Article 43

 

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Work Like A Survivor

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With a seemingly endless supply of bad bosses, bad workers, and bad jobs plus an absence of loyalty or commitment from employers and employees and a continual off-shore migration of Americas jobs, today’s supervisors and workers need more than ever to develop survival skills to enhance their job security and mental well-being.
- Workplace Survival

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Its a jungle out there. Reality-show tips are essential.

By Nathaniel Reade
Spirit Magazine
August 2010

Several years ago, I toiled in the most DYSFUNCTIONAL office on Earth. The boss berated and criticized virtually every member of her staff to the point of tears. When we were two days past our deadline, she would throw away work shed approved six times before, saying, “I never liked that.” And No. 2 was even worse: A master of smiley charm and managing up, she undermined anyone who threatened her, which meant most of the best people there.

As a result, Crazy World Inc. was an unhappy, whispering place. Co-workers said to me things like, ”I LIVE IN FEAR” and “I feel like I’m WORKING FOR my alcoholic parent.” Most of us were sick, stressed, and getting through our days and nights on a diet of Ibuprofen, Prilosec, and Ambien. When I took a quiz in the back of a book about office psychology, I learned that our organization suffered from manic-depression, neurotic behavior, paranoia, and post-traumatic stress. If our office were a person, in other words, it would be getting some serious drugs and a whole lot of therapy. But an office, like a person, has to want to change.

This one didnt.

Sadly, MY OFFICE was NOT THE EXCEPTION. Job satisfaction, according to a recent survey from the Conference Board, just hit the 20-year low of 45 percent. That’s because while our culture has come a long way in understanding individual dysfunction, were still pretty much Neanderthals when it comes to the psychology of groups. As the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche put it, in individuals insanity is rare, but in groups “it is the rule.”

What to do? I couldn’t quit; Id moved for this job into a very expensive housing market, and I needed the salary to pay my mortgage. Plus, I LIKED the work and discovered that I was good at it. So I found mentors who were good at office politics. I read. I talked to experts. Every time I stepped on another Crazy World Inc. landmine, I learned a little bit more. Who, for example, would have ever guessed that my BOSSES WOULD GROW ANGRY WHEN I WON A MAJOR AWARD? But what really taught me the secret to survival in office politics was Survivor.

In case you’ve never had the pleasure of hearing Jeff Probst snuff a tiki torch with the words, “The tribe has spoken,” Survivor is a televised game played by real people in some secluded tropical locale. Contestants win immunity and rewards during competitions, and in just about every episode, the group of players votes to send somebody home. The winner gets a million dollars and the title Sole Survivor. As I watched Survivor, I began to realize that I was witnessing an ongoing experiment in group psychology and compiled these Survivor Rules for Office Success.

1. Align yourself with the power person - Survivor, like most offices, isnt fair. Some of the nicest people go home first, and some of the SLEAZIEST survive. It’s not about truth and justice, its about power, and in most offices the boss has all the votes. This isn’t true in every workplacesome companies have employees anonymously rate their managers and oust low scorers, and a teacher friend of mine can tell off his boss because heגs protected by a union. The rest of us need to identify who has the powereven if it’s someone as rotten as sock-burning, water-draining Russell, a finalist in season 19and appear to be on his or her side.

2. Don’t fight the power - work it Most Survivor winners have been champions at charm and guile. I started at Crazy World Inc. horribly naive; I thought that honesty was the best policy, which just lead me to trouble in the conference room. Instead, I had to learn how to manipulate the unhinged bosses for my own needs. This made me feel like a sham until one of my mentors said to me, Pretend you’re playing a part. OK. I tried not to let the people who annoyed me know it. I tried to smile to their faces and make them think IԒd never vote them out. I tried to keep my big mouth shut. When I did something well, I told them it was all thanks to them.

3. Blend in with the crowd - Anyone whos watched more than two seasons of Survivor comes to realize that, as they like to say in Japan, the nail that sticks its head out gets hit with a hammer. On Survivor, the first person voted off is almost always someone who is unusual in some way: older, more religious, more eccentric. People like people who are the most like them. If you stick out from the group - if you like to go sit by yourself on the beach, if you have strong opinions about how to build the shelter, if youve got a weird haircut (season 19s mulleted Shambo) or tell long, strange stories (vainglorious, tattooed orchestra conductor Coach)you could be exposing yourself to the group’s wrath and allowing yourself to be seen as a threat. Much better to be useless than different. The person fired fastest at Crazy World Inc. was bubbly and smart, but she talked too much about her love of roller derby for the bosss comfort. Many a million-dollar winner of Survivor was the best at lurking in the background and making minimal waves.

4. Charm but don’t intimidate your bosses - My father taught me that if you work hard and do a job well, youll get ahead. Not always. Charm can be more important, and ability can actually hurt you if you don’t manage it right. In my office, two highly skillful employees were either fired or pushed out, while a third who did almost nothing right got coddled and treated to a high-paying lateral move. My manager proved to be incompetent at both the work we were doing and at managing, yet she had a long, impressive resume. How could this be? Because as on Survivor, people who are good at challenges are seen as threats and get voted off. The only person to win Survivor twice, a mother of two named Sandra, never once won a challenge. Thats why, when I received a coveted prize, the bosses were cranky. In their eyes, it made me a threat.

5. Make it look like you’re working hard - Maybe in a perfect workplace people judge you by what you do and not how many hours you put in every day. The rest of us, however, do have to create the impression that we love our job so much we would happily die in harness. On Survivor, when its time to vote somebody off, a marginally annoying person who’s busily catching fish or hauling wood can survive a little longer, because their work is useful and it makes them seem loyal. My managers lack of skill and efficiency meant that the simplest memo sat on her desk for two months. But she regularly stayed until 7 p.m. She might have actually been using that time to calculate her weight on Mars, but she created the impression with the boss that she was slaving away for the good of the tribe, and that impression overpowered her actual performance. 

6. Gripe to your dog - Once I went to a co-worker and kvetched. A recent assignment list showed that she and I were each doing the work of three adults, whereas someone else making a lot more money than either of us was producing less than a small child. She reported this conversation to my manager, who then turned around and chastised me for my bad attitude. I was shocked: Why would she rat me out? I went to her in confidence. One of my mentors warned me to get used to it. Nothing is private in the workplace any more than it is for Survivor contestants, who are followed everywhere by camera crews. If you’ve got something private to say, my mentor told me, say it to your best friend, your spouse, or your dog.

7. Trust no one - In an unhappy office (or on Survivor), everyone is fighting for survival, and SOME PEOPLE will deceive others to save themselves. Some will even lie. At Crazy World Inc., I discovered that the SWEETEST, MOST HARMLESS PERSON in the office, someone I liked so much I brought her flowers from my garden, had been telling the boss all kinds of fibs about me, including that I had threatened her. What? Why would she do that? Because figuratively speaking - she thought itd help her win a million dollars.

8. Choose good over evil - Some Survivor contestants, Rupert, for instancetry to play the game WITHOUT DECEIT, and they don’t win. Ah, but then the higher power of TV viewers loves them for that. After a while I got tired of the office craziness and decided that a good life was more important than a fat paycheck. I quit. A day later I slept well again, a month later I had a better job, and a year later Crazy World Inc. went out of business. Now I have less money, but I have more happiness. This, I like to think, makes me a soul survivor.

Nathaniel Reade survives as a freelance writer in Massachusetts.

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Posted by Elvis on 08/28/10 •
Section Dying America • Section Workplace
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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Prepare For Another 4-5 Million Job Cuts

By David Rosenberg
Business Insider
August 24, 2010

The article in yesterdays WSJ titled Specter of Layoffs Stalks Wall Street really resonated with us. As we said in yesterday’s note, the size of the securitized loan market has shrunk 60% in the past two years. Balance sheets, production, order books and staffing requirements are all rightsizing to this new semi- permanent landscape of reduced credit availability.

In fact, we could see a situation where another 4 to 5 million jobs could be shed in the United States, and in the three sectors that were, and remain, the most affected by the housing crisis and financial collapse.

For example, historically, the construction industry employed three workers for every housing start. Today, that ratio is closer to 10. This could easily mean that we see 3 to 4 million CONSTRUCTION jobs being lost going forward, barring a major revival in the housing market, which isn’t happening.
The ratio of employees in the financial sector to outstanding private sector credit is at a new and lower level that would warrant around a workforce 500,000 lower than is the case today just to get to productivity ratios that prevailed in the pre-bubble era. And the third sector, which is the fiscally-challenged STATE and LOCAL government segment, for payrolls there to mean revert to the level commensurate with the ever-declining level of public spending would also mean roughly 500,000 employment cutbacks. No doubt there are other sectors that will provide some offset in health and education and even manufacturing, but it took 25 years for these areas combined to rise five million and something tells us that the downsizing that is left in the housing, financial and state/local government sectors will occur in a much shorter period (and the latter too, if what happened recently in New Jersey is any indication, the social contract with public sector unions will soon go the way of the dodo bird).”

Note that the year-on-year trend in layoff announcements, after a brief period of declines, is now re-accelerating in the three above-mentioned affected sectors. For the first time since late 2007, the financial sector posted no hiring announcements in each of the last two months and this has also been the case in three of the past four months in the real estate sector. Government sector hiring announcements, as an aside, have plunged 75% from year-ago levels. The signs are already there - get ready for another downleg in employment as the jobless claims are now suggesting especially as it pertains to this 33 million or 25% chunk of the total workforce.

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Posted by Elvis on 08/25/10 •
Section Dying America
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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Management Consultancy

Beware-The Great Management Consultancy Scam, Its Here

By Johann Hari
CWA
August 23,010

In the long fake boom of the Nineties and Noughties, we were sold a thousand scams. End government regulation of the financial system! Turn banks into casinos! Pay CEOs 500 times more than their staff! Bow, bow, bow before our mansion-dwelling overlords and the Total Efficiency they will bring! Yet from under the rubble left by these delusions, one of the greatest scams has skipped out unscathed, and it is now successfully selling itself as a solution to the fading of the boom-light. It is probably in your workplace now, or coming soon. Its name? Management Consultancy.

There are now half a million MANAGEMENT consultants in the world, and they all grumble that they face one question wherever they go: yes, but what is it that you actually do?

They claim to be able to enter any organization, watch its workers for a short period, and then—using graphs, algorithms, and a jargon that makes quantum physics look like Sesame Street—render it dramatically more efficient, for a fee. They are everywhere: in the US, AT&T (to pluck a random company) spent $500m on them in just five years, while the British state will soon be spending more on management consultants than on upgrading its nuclear weapons.

Yet the process of management consultancy has always been shrouded in priestly secrecy. Over the past few years there has been a string of memoirs by highly successful former management consultants, finally pulling back the flow-charts.

David Craig gives a typical explanation of what the consultants Actually Do. After getting a degree specializing in romantic poetry, he was astonished to be hired by a prestigious management consultancy, given three weeks training, and then dropped into major corporations to tell them how to run their oil rigs, menswear stores, and factories, for tens of thousands of pounds a pop. In his brave memoir Rip Off! he explains: “We were proud of the way we used to make things up as we went along… It’s like robbing a bank but legal. We could take somebody straight off the street, teach them a few simple tricks in a couple of hours and easily charge them out to our clients for more than 7000 per week.” It consisted, he says, of “lies, lies and even more lies.”

He worked to a simple model, which is common in the industry. He had to watch how a workforce behaved for a week—and then tell the company’s bosses, every time, that they had 30 percent too many staff and only his consultancy could figure out who should be culled. If he calculated they actually had the right amount of staff, he was told by his bosses not to be so ridiculous and do his sums again: where was the money for them in a properly-staffed company? The company had to be POPed—People Off Payroll.

Of course, this advice was often disastrous. His company was sent into a chain of 500 menswear shops. They advised them to cut staff by (surprise!) 30 percent, and to replace most full-time staff with part-timers. The result? The full-time employees had been highly motivated, because they wanted a career in the company; the part-timers only wanted a little extra cash. So motivation levels in the company collapsed, and with it the standard of service. The company was bankrupt within a few years.

Yes, you might say, but surely he was just a bad management consultant. The rest must get results. The evidence suggests not. The Cranfield School of Management studied 170 companies who had used management consultants, and it discovered just 36 percent of them were happy with the outcome - while two thirds judged them to be useless or harmful. A medicine with that failure-rate would be taken off the shelves.

Matthew Stewart, another former consultant, summarizes his high flying years in the industry by saying: “I felt like a snake oil salesmen without snake oil.” When he was sent into a company, he was told to use complex formulae to analyze the productivity of its staff, but he soon realized that the results were “nearly random… Similar results could have been achieved by having four monkeys throw darts at a few matrices.” Yet on this basis, he was taking a fortune in payments, and firing thousands of productive people.

The recession has given a fresh burst to this industry, as corporations beg to be told where to apply the leeches. The number of senior consultants has swollen by 10 percent in the past year, while the number employed by local government has grown by 11 percent.

But there is a growing body of academic research showing that the strategies pushed by these consultancies are in fact disastrous - and hasten the collapse of a company or service. Professor Wayne Cascio of the University of Colorado has studied the relative costs and benefits of POPing your workforce. Corporations and governments are receptive to the idea that the quickest, easiest way to save money is to fire workers.

But Cascio has shown that, most of the time, the costs outweigh the gains. Obviously, you have to immediately find large amounts of redundancy and severance pay. But the costs don’t stop there. Your workforce becomes very nervous - and a nervous workforce is dramatically less productive and less innovative. The best people leave. The service to the customer deteriorates - so they abandon you even more.

The facts backing this up are striking.

The OECD has studied developed economies over a 20-year period, and it found labor productivity growth was much higher in the countries where it is hardest to fire people. The better you treat a workforce, the better they work. Professor Peter Cappelli studied 122 companies and found that lay-offs most often shrank their future profitability, instead of swelling it.

Yet this is the antithesis of the management consultancy mindset. Stewart says “consultants are the cattle prods of the modern corporation. The chief message to be communicated, in almost all situations, is that you will be expected to work much harder than you ever have before and your chances of losing your job are infinitely greater than you have ever imagined.” It’s a dark, dehumanized vision of workers as cogs in a machine—and it’s been there from the beginning. Frederick Taylor, the founder of management consultancy, compared workers to “an intelligent gorilla” and said “our scheme does not ask for any initiative in a man. We do not care for his initiative.”

When challenged, the paltry evidence base of this industry soon becomes clear. Tom Peters, the author of management consultants’ bible Excellence, snapped at an interviewer who asked about his way of analyzing businesses: “Of course, we all know this is to some extent phoney baloney.”

David Craig suggests a simple way to call out this scam. Insist that, from now on, all management consultants are paid by their results. If they promise greater productivity or higher sales, fine: don’t pay them until it comes through. Today, almost no management consultancy works on this basis. If they did, they’d all be bankrupt.

And yet, and yet… you almost have to admire the rancid chutzpah of it. As the management consultant Bruce Henderson once sniggered: “Can you think of anything more improbable than taking the world’s most successful firms and hiring people just fresh out of school and telling them how to run their businesses—and [getting them] to pay millions of pounds for this advice?” It’s tempting to chuckle at the absurdity—until you realize the cack-handed consultants’ scythe could come for you.

Note: It is our opinion that the CompanyÒs use of consultants to measure and rate employees, along with flawed measurement tools such as ESM will most likely lead to more lay-offs, just when America and our Members can least afford them.

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Posted by Elvis on 08/24/10 •
Section Telecom Underclass
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Suicide At AT&T

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Bridgewater man jumps to death from AT&T complex building
NJ DOT COM
August 16, 2010

A Bridgewater man jumped to his death Friday at AT&T, where he worked, authorities said today.

Ralph Merritt, 46, was pronounced dead at the scene, said acting Somerset County Prosecutor A. Peter DeMarco Jr.

At 11:34 a.m. Friday, Bedminster police responded to “Building B” at the AT&T complex, located at One AT&T Way, after being notified that a male employee had jumped from the fifth floor to the atrium below, DeMarco said.

Detectives from Bedminster, the prosecutors Major Crimes Squad and members of the New Jersey Northern Regional Medical Examiners Office responded to the scene, along with medics and emergency medical technicians from Somerset Medical Center. The preliminary investigation has determined Merritt’s death was a SUICIDE, the prosecutor said. The medical examiners office will conduct a post mortem examination. DeMarco would not comment on WHAT PROMPTED Merritt to KILL HIMSELF.

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Posted by Elvis on 08/24/10 •
Section General Reading
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Monday, August 23, 2010

The Doomed US Homeowner

Housing Fades as a Means to Build Wealth, Analysts Say

By David Streitfeld
NY Times
August 23, 2010

Housing will eventually recover from its great swoon. But many real estate experts now believe that HOME OWNERSHIP will never again yield rewards like those enjoyed in the second half of the 20th century, when houses not only provided shelter but also a plump nest egg.

The wealth generated by housing in those decades, particularly on the coasts, did more than assure the owners a comfortable retirement. It powered the economy, paying for the education of children and grandchildren, keeping the cruise ships and golf courses full and the restaurants humming.

More than likely, that era is gone for good.

There is no iron law that real estate must appreciate,” said Stan Humphries, chief economist for the real estate site Zillow. “All those theories advanced during the boom about why housing is special - that more people are choosing to spend more on housing, that more people are moving to the coasts, that we were running out of usable land didn’t hold up.”

Instead, Mr. Humphries and other economists say, housing values will only keep up with inflation. A home will return the money an owner puts in each month, but will not multiply the investment.

Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, estimates that it will take 20 years to recoup the $6 trillion of housing wealth that has been lost since 2005. After adjusting for inflation, values will never catch up.

ԓPeople shouldnt look at a home as a way to make money because it wonҒt, Mr. Baker said.

If the long term is grim, the short term is grimmer. Housing experts are bracing themselves for Tuesday, when the sales figures for July will be released. The data is expected to show a drop of as much as 20 percent from last year.

The supply of homes sitting on the market might rise to as much as 12 months, about twice the level of a healthy market. That would push down prices as all those sellers compete to secure a buyer, adding to a slide that has already chopped off as much as 30 percent in home values.

Set against this dismal present and a bleak future, buying a home is a willful act of optimism. That explains why Adam and Allison Lyons are waiting to close on a $417,500 house in Deerfield, Ill.

“Were trying not to think too far ahead,” said Ms. Lyons, 35, an information technology manager.

The couples first venture into real estate came in 2003 when they bought a condo in a 17-unit building under construction in Chicago. By the time they moved in two years later, it was already worth $50,000 more than they had paid. ғWe were thinking, great! said Mr. Lyons, 34.

That quick appreciation started them on the same track as their parents, who watched the value of their houses ascend for decades. The real estate crash interrupted that pleasant dream. The couple cannot sell their condo. Unwillingly, they are becoming landlords.

‘I don’t think we’re ever going to see the prosperity our parents did, but I don’t think it’s all doom and gloom either,” said Mr. Lyons, a manager at I.B.M. “At some point, you just have to say what the heck and go for it”.

Other buyers have grand and even grander expectations.

In an annual survey conducted by the economists Robert J. Shiller and Karl E. Case, hundreds of new owners in four communities ԗ Alameda County near San Francisco, Boston, Orange County south of Los Angeles, and Milwaukee once again said they believed prices would rise about 10 percent a year for the next decade.

With minor swings in sentiment, the latest results reflect what new buyers always seem to feel. At the boomגs peak in 2005, they said prices would go up. When the market was sliding in 2008, they still said prices would go up.

“People think it’s a law of nature,” said Mr. Shiller, who teaches at Yale.

For the first half of the 20th century, he said, expectations followed the opposite path. Houses were seen the way cars are now: as a consumer durable that the buyer eventually used up.

The notion of housing as an investment first began to blossom after World War II, when the nesting urges of returning soldiers created a construction boom. Demand was stoked as their bumper crop of children grew up and bought places of their own. The inflation of the 1970s, which increased the value of hard assets, and liberal tax policies both helped make housing a good bet. So did the long decline in mortgage rates from the early 1980s.

Despite all these tailwinds, prices rose modestly for much of the period. Real home prices increased 1.1 percent a year after inflation, according to Mr. ShillerԒs research.

By the late 1990s, however, the rate was 4 percent a year. Happy homeowners were taking about $100 billion a year out of their houses, which paid for a lot of good times.

The experience we had from the late 1970s to the late 1990s was an aberration,Ӕ said Barry Ritholtz of the equity research firm Fusion IQ. People shouldnӒt be holding their breath waiting for it to happen again.

Not everyone views the notion of real appreciation in real estate as a lost cause.

Bob Walters, chief economist of the online mortgage firm Quicken, acknowledges that the recent collapse will create a ԓmind scar just as the Great Depression did. But he argues that housing remains unique.

ԓYou have to live somewhere, he said. ԓIn three or four years, people will resume a normal course, and home values will continue to increase.

All homes are different, and some neighborhoods and regions will rebound more quickly. On the other hand, areas where there was intense overbuilding, like Arizona, will be extremely slow to show any sign of renewal.

ԓIts entirely likely that markets like Arizona will not recover even in the 15- to 20-year time frame,Ҕ said Mr. Humphries of Zillow. The demand doesnӒt exist.

Owners in those foreclosure-plagued areas consider themselves lucky if they are still solvent. But that does not prevent the occasional regret that a life-changing sum of money was so briefly within their grasp.

Robert Austin, a Phoenix lawyer, paid $200,000 for his home in 2000. Five years later, his neighbors listed a similar home for $500,000.

Freedom beckoned. ԓI thought, when my daughter gets out of school, I can sell the house and buy a boat and sail around the world, said Mr. Austin, 56.

His home is now worth about what he paid for it. As for that cruise, ԓit may be a while, Mr. Austin said. Showing the hopefulness that is apparently innate to homeowners, he added: ԓBut I wont rule it out forever.Ҕ

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Posted by Elvis on 08/23/10 •
Section Dying America
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