gas wasn’t much more than that. I needed a small amount of cash to take care of my expenses and I may have even saved a few (but not many) dollars.
Obviously this same wage would have been insufficient if I were married and living in an apartment with my spouse. And yet at many minimum wage jobs you can find both the single college or high school student as well as the married individual. Thus minimum wage can be satisfactory to some but unsatisfactory to others. Neither of these people will be driving a Jaguar or going out to dinner at high priced restaurants. This applies today as well as when I was starting college so many years ago, when prices were so much less for food, clothing, transportation and just about everything else.
Let us suppose that I have an apartment by myself in the year 2001 and I begin work at some company. What would be a “fair wage” for me? I believe that this hourly rate should be enough to cover all my expenses as well as save some money for the future. I should have what I need but not necessarily what I want. This list of expenses is quite extensive but I don’t need to live in a penthouse, drive a Ferrari and vacation at Aspen or Montreaux. There also is no need for me to buy $1000 suits or possess all the latest technology. By the same token, I shouldn’t starve or have to live on macaroni and cheese dinners (ugh). I love beans and rice but that shouldn’t be my entire diet and I shouldn’t have to live with cockroaches or drive a car that only starts two days each week.
As far as saving from one’s paycheck, 10 or 20 dollars a week isn’t much but it is better than nothing. There are many necessary expenses that will reduce your paycheck to nothing, such as rent, utilities, food, transportation, clothes, entertainment and insurance, just to name a few. As you do the calculations, even minimizing costs, you will quickly realize that the minimum wage won’t allow you to survive without a struggle. That is why there are homeless people who work only to eat. There are also people who work and have a place to sleep but have almost no food in their pantry. It’s a difficult choice and no way to live.
Let’s consider some numbers to be specific. Suppose Fred makes $5 an hour and Sam gets $6 an hour. Based on working 40 hours a week for 52 weeks a year and some rather conservative numbers for major expenses as well as the assumption that they have some taxes, here is what’s left for their wallet. Note that the first two categories are yearly and the rest monthly.FRED SAM
10,040 yearly earnings 12,480
484 taxes 791
826 monthly income 974
300 rent 300
100 food 100
70 transportation 70
50 clothing 50
90 utilities 90
90 insurance 90
100 dinner / entertainment 100
26 what’s left 174
As you can see, Fred has less than $7 a week for miscellaneous spending but Sam doesn’t fare much better. He gets a paltry sum of less than $44 from paycheck to paycheck. It looks like cable TV is out of the question as are season tickets for football or hockey. Let me emphasize that these numbers are based on no overtime but each involves 52 weeks with no vacation. This wage definitely seems to be minimal in every sense of the word.
Note also that it seems as though neither Fred nor Sam will be able to give too much to charity and putting money away for the future will be close to impossible. How will either raise a family and what kind of apartment can you find for only $300? Does anyone want to live on food stamps worrying about surviving from week to week? Anyone who wants to drop out of school at any level should look at these numbers first.
5. Boss spelled backward is double SOB
I spent a few years teaching and at that time it was not a very high paying profession. You could get salary increments for getting more degrees as well as for your experience. From year to year you’d get a raise but you could get a larger increase with a masters degree. You could also make extra cash by coaching basketball or being director of the drama club. I made a few more dollars by coaching on one assignment and being the chess club moderator at another school. For some people all these possibilities still weren’t enough as they may have had a family to raise. Their option was to move on from teacher to guidance counselor or even further up to vice principal.
This move could be a very good thing as a person who was only an adequate teacher could turn into an excellent administrator. However, it could also result in the opposite effect. As people go from teacher to principal or move up the ladder from position to position in the business world, they will eventually reach a level of incompetence. At this point their advancement is brought to a screeching halt. This idea is brought home in the book “The Peter Principle” by Dr. Laurence J. Peter. He also touches upon a solution to this scenario in “The Peter Prescription.” I recommend both books. This certainly explains why some managers have difficulties in their occupation.
If you think that I never was a manager, consider the time I was teaching; you’ll realize that I had to manage my classes. If not, I wouldn’t have survived very long. If you own a home, you have to manage that as well as your life. If you have a family you must manage them as well. No matter how you feel about management, we all belong to that class on some level.
As should be clear from a previous discussion, you can get paid more if you are a manager. You can also get more stressed out, have more migraines and higher blood pressure and wind up with poor health. That’s the price you could pay. But someone has to do it and there are opportunities in those areas. This better salary will also result in longer hours and weekends at the company.
When I taught high school in one school district I was asked to teach five different math classes, algebra, geometry, computer math, general math and trigonometry. Ordinarily teachers get one or two preparations or possibly three dissimilar courses on occasion. A few years before that I had five classes, all of first year algebra. By the fifth class I was asking myself as I stood in front of the class if I hadn’t already stated what I had just uttered. Of course I had, in the previous four classes. But the five different classes I really didn’t mind, since one of these was a computer course that I had developed. I would certainly not be bored.
In this instance my department chairman was a good manager since I was very capable and agreeable to the situation. He would have been foolish to assign the computer class to another teacher, since I developed the course and the other teacher would have been unfamiliar with it. Nonetheless there are management people in education who have a subordinate who thrives as a geometry teacher and yet they let someone else teach it while this person has to teach calculus or some other subject in which he is weaker. Someone who specializes in world history who is stuck teaching American history soon realizes that his boss has made another mistake. The knowledge of a staff’s unique talents and skills is necessary for good management no matter what type of work is involved. It’s good for the worker as well as for the overall success of the endeavor.
Getting back to my situation, at the same time I was moderator of the chess club, which took up at least an hour each school day and some weekends. I got paid extra but I figured that it came out to less than one dollar an hour. I didn’t mind, though, as I enjoyed working with the kids. My principal also needed help with the concession stands at football games on the weekend and I agreed to help, without pay. He sat in on my class a few times and I wouldn’t say that my some of my students were out of touch but one asked who the “dude” was (after he left, of course.) But my principal gave me good reviews and I thought my work was better than merely satisfactory. I also got along well with students and the faculty.
I was not yet tenured and when it came time to ask me back to teach the following year, he said he couldn’t do it. I was disappointed even though I wasn’t planning to return to teach there anyway. I didn’t mention that I grew my hair quite long, as this was the early 70’s and a time of rebellion in the country. Because of this, you could say I got on my principal’s feces roster! At the same time, the math department head went along with the head man’s decision even though he had a better idea of how good a teacher I was. The former displayed his incompetence by his silence.
The other people I worked with in education were much more competent. I moved to another school district where both my principal as well as my department head took advantage of the talents and skills of their employees. It wasn’t too long before I left that profession to see what the business world was all about. I soon found out that you run into bad management in corporate America as well as in education.
Being involved with information technology as a consultant, I have met quite a few different managers. On one contract I had done work for at least 5 supervisors, but that is the nature of the work I do. You have to be able to work in different areas and this will necessitate reporting to various people. I worked for one manager a few years ago on another contract, so the second time around was easier for both of us. You do run into the same people in different companies all the time. Unfortunately you run into some managers whom you probably wish you hadn’t.
These people are the ones described by Dr. Laurence Peter. They have indeed reached that level and they aren’t going anywhere. That means that if you work for them, you’ll see their face every day until either you leave or they retire. They won’t get fired because upper management fears litigation. The hope is that these incompetent “leaders” did and will continue to do minimal damage to systems and people around them. Thus we have unfit managers but you’ll probably agree that the people over them are in the same category as they hired them and now don’t have the courage to get rid of them. This sounds like a lot of bad management to me.
To complicate matters, these unworthy people are getting paid quite well. I wish I could say that my supervisors were not like this but I have been involved with bad as well as good management. I’d like to think that the better those in charge are, the less turnover there is in a corporation. Certainly people will depart one position for another that pays better but I believe that if management is doing their job, those subordinates will be satisfied and won’t be searching for employment elsewhere.
I worked at one company where people commuted from different areas of the state. Some had a ten-minute drive while others were in the car for over an hour each way as they lived 60 miles away or more. Some workers put in 10 hours per day but were only there for four days while others who may have driven more had to be at the company five days each week. The work performed was basically the same whether the employee worked four or five days. At this same company some individuals could work at home part of the week while others couldn’t. This displays inconsistency on the part of management. Is this a company where you would care to work?
The reason supervisors don’t let the hired hands work at home or if they do it is infrequently is because they can’t control them there. I’ve seen some managers who can’t control their charges even when they are on the premises! Either situation indicates that the boss isn’t doing his job. As someone in control you should know your people and what they are doing no matter where they work. Allowing people to stay at home and function shows trust. Telecommuting can’t be done everyday because of interaction and required meetings, although companies do have three or more way conferences by phone. However, consider an employee who drives an hour each way to work. If she works 40 hours, one week will find her putting in a total of 50 hours for work and drive time. If her boss allows her to telecommute three days a week, her total now drops to 44 hours of work and driving. Under which circumstance do you think she will be more productive? We can even assume that there are no frustrations from other drivers, the weather and road construction.
If I am a manager, I have to be able to let my subordinates stay at home to work, if that is possible. This is nothing more than keeping my workers happy. Of course these men and women have to be productive under any condition. I need to hand out assignments and provide the staff with resources so they can achieve their goals without looking over their shoulders and doing everything for them. That’s what a boss should do. She has to manage!
I had another boss whom I asked if I could work at home since I had a 70-mile commute each way. He agreed and mentioned that I needed some software so I could dial in to the mainframe from my home. I procured the requisite tool and loaded it, did a trial run and the connection was good. When I told him I was all set to go and asked him again about working remotely, he said I could do so only in an emergency. At this point I wanted to mention times when I was stuck home because I couldn’t get my car started (that does happen), or I caught a virus or there was a blizzard. We do get them in Buffalo every so often. Wouldn’t those times be an emergency? Moreover, what we were working on was a Y2K project, which many people considered an emergency. But I didn’t bring up any of these questions to him.
I worked a few other Y2K projects and had two different managers whom I asked for a four-day workweek. The first said he would think about it and he took over a week before he said I could do it. But there was a catch...he insisted that it would be on a trial basis! At this point I had only been contracting for seventeen years and involved in the business world for twenty-one years. When the same request was asked of the other project leader, he said he would let me know also and when he finally made up his mind, he asked me not to tell the other people on our team! So on the day each week that I wasn’t there if one of my coworkers asked him where I was, would he say that I was probably in the rest room?
Telecommuting and the 4-day week help to increase productivity. Besides saving time on the road and reducing your time away from home, there are other benefits. The environment is better off since fewer cars are on the road and some resources are saved. There’s less pollution, traffic and resulting frustration. I am all in favor of saving the earth, a reduction of cars and trucks on the highway and spending less time in my car. It really makes a great deal of sense.
Sometimes what a manager does is just as discouraging as what he doesn’t do. One manager on a programming project that I dealt with was a last minute workaholic. Instead of starting the project ahead of time, he waited until the last possible moment and a few of us put in ten-hour days for a two-month period. My commute was ninety miles each way and I just made up my mind to manage this for that short period.
This manager thought that everyone had the same work habits and tolerances as he did. However, we did finish on time but it would have been a better idea to start a month or two earlier and work thirteen weeks at a normal pace. There would have been a great deal less pressure and stress!
Another contract I had began on an unusual note. The person I was to report to on the Monday I started was on vacation. Think back to the episode of Seinfeld when George reported to a new job not knowing if he was hired and you’ll see a parallel to this day. If I am a manager and someone new is reporting for the first time, I will be there to greet him.
As this contract progressed, my workstation did not function, so I found another and temporarily located there to get my assignments done. My manager, who was not the same one who didn’t show on my first day there, couldn’t find me at first but when he did and I explained the situation, he still thought that I was taking it easy and not working. If he had been any kind of competent administrator he would have realized that I had taken great initiative. Had I stayed at my non-productive workstation, then I would have been “goofing off.” Perhaps these two managers attended the same management seminar!
I had another trio of managers who weren’t much better than the previous two. I experienced their shortcomings at the rather abrupt ending of our contracts. For the first I lived in New Hampshire, commuted to Massachusetts to get to my desk where I logged into a computer in Maine while my bosses were in South Carolina. One other person and I developed a rather intricate system that was needed for a distribution system. It was a great deal of effort, quite challenging and we were approaching “pay dirt.” We got a call one Thursday saying the contract was done, even though we were not quite finished...they had run out of funds. I mentioned that this contract was different.
The next two managers worked at the same corporation but in different locations at different times. However, their methods were similar. The first was my supervisor for a short three-month contract that was extended for another month. During the last month, we awaited word to see if there would be another extension. It was towards the end of the month when two other consultants and I were called to meet with this manager. This person then said that the contract was over. One of the others asked as of when and we were told, “Right this minute!” We were forced out the door so fast that I really didn’t have time to clean out all my belongings.
Not long after this I had another assignment for the same corporation in a different location. This was a fivemonth deal but into the fourth I could see that the end was approaching. I accepted a call for another opportunity and turned in my two weeks’ notice. At the end of the first week, my boss told someone from my consulting firm that I should not come back for the final week. This manager didn’t even have the integrity to speak to me herself!
I have given too many examples of incompetent supervisors; now let me tell of some others whom I wish more people emulated. Just before I entered the consulting profession, I interviewed or should say was intensely questioned relative to my technological skills by individuals from a certain consulting firm. This took weeks rather than days but when I was introduced to the manager of a large metropolitan bank where I hoped to be working, I was pleasantly surprised. After initial greetings, just about the first words out of his mouth were more or less, “As far as I am concerned, you have the job!”
This shouldn’t happen to any consultant because it really spoils that person, especially on their very first interview. But in reality this is how it should be as this illustrates the approach management should take. You will note that this happened on two levels: by the consulting firm but also by the bank manager. The latter trusted this firm to send people who could perform well in this environment. When I left six months later, this manager was not disappointed with my work. He must have had the same satisfaction with all the other contractors that the firm brought to him. If he hadn’t, I wouldn’t have experienced what I did at that initial meeting with him.
Of course, his actions could never have been justified if the consulting firm was incompetent. But they knew how to determine if someone was right for a particular position. How many firms do you find like this? I haven’t run into that many. In fact, if consulting firms needed a license to operate, I can think of a few that should have theirs revoked immediately. They send people in to a position without the required skills but make them appear to have the needed background by embellishing resumes. If the hiring people themselves know what’s going on, this will be the last person the firm sends in, as he will be uncovered as technologically deficient.
Other people whose “lights are on” but still are in the dark are the managers who get their hands into everything when they shouldn’t. The bank manager whom I praised so highly before could have sat me down to a lengthy interview and then called in some project leader for a technical screening, but he didn’t. Someone at the consulting firm already did that so why repeat the process? He didn’t perform a task that had already been done and so he didn’t micromanage.
A good manager delegates authority. The bank manager hired me but then turned me over (it sounds like I’m an omelet) to a project leader. This person then gave me my assignments but he also introduced me to people who could help me if I needed assistance. Both supervisors also knew what had to be done to achieve success and filtered out the trivial. Each person was in control of his own projects and people and the latter respected them for that.
Let me give more examples of bad management. The first is how managers downsize, or fire employees. This happens whether profits are up, down or unchanged. If people are purged because they are not productive, then that is a good thing regardless of what is happening to profits. That’s the approach management should have. It seems, though, that the good people depart first, whether voluntarily or not.
Suppose competent people are made redundant. This is the term used in England for getting canned. What happens now is that the others have to cover for these departures by working longer hours for the same salary. Do you think that will make these individuals happy? I had an offer on my first computer-programming job to learn a new system, put in more hours each week and keep the same pay. This sounds like another great offer from management, which I decided not to accept after much thought. It took me about ten seconds. I left that company sometime after this, and returned as a consultant. I learned the new system at their expense, got much better pay and I got paid for any extra hours I worked. I thought I managed that situation quite well.
If profits are stagnant or heading downwards, management may need downsizing! It doesn’t appear they are doing their job in weeding out cubicle dwellers that do nothing but take up space, and they failed in the first place by hiring non-productive people. They also failed by not getting projects accomplished. Firing good employees when others should get the ax is the wrong alternative.
I’m sure you’ve heard of just this situation. A corporation has a bad year so the necessary purge of workers is on. Meanwhile upper management, including vice presidents, winds up with huge salary increases. Shouldn’t these people be downsized, undergo a pay cut, or at least keep the same salary? In some cases higher-level individuals are let go but not without a massive severance package. That doesn’t sound like a bad deal to me, which should help the company profits in the following year!
So the incompetence could have started with the lowly employee, but it’s very possible he did his best but couldn’t turn things around. His manager may have gotten in the way of success. Upper management failed to do their job and thus profits suffered. Now managers are let go with huge payoffs but isn’t someone above them guilty of bad management for giving them all that money to be on their way?
If you say this was done to prevent lawsuits, once again you are into the realm of horrific leadership. It doesn’t matter at what level the severance occurs. If someone was made redundant because he didn’t produce, let that individual take you to court but then counter sue for wages that weren’t earned. Since you have documentation to back up your contentions, you should easily win enough in court to cover attorneys’ fees and then some. All it takes is one case like this and people would think twice about legal action under these circumstances.
Perhaps we should cut that expression down to size or more specifically the word “downsizing” should be eliminated from normal usage. I hope it’s not in the dictionary. It has too nice a ring to it when in reality it denotes nothing but bad news, unless you are a stockholder. If the proper term “firing” were used, maybe management would do a better job to see to it that this whole scenario of elimination was reduced substantially. I could manage to live with that.
A second example of managerial deficiencies has to do with the recent failure of so many Internet companies. Some survived but the majority didn’t. I didn’t get involved directly but like most people was affected indirectly. Over the last decade or so the number of Americans getting into mutual fund investing has proliferated. Even before this surge, I had begun my retirement accounts as well as a few other ventures with these funds, in an attempt to earn more than the banks’ one percent yearly interest. The managers of the dotcom companies failed, and so did some of those who managed the mutual funds by sinking cash into ventures that appeared too good to be true. I left my investments unchanged, so at this point I’m managing better than either of these. The future will bring more information in this regard.
Anyone who lost big on the dotcom companies did a bad job managing her money. They wanted instant riches and paid the price and now are hurting. There were some individuals who borrowed heavily with the hope of continued profits but their dreams weren’t realized. Some companies and people who got involved did better but all in all this was a great example of incompetent management.
The next example of bad supervision I have already brought into view when I mentioned that offer for longer hours and the same pay at my first information services job. Ironically we had to only work about 38 hours a week. This was over a quarter century ago and yet, today, despite all the advances in technology, people routinely are at the office 40 hours each week. I would have thought the hours at the office would have gone down and not up. I can assure you that employees aren’t too thrilled with this situation.
When I became a consultant I went from getting a salary to getting paid by the hour. With the change, if I didn’t work I didn’t get paid which meant sick days, holidays and vacation days meant no cash. I also had to get my own insurance but if I worked 50 hours, I got paid for that amount of time and the hourly rate was higher than my calculated hourly rate before based on my salary.
I have already mentioned working at home, the fourday workweeks and fewer hours would make for a happier work force. Twenty-five years ago, we did work evenings or over the weekends occasionally. If because of some new project we did put in an extra ten hours, we could have a paid day off sometime in the future to make up for it. This was called comp time. Usually it was a two for one deal where if you worked four days extra, you got two days off. It would have been better if it had been one for one but we were grateful for whatever time off management gave us.
Of its very nature, comp time is an indication that someone didn’t do his job. A wrong estimate was made, perhaps by a supervisor. Maybe some employee didn’t test thoroughly and now the weekend will be the time to make up the difference. In the days when I got comp time, computers were in their infancy so these problems were to be expected. There is no excuse today. And if the job does not offer comp time, the employee works with no day off for his extra efforts. He may get a thank you!
It doesn’t matter what your occupation is. The hours worked per week should decrease from year to year and I won’t even get into burnout. Stress is one factor that forces this issue but advances in technology and procedures should have an effect too. Not only is there no reason to work more hours, you should work less. A job that took two weeks a decade ago should take half that time just because of improvements for getting a task done. If this is not the case, we are not advancing the way we should. I’ll talk more about this in the chapter on technology.
Another failure on the part of management has to do with doubling the amount of people on a task in order to get the work done in half the time. If you agree with that philosophy, you don’t belong in management because it simply won’t work. The result will only be confusion and more frustration. It’s much better to plan the project well and realize that the software that some manager thought was the solution to so many difficulties isn’t all it appears to be. That may be why there are so many concerns with finishing the assignment.
Tied right in to hours worked is vacation. Consider the time off each summer for students in elementary and secondary schools. It’s about a ten-week period unless you attend summer school, which may not be a bad thing. Once you get to college and avoid summer classes, your yearly break between the end of classes one year and the start of classes the next year is even longer. Upon graduation when you enter the real world, you’ll probably get a two-week vacation. What’s wrong with this picture?
I’m not suggesting we lengthen the school year but maybe that’s a good idea. Rather, why not have more than two or three weeks vacation for employees? It shouldn’t take you five years to stretch your vacation from two to three weeks and then another five to get an additional week. In Europe people begin with four weeks vacation. As a manager, you might argue that you can’t afford to do this but I say you can’t afford not to offer more vacation time. People will be much more productive and happier on the job with more time away from the office. Management can do something about this situation.
Being on-call is another indication that management needs improvement in most cases. The exceptions to this are firefighters, doctors, nurses and crisis management people. Outside of these, having a beeper should be limited to a very small number of individuals. This would also cause less annoyance when you are out to dinner or a movie and those contraptions sound off!
I have already stated that computers have advanced to the point that problems of the past should never be occurring today. If changes are being made to an existing system or a new system is being installed, things should go a lot smoother than they sometimes do. The reasons for the difficulties stem from poor planning and testing ahead of time, rushing projects into production and lack of insight. Management may be partially to blame for these screw-ups. Naturally, some problems could arise such as a space problem or a computer could crash. The latter could come about due to a power surge or outage but with today’s environment, backup systems should virtually eliminate that possibility. Space difficulties should also be non-existent with a minimum number of people being involved and little supervision. Bad data should never be allowed to get into a system and cause a headache as edits and traps should enable this data to be bypassed with some sort of informative message. If these things are not being done, the system is missing something and should be modified.
If you insist that you need a cell phone when you are driving because the car could break down or you could get stuck in a blizzard or accident, consider this. Cars should be maintained or managed better so they won’t leave you stranded and the automobiles of today are less prone to the problems of the past. They get more advanced with each passing day. Accidents could be avoided if more people managed their time better and didn’t have to rush to get somewhere. As far as the weather goes, the solution is to not put oneself into the car when snow, ice or a tornado could be a factor. It won’t hurt in the least if you stay home and delay going to work or shopping, although just the opposite could happen if you get into the car. Tomorrow’s another day so why risk driving on icy or snow-packed roads? If your boss isn’t happy with you staying home during a blizzard, maybe it’s time for a new job!
I always felt going to work day in and day out without sick time was to be commended. You would do all in your power to eat well and stay in the best of health. Some employers even reward you for not missing work over long stretches of time. This company practice is not such a good idea if individuals show up in their cubicle next to yours and cough all day long. Infecting others will soon keep many people home, so if you are sick you should not come to work based on consideration for others.
Perfect attendance may sound like a good idea but due to the nature of work with all its stress, bad management and relentless pressure, a day off here and there is not only needed, it’s also a great idea! You’ll be better off when you return, more refreshed and healthier too. A manager who is not sympathetic to your needs to stay home when you are under the weather has to realize that your presence could infect some of your co-workers and that might affect the project deadlines.
One of the last great examples of incompetence on the part of supervisors came about just recently with the Y2K problem. If people paid to lead others had done their job, this never would have occurred. Unfortunately this crisis resulted in a double dose of mismanagement. The first was the problem itself but the second was the way it was solved. Huge sums of money were thrown at the problem, and many who shouldn’t have, profited from this fiasco. I worked on the Y2K mess at two companies and saw firsthand what was taking place.
The problem was simply this: if you compare dates with a four digit year such as January 1, 2000 against December 31, 1999, the former will be greater since 20000101 is greater than 19991231. However, things get messed up in your compare if you drop the first two digits of the year. In this scenario 000101 is not greater than 991231 but it should be and there is a big problem. Thus we had the Y2K boondoggle.
You may ask why anyone would use only two digits for the year. Actually, I worked on a system twenty-five years ago that used one digit for the year. Thus February 15, 1978 was stored in MMDDY format as 02158, where the 8 represented the year. One digit was sufficient because the system was to have been replaced by the end of the decade. Whether one or two digits were used, it was because of the early limitations of storage. Well anyway that was the claim but in reality this was another myth generated by people who should have known better. I will debunk the myth later.
Assuming there truly was a space problem, you had to use less digits whenever possible, so the date took six positions and not eight. Of course, if eight were used all the time the Y2K mess would never have arisen. As it was though, you had six digits for the date in the early days of computing. As time progressed you had more space and now could use eight characters when you needed them. Some people were smart enough to do this and some managers had enough foresight to insist on it, especially in developing a new system. That was indeed a great idea!
But when it came to the old systems, changes weren’t made to convert from 6 to 8 digits for the dates. The reason behind this thinking was that the system would be replaced by the time this would be a concern. Indeed many were gone and other systems took their place but some of the new systems still used only six digits for the date. Other old systems hung around and before long the year 1999 was here, and so was the Y2K phenomenon. In some cases the problem hit home even before 1999.
Programmers should have had more insight and took it upon themselves to see to it that the coming of the new century would never pose a problem. Some did and others didn’t. I wrote a few systems and always took future dates into consideration. It really wasn’t that much more work. However, management should have also seen to it that there wouldn’t be a problem, but some didn’t. Actually most didn’t. Sometime in the 1980s an opportunity arose that would take care of any ensuing crisis pertaining to the year 2000. It probably wasn’t a cheap solution and maybe that’s why it wasn’t pursued when it should have been. I don’t think that there is any doubt that these costs would have been a small percentage of the money that was eventually thrown at Y2K. So management failed again.
The exorbitant sums of cash came about because people were scared and didn’t comprehend what effect the year 2000 would have on their systems. In some cases it was vast, but for others not that devastating. It didn’t matter as those in charge in each case dug up the funds and overpaid to clear up the mess. Changes were made, testing was carried out to extremes and consulting firms raked in the dough. In reality Y2K was a maintenance problem that should never have seen the light of day or night.
Let’s step back to see why this was so. I mentioned that the space problem was a myth even if you traveled back in time thirty years. Then, as today, data is stored on files and these files consist of records which in turn are made up of various fields, such as name, street address, city, state, transaction date, date of birth and so forth. There’s a size to each field so suppose the name is 30 characters, the street address is 25, the city is 15, the state is 2, and 6 positions are left for each date. Thus it seems the dates are limited to 6 characters each. But if we take 2 digits each from the name and street address not to mention city, we should have extra characters for all our date fields. Thus we really don’t have to worry about only 6 characters for the dates because we have 8.
If you say that we definitely need all 30 characters allotted for the name and 25 for the street address and we can’t afford the shrinking by 2 characters or there are so many dates in our records that they all can’t be 8 digits because we can’t get enough extra for them, here’s another solution. This can be used today just as it could have been used in the early days. A byte of storage represents a character or digit so say that each date can only have 5 not 6 positions. I won’t get into the technical explanation but through a process called packing of a number, we can store an 8-digit number such as a date in 5 bytes. It might sound complicated but programmers can perform packing as well as unpacking very simply. Thus there never really was a space problem as some people insisted, or at least it could have been overcome. Packing of the dates can be used quite easily but there are even more options if you don’t care to pack dates.
You can store a date by referring to a base date. Let’s assign 0 to an arbitrary starting date. Our choice of date will be December 31, 1799. January 1, 1800 will have a value of 1, January 2 of the same year will have a value of 2, and January 3 of the same year will be 3 and so forth. The date January 1, 2000 will be 73049. You can do the calculations but I’ve saved you the tedious conversion. If we keep this up you will find that by the time our number is 999999, we will all be dead, unless the fountain of youth is discovered. But seriously, 999999 will fall on a date sometime after the year 4570.
This process of storing the date relative to a base date involves a process to convert to our usual date format and back but it will be great for date comparisons with no Y2K or Y3K problems either. Y5K can be avoided by adding a digit and having our dates stored as 7 digit numbers or you could even pack the date. Packing the date would give you a range of 2.7 million years. You could even use negative numbers and thus December 30, 1799 would be -1, the day before would be -2 and so on. Whether you pack the date or use negative numbers you will still need conversion routines but date comparisons will never be a problem.
These are just a few creative solutions that really N work to prevent any future disaster relative to dates. There o are many other alternatives. I hope you are convinced that t the so-called space problem was indeed a myth. Years ago I c wrote a book on the Y2K problem but it never got published. l Of course, now it’s too late but I should never have had thee a need to work on a book of this nature. Management r apparently gives me a great deal of material.
Over twenty years ago, I knew a woman who worked in the computer tape library of a major corporation. She asked for a raise but management denied her so she set out to find a better opportunity. It wasn’t long before she resigned and left the company. As it turned out, the replacement process to fill her position resulted in making an offer that cost as much as what management would have spent by giving the original tape librarian her raise. Add to this the fact that the new person had to be trained and you can see that the higher ups messed up again.
Just recently a person I know went through almost the same process with her boss. She, too, wound up with a better offer and management was downright shocked when she presented her letter of resignation. Perhaps they figured that she would stay there forever and they had no need to grant her the raise she certainly deserved for all her hard work and effort way beyond what was requested of her. Apparently this type of scenario happens quite frequently in the business world and it indicates that management is not doing their job in keeping their subordinates happy.
Seinfeld had a very funny and interesting episode when George landed his position with the New York Yankees. He got the job after speaking his mind to George Steinbrenner about the latter’s handling of the team. “Hire this man,” were the words that Costanza heard and his reward for standing up to this owner. But that is exactly what a good manager has to do. He has to stand up to those above him on behalf of his troops, maybe in not so demonstrative a manner as the Seinfeld friend. That’s a sign of a good supervisor and the ideal supervisor has to know just what to say without getting himself canned.
There are other types of management that all of us can’t help but avoid although we wish that we could. Some of these include lawyers, agents, realtors and property management people. I have had my dealings with lawyers and realtors and overall these people have performed satisfactorily for me. On occasion, I have hoped for better efforts but in general I couldn’t complain as these realtors and lawyers managed for me when I really couldn’t do it myself. But that’s what they were paid to do.
I had some dealings with property management, as it couldn’t be helped since I was a condominium owner. One was fine while the other was a classic example of mismanagement. I won’t bore you with the details but when these companies change every two or three years, you know that they are not satisfying too many homeowners in the development. For me, it was not a happy experience trying to deal with these people. When I finally sold the unit, I was thrilled beyond belief to be rid of these incompetents. They may not be our bosses but they shouldn’t make our lives miserable as they manage for us.
By now you probably think that management is basically incompetent. I like to compare this group of people to lawyers. Both for the most part get paid more than they should and both tend to be sleazy but each group does have good people within their ranks (this word is not used here in the sense of an offensive odor.) I mentioned coming in contact with good as well as deficient managers, so let me emphasize the difference between the two.
A good manager knows your skills and takes full advantage of them. If I am a good programmer but not that confident with system design, it behooves my supervisor to see to it that I spend my time in programming away from design work. That’s only reasonable. Indeed this has been the case on quite a few of my recent assignments. My boss took advantage of my strength in this case but for others I wound up doing work that a clerk could be handling at a much smaller salary.
If you work for someone who is a bad supervisor, there’s an excellent chance that this person can’t manage his home life either. If he is married, he may be on the brink of divorce and if he has children, he probably is having a difficult time dealing with them, whether they are teenagers or not. I don’t think you will see someone with a great family life who manages the way he should evenings and on the weekend while at the same time struggles at the office.
In closing, let me relate an incident that I faced while coaching basketball some time ago. I was on my way to a game some time ago when my car broke down. I didn’t make the game but I did call and have one of the parents take over for me. My philosophy as a coach has always been that coaching occurs at practice. On the day of the game, the leader of his or her troops is there only to guide and remind the team of their immediate mission. Yelling at anyone on the day of a game has no place if you are a competent coach. But getting back to the game on that day, I failed to tell you about the outcome: our team managed to win!
6. “No soup for you!”
The “soup nazi” on Seinfeld stood for two things that I will discuss relative to work. The first is that he wanted to be in control, not unlike many in the field of management. Second, his behavior was completely unnecessary, which is what a great deal of work is today. In many cases people who want to be in control create work that really doesn’t need to be done. Just think back to some of the tasks that your parents had you do as a child and I think that you will agree with this premise. However, the business world is also quite guilty of this. I will spend an entire chapter on created unnecessary work later but for now I want to deal with control and some unnecessary work.
I think that you will agree that a good manager is in control but he does not control people. He is a manager and not a boss. The person in charge cares about the help and makes them be productive without being controlling. He knows the strengths and weaknesses of each employee and utilizes those strengths. He also does his best to see that the limitations have no effect on what is trying to be accomplished. Projects get done by the group on time almost as if they didn’t have a manager. The latter is almost invisible and this certainly indicates that things are under control without people getting bogged down and overwhelmed. The person in charge motivates people without saying much.
There needs to be control but too much will result in projects not getting done. A boss who micromanages or keeps looking over your shoulder has too much control. This scenario indicates no respect for the employee and consequently there will be no respect for the supervisor on the part of the laborer. In this case there can be no creativity on the part of the subordinate. I will deal with that aspect of work in a chapter on laziness and working smart.
If the boss gets too involved with any project, he has moved from being in charge to becoming a dictator and no one cares for that type of leader. This means that those who are supposed to do the work will either leave or not do what they are told. A higher-up who says what has to be done on a very high level is in control. A person who tells you to do it his way and doesn’t accept anything else is not.
We hear all too often about the concept of “looking busy.” The way I feel is that if there is no work for me, let me go home and get paid for the day. I’ll have a lot more fun away from the office. In this case my manager is getting paid for not doing his job, so why shouldn’t I get paid? If your boss lets you sit around with nothing to do, that may be just as bad as doing unnecessary work. Both situations indicate that control has been lost. From what I have seen, there is a great deal of unnecessary work.
Work that is completely unnecessary surrounds us each day. Cleaning not only doesn’t have to be done everyday, but if you do it frequently there will still be dust lurking soon. It just can’t be avoided. You can be like Oscar Madison, who never touched a broom in his life or you can emulate Felix Unger and do nothing but cleaning. Rather be your own person and have a neat home vacuuming, as necessary but not obsessed with housework. There are other things to do, such as enjoying life!
Shoveling or plowing snow when the accumulation is an inch or two is ludicrous. It’s even more absurd to get out the shovel if the temperature will rise to the point where there will be no trace in a short period of time. If you can’t stand that much snow to be around for a few hours, perhaps you should move somewhere warm that never sees that white stuff. Cutting the lawn has to be done eventually but not after the grass has merely grown one centimeter. This may sound like an exaggeration but I have seen people mowing their lawn and I haven’t been able to discern a difference between where the lawnmower has been and where it will be next. If that is the case, how can you tell if you have already cut that part of the grass? There was an article in the Buffalo News on Friday May 25, 2001 discussing the “art of lawn mowing!” One individual mentioned that her son cut her father’s lawn but the latter cuts it again...his way...after the boy leaves. One person will mow the grass sometimes every other day while another does the lawn not once each cutting but twice! Are these people from the same planet that I inhabit? It sounds like these people have way too much free time.
One of the reasons why grass grows so fast is because people fertilize it. But individuals complain about doing that as well. The solution is to not spread these chemicals and much work can be avoided. The environment will be much happier too. We should also realize that at the very least, mowing the lawn, trimming boundaries with weed whackers and using a chainsaw waste natural resources. In addition they pollute, as none of these tools has emission reduction devices on them. If you revert to an electric lawnmower you solve the latter problem but you still utilize electricity.
I watched an important PBS program on the environment not long ago and how our world is in danger if we don’t act now to save it. One innovative farmer came up with an ingenious way of farming and preventing many problems. He planted without plowing the entire land but rather by inserting the seed within the soil as he tilled a small strip of land. This made a lot of sense and points out the fact that weeding a garden may be way overrated. The wind can do a great deal of damage as the dust storms of the past have illustrated. Why increase this risk by laying the land bare? I stop weeding the garden after late July, as the crops are so large that the weeds that remain are insignificant. I also don’t turn over my soil in the fall and enable the wind to blow away any topsoil. If I did, I would plant ryegrass, which will die in the spring.
It seems to me that many parents create unnecessary work for their children. Consider some of the jobs that they force their offspring to do such as snow shoveling, grass cutting, house cleaning and weeding the garden. I have already shown that these tasks can be unnecessary, depending on when they are done or, in this case, demanded by others. If you think back to your childhood and some of the work you did as a kid, you probably will agree with my assessment.
The business world has its share of unnecessary work when one person does a job and then another repeats the same effort. Doesn’t management trust the first try? Didn’t they hire this individual but now have to have someone else make sure that he did the work properly? This sounds like mismanagement to me. Being in the corporate world for a few years has opened my eyes to unnecessary labor. I have already mentioned the project I was on that suddenly got cancelled because of a lack of cash. I also worked on other projects that eventually got canned and I’m sure this happens quite frequently. If these are not instances of unnecessary work, I don’t know what is.
If you are having a house built, you will have plumbers and electricians, each of whom are highly skilled in a particular area. However, you won’t see the latter being concerned about anything to do with plumbing and vice versa. This is called specialization and this can apply in the office as well. As I work on one system at a corporation, I need not be concerned with another different system, even though it might interface with the system I know. I certainly don’t need to know all the intricacies of that other system. If I had to learn about it, that would be completely unnecessary. Of course if I got reassigned to the other system, that would be quite another situation.
On many assignments, I have to test the changes I make to the systems. I test on a very small scale or unit test, followed by testing more of the system in what is called, naturally, system testing. Someone else does further work of the same nature called user acceptance testing. I can help the people who are doing this last type of testing because I have familiarity with how this can be done since I already did it. However, I shouldn’t be doing all their work.
From what I have talked about, it appears that a great deal of work is completely unnecessary, maybe as much as 50%. I tend to believe the percentages are even higher. There indeed is a great deal of work that has to be done except that it is not being handled properly. Much of the work that people are involved with is not needed. I will spend more time on this in the chapter on creation of jobs.
Any of these situations also means that control has been lost. It is not that we don’t want to be controlled, but because it is necessary and demanded. However, the main reason anyone hates work is because of control. Someone can work fifty hours a week and dread it but then open up a restaurant and extend that time to sixty hours without any apprehension. The reason has to do with having a boss and being your own boss. There have been times when I dreaded working in the garden but today my own garden is a joy. In the latter case, I am my own boss and know how to be a good manager while in the other I had someone looking over my shoulder. As I already pointed out, no one likes being micromanaged.
If I do a job for a friend, it will be tolerable since he or she will not be in a controlling situation. Not only that, this person will be working with me and there is a very good chance that this endeavor is necessary. In the case of management controlling you, they certainly won’t pitch in. In many cases they are working against you, which results in the situation getting more intolerable. That is what makes all the difference in the world. 7. Working to save the Union
Not long ago I watched a documentary on Abraham Lincoln. He was inaugurated and greeted with the secession of the South from the Union. His work was somehow to preserve the nation. Initially, that was his main concern and although he was opposed to slavery, it didn’t become a focus of the Civil War until later. The Confederacy was formed because of slavery, which had as its cause, work!
Slavery had been around for centuries. In the early days of the American colonies, indentured servants and slaves were victims of the plantations, which had one main goal: to make money selling the fruits of what the land produced. Cotton, sugar and tobacco were the main considerations but any crop that could be sold abroad or to the other colonies was bound to make the landowners rich. Nevertheless, many of these people who were in charge of raising crops did not become wealthy.
The big-time plantation owners could have paid workers a decent wage but instead chose to rake in the profits by utilizing workers who were subservient to them. Yes, greed was around many years ago and even before the early days of the colonies. The crew of laborers came from Europe initially as indentured servants but eventually the supply of farmhands (an appellation that doesn’t come close to illustrate what some of these people went through in the fields) came from Africa. The supply of laborers afterwards was filled in by the offspring of these latter people.
Some of the plantation owners did care about the servants and slaves, but there were cases of not-so-nice treatment, including beatings and even killings. No matter how these workers were handled, they were undoubtedly overworked, underpaid and suppressed. Slavery always has been immoral. Many people of that time agreed with that assessment but that did not change the opinion of those in charge as well as Southerners who farmed the land but had no connection with slaves.
In the nineteenth century many Southern landowners made a small living and also fed themselves and their neighbors by growing certain crops but they had neither slaves nor servants. In fact, these people represented the majority of the South! And yet there was a great deal of sympathy for the Confederacy. If there weren’t, there never would have been a war fought in the 1860s. This was a war that resulted in huge casualties for both the Union as well as the Confederacy, which could have been avoided.
The Founding Fathers could have ended slavery but didn’t. Unfortunately abolishing it was almost impossible since they themselves utilized the system, with the exception of John Adams. It is well known that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both had slaves on their plantations. They may have felt that the whole idea was immoral but they took no action to end it because they felt it would lead to a divided country. As we know, their inaction resulted in this very same outcome.
Another fact that people forget about is that poverty existed throughout the country despite the supposed prosperity that the states beneath the Mason-Dixon Line generated. There indeed were great profits but none of the states saw any of it as it was relegated to the upper class. As happens so often, the poor got poorer and the rich benefited greatly. Rather than slavery uplifting the country, it only managed to offer no benefits and resulted in a useless, bloody war. This catastrophe pitted brother against brother and neighbor against neighbor all because some individuals desired to reap huge profits by having others work for them. They say that work can’t kill you but many ultimately died because of it.
There have been many books written dealing with how the slaves felt about being submissive. Some have said that most of them didn’t mind but the instances of people running to freedom would contradict this feeling. The uprisings as well as the deaths of both victims and masters would also confirm that no one wanted to be in that position. There was also fear on the part of the plantation owners due to the rebellion that occurred from time to time. Desertion on the part of those who seem to have been treated quite well has also been documented in many cases.
To get a taste for what any one of us would feel if we were in the position of a slave during the nineteenth century, think of the worse case scenario when we were underpaid, overworked or controlled to the point that we wanted to leave a situation. Now multiply that by a factor of five and think about how you would react. I am sure that you would do many of the same things the slaves did and may even use very drastic measures, possibly even going to war over this predicament.
If you still are not convinced that slavery was, is and always will be reprehensible, read any work by Frederick Douglass. He was a slave who escaped to freedom and witnessed firsthand what the peculiar institution was all about. There were other slaves who were treated much worse than he was since he did escape after a few tries. Nonetheless he was a spokesman for deliverance from that evil. Either “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” or “The Frederick Douglass Papers” should be very enlightening to you.
The U. S. Civil War was not the first instance of slavery and unfortunately it won’t be the last. This was a practice centuries ago as the Romans used slaves for their benefit and it could even have gone back to caveman Charlie. If Chuck beat the help, made them work long hours or underpaid them, then he too was guilty of this abominable act. From these criteria, it looks as though each of us has been a slave at one time or another.
Most likely our pain doesn’t come close to others who have suffered before us and still go through the agony today. Look at various situations in the twenty-first century and you will see that slavery lives on. Many people, including children in some nations, are subjected to performing tasks that are repetitive, demeaning and dangerous. These victims can be as young as five and this practice continues for children into their teens. The rituals dealing with these subjects may not seem as bad as earlier times, but in many respects they are not that much different, maybe worse and this scenario should have been stopped years ago.
Prostitution is certainly a form of slavery and in many countries age is no limit. Young boys and girls are sold for sex and this practice is not confined to Third World nations. It takes place right in our own nation, although in many cases it takes years before the perpetrators are brought to justice. Here it is done with less exposure but innocent people still suffer.
The young children who stitch soccer balls or do the necessary tasks before overpriced athletic shoes can make a profit usually perform these tasks for a pittance, if they get compensated at all. Other children are forced to clean and cook without pay in exchange for some favor to their family that was granted by someone in control. Of course the remuneration is way out of proportion as a few hundred dollars is often exchanged for years of labor on the part of a group of children.
There are other young children in foreign countries who risk their lives each day by some of the tasks they are forced to do in their school. No one is exempt and there have been horrible accidents where many have died in the process of creating fireworks. Repetitive tasks are dangerous to your health but they are nothing compared to the danger involved in these cases.
These are some obvious examples of slavery. However, there are other examples which really don’t compare with these instances but which we tend to overlook. Consider the businessman who buys a five-bedroom home on fifteen acres of land. He has a few sons and daughters and his intent is to have them mow the lawn, keep the grounds immaculate and even do some remodeling here and there. These offspring could be considered to be slaves in this instance.
If he would never consider buying this property were he and his wife childless or the parents of a single child, then there is no doubt that his purchase of the house for his large family with his stated intentions makes the kids slaves to him, and maybe his wife, too. I am not implying that children shouldn’t have to do work as they grow to maturity, but they should be allowed to have a childhood, too. Thus each individual should have a work ethic instilled but should not be overburdened with so many tasks that they are a drudgery and the children have no time for play.
There is a very fine line between work and slavery, even when the administrator isn’t aware of the situation. The more control and domination, the greater the chance there is that the result is slavery. No one said that raising children is easy but parents should see to it that their children don’t become slaves. If that is the case there could be one benefit: the kids don’t become workaholics! Of course they could also turn into lazy, unmotivated grownups or become like their parents.
Something we don’t consider is an individual being slaves to his children. This happens even to good parents. They give in on too many occasions so that eventually the kids are in “control.” The lives of the mother and father are dictated by their offspring. Naturally the desired situation is somewhere in the middle where the parents are in control without being controlling and the children are heard but don’t “run the show!”
As a spouse you can be a slave to your better half. You could also be a slave to your work and, as such, are without a doubt a workaholic. You need not be the latter but could still be a slave at your company. If you are underpaid (you could even receive a comfortable salary), or if you work long weeks of fifty or sixty hours, you also fit into this category. You could also fit this definition even if you work only 38 hours a week. This could come about if you are working and really have no need to do so. Perhaps the world will never be rid of slavery.
The kind of slavery that needs to be removed from our society is obvious. Any treatment of others, which results in domination, suppression, control, and lack of respect with no dignity on the part of the subjects should be eliminated. We have some say as to whether we, ourselves, are slaves. If we avoid being workaholics, then we are well on our way to not have to worry about being slaves. 8. Another union
While Lincoln was trying to save the Union, another time period found certain organizations trying to save and help workers. These were the labor unions, which did a great deal to assist the common man against various corporations. Perhaps there would have been no need for these groups if companies had not tried to force their employees to work for less than they deserved as well as in less than ideal conditions. We are well aware of the slave owners but even companies that didn’t utilize slaves were guilty of greed and desiring full control. This situation was prevalent even before the Civil War.
The National Labor Union was established in 1866 to come to the rescue of many workers. One of their requests was for the eight-hour day so obviously that time period had the laborers working more than a forty-hour week. This is not to even consider the conditions for work and benefits. Unfortunately this union overlooked blacks but encouraged them to form their own unions to cooperate with white labor. The organization expired in 1872.
The Knights of Labor was created as a secret organization in 1869. It too advocated an eight-hour day as well as the elimination of child labor. It was also in favor of public ownership of the railroads and utilities and endeavored to make life easier for employees. It covered both skilled as well as unskilled laborers.
A few years later in 1881 the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions came into existence. Within five years in 1886 it evolved into something more familiar to each of us, the American Federation of Labor. With the AFL came the closed shop, an exclusive hiring of union people for a company. This is how the union took care of their people. Of course that consideration of assistance would come with high dues, but it would provide established insurance and strike benefits. By the 1890s the AFL had so much control that it overwhelmed the Knights of Labor.
Despite what the American Federation of Labor did to help the common man, there were some who did not benefit from it. In 1938 the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) was established to take up the slack. Its purpose was to help those who were mass-production workers who had been ignored by other unions. Less than twenty years later in 1955 the AFL and CIO merged.
As I mentioned earlier, the Civil War and the years following were not the time of the actual beginning of the labor movement. Even before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, certain skilled workers got together in organizations that were the precursors to later day labor unions. They were not as strong or as popular. Their main purpose was to help their members with financial aid during illnesses, debt or death of the laborer.
After the Revolutionary War, local craft unions were established for printers, carpenters and shoemakers. Most of these occurred in cities on the east coast as early as 1791. Their main purpose was to ensure that wages held fast. Like the other unions they were weak and lasted only for a short time even though they stood for many of the principles of later unions. The closed shop was one of their highlights. The year 1799 witnessed the first meeting between worker and employee representatives in Philadelphia.
There may not have been unions, but 1741 was the year of the first strike in New York by bakers. This action was more in response to the local government, which set prices. Apparently the workers weren’t getting enough “bread” for the bread they were baking. Other strikes followed in 1768 by the New York tailors, in 1799 by the boot makers in Philadelphia and in 1809 by the New York shoemakers against multi-employers. In the latter case the strike was extended to another company that supported the one against whom the initial strike was begun.
Early as that strike was, it was preceded by one in 1636 by a group of fishermen. This group was reported to have fallen “into a mutany” when they didn’t get paid. This leads one to believe these strikes were probably preceded by other similar events. Maybe even caveman Charlie was on the receiving end of a job action because of the way he treated his workers. Some businessmen just can’t be trusted!
Consider that in the year 1818 the average daily wage was $1.25. New York typesetters received more, about $8 a week. Journeymen tailors in Baltimore received a weekly wage of about $9. Yet some years earlier at the time of the Revolutionary War found workers receiving $4 a week and $7 a week by the time the war ended. With that in mind you can see that there wasn’t much change in wages a few years later. Employers didn’t bend over backwards to help the common man. The unions were needed.
Naturally I have gotten involved with labor unions, as you would expect from the list of the jobs that I have had over the years. If you work in a union shop, you are a member of that group. Otherwise you wouldn’t have a job there. My most vivid memory of the union is from the time I began my last teaching assignment. I had just signed a contract a few days before and I recall having to get up at five o’clock in the morning to attend a union meeting. This was done so that we would have time to vote on whether we would go on strike.
Fortunately we didn’t strike but I would have been torn between standing up for the union with all the people who would shortly be my co-workers and the administrators who had just hired me. This same school district had actually had a strike some years before and it had taken quite a few years before some pro-union teachers and those who didn’t strike actually were talking to each other. I may be in favor of the union but one thing I am opposed to is teachers not communicating under any circumstance.
I quickly found out that as far as union sentiments went there wasn’t a stauncher department at the school than that of the mathematics teachers. Through the union, we had limitations on class size among other things. I recall having one or two more students in one of my classes than this maximum. One of my fellow math teachers, who was a strong union person, asked me if I wanted to grieve it. I didn’t see any problem with the situation as that class had very good students so I let it go as is. Despite that case, I feel that more learning occurs when the teacher to student ratio decreases.
I taught at that school for two years before leaving to join the business world. In the time that I was there, no strikes by teachers occurred. Any time you have that crisis, it may be for the better but there will be repercussions. I will say that this was the highest salary I received as a teacher. Perhaps the union had something to do with that, but it could also have been the location of the school district, which was in the Hudson River Valley less than two hours from New York City. Also, I got paid for my experience.
Besides that time, I got involved with the union when I worked in the supermarket, which I wound up doing for about eight years. I remember the various meetings then but at this point it’s a blurred memory. Through the union I probably received a higher wage had there not been one, although I can’t prove that. I do remember that dues were withheld each paycheck and many of my co-workers complained about how much went to the organization.
At first, the unions were a necessity because of working conditions, brought about by the lack of concern for workers by the employers. This point I have emphasized before. The labor unions were weak and didn’t do much for the common man but over the years, that changed. In fact the power went from the corporation to the unions and you can read about corruption in the latter organizations. Eventually labor unions came to have less influence than they had in the early part of the twentieth century. Much of the corruption has been eliminated but unfortunately the business world and all its practices have dictated a rebirth of the union. Just witness the fifty or sixty hour workweek. I have already mentioned that new technologies should shorten the time spent on the job but it appears that this is not the case.
The people that I worked with, at various contracts over the years, both full time employees as well as consultants, did not belong to any union. It really is a shame that there is any necessity to have these people join a union to obtain a thirty five hour workweek and all the benefits they need as well as a salary that is what they truly deserve. Many of these people make a decent living but they shouldn’t have to put in fifty hours a week, including time on the weekend.
9. Dangerous work
Earlier I mentioned some very high paying jobs. Unfortunately much of the work that pays extremely well is either dangerous and / or immoral. Consider the cash you can command as a drug dealer. But the price you pay is more than a reasonable person might care to handle. The danger makes the job undesirable and this doesn’t even get into the morality of the situation. This is not the only type of situation that offers great rewards in lieu of potential disaster. Surprisingly, each of us has probably been involved in this kind of assignment without even realizing it.
Another way of making a living is through scams, such as the investment scenario depicted in the movie “Boiler Room”, or by robbing someone of their possessions or his or her identity. Obviously these processes are immoral although they may not appear to be apparently dangerous. Nonetheless, perpetrators could find themselves in deep trouble. Let us say that the individual discovers who the person is that stole something from him and comes to the realization that the thief will never be brought to justice. The final result could be that the innocent victim sees to it that this crime doesn’t happen to anyone else, at least not by this lazy thud. What could happen is that the lowlife who put forth very little effort in stealing another’s identity to have more than one eventually winds up with none at all. It is very difficult to survive in the river if your feet are encased in concrete.