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Addressing Mental Health in the Workforce

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Johanna G. Zelman

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. After fifteen months of the COVID-19 pandemic ‚Äď which has placed unprecedented stress on Americans dealing with isolation and fear, while juggling closed schools and businesses, homeschooling children, working from home, and economic uncertainty, including ensuring basic necessities ‚Äď Americans are struggling to recover. One study published by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported a finding that almost 41 percent of adults reported a mental health issue or increased substance use. Other studies published more recently in 2021 reflect similar results. For employers, who rely on a healthy workforce to be successful, this has direct repercussions on productivity, work quality and, in some cases, legal liability.

Despite this, mental health remains highly stigmatized, and employees are often uncomfortable speaking about their troubles at work. But there are things employers can do to encourage their employees to ask for help.

  • Talk to Your Employees. Have your managers and supervisors check in on your employees and ask them how they are doing or if they need anything. Make sure they communicate to employees that as their employer, you are there for them. Employees feel more comfortable speaking to their employers when they know that the subject of mental health is not taboo.
  • Let Employees Know that is Okay Not to be Okay. Many employees believe that they must always put on their best face while at work. This leads to the illusion that they are always happy and that their lives are perfect, discouraging others from coming forward with concerns. Tell employees that they don‚Äôt have to always be okay, and encourage them to talk about their concerns. It is okay to not be okay.
  • Make EAP Available and Accessible. Having an Employee Assistance Plan available and easily accessible is a great way to bring mental health care to your employees. Send an email to your employees identifying your EAP provider and providing instructions on how to access it. Put these instructions on your company intranet. Consider giving your employees a few free sessions per year as part of their benefits. Make sure employees understand that the use of EAP services generally will be anonymous unless they are told otherwise.
  • Publish a List of Resources. Every community has mental health and substance abuse resources available. Put together a list of these resources and provide it to your employees, either through email or by making it available on your company intranet, or both.
  • Make Sure Mental Health Care is Covered by Your Health Plan. Many health insurers still do not cover treatment for mental health care. Make sure that the health insurance plan you choose for your employees covers mental health treatment.
  • Encourage Employees to Take Time for Themselves. Rest and relaxation increase productivity. During COVID, many employees gave up their vacations because travel was not possible. Now that it is, encourage your employees to take vacation time, even if it means taking a staycation.
  • Create Opportunities for Employees to Socialize. Bring in donuts on Fridays, and encourage employees to socialize (with or without masks) in the breakroom for a few minutes. Hold a happy hour once a month. Sponsor a cookie competition during the holidays. Social events tend to make for a happier workforce, increasing employee productivity and decreasing the sense of isolation and other factors that lead to mental health issues.
  • Train Your Employees. Providing training to employees about mental health and ways to manage it will let your employees know you are open to hearing their concerns.
  • Ensure All Employees Understand How to Request an Accommodation. Federal law, most state laws, and some local laws require that an employer provide reasonable accommodations to its disabled employees. A mental health condition may qualify as a disability under these laws. A ‚Äúreasonable accommodation‚ÄĚ is any adjustment that can be made to working conditions that allows an employee to perform the essential functions of his or her job, although essential functions need not be eliminated, and the employee‚Äôs requested accommodation need not be granted so long as the accommodation provided is reasonable. Tell your employees how to make such a request, and make sure they understand that there will be no retaliation if they do need an accommodation. In some instances, a leave of absence may even be necessary. Again, make sure your employees know it is okay.

Mental illness is often labeled a ‚Äúsilent‚ÄĚ disability because, in most cases, it is not apparent. It is, however, no less serious than any physical disability, and, left untreated, can be more harmful. One of the leading causes of employer losses is due to mental health conditions. Employers, therefore, benefit by ensuring that they have a workforce that is healthy, both physically and mentally. Encouraging employees to come forward and seek help for mental health concerns or illness will create loyalty and an overall happier and more satisfying work environment.

This blog originally appeared at FordHarrison on May 26, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About this Author: Johanna Zelman has represented a wide variety of employers from various industries, but Johanna has a specific strength in matters arising in the municipal employment setting and in public schools and universities.

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This Amazon Grocery Runner Has Risked Her Job to Fight for Better Safety Measures

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This arti¬≠cle is part of a series on Ama¬≠zon work¬≠ers pro¬≠duced in part¬≠ner¬≠ship with the Eco¬≠nom¬≠ic Hard¬≠ship Report¬≠ing Project.

Courte¬≠nay Brown spends her day mak¬≠ing gro¬≠cery runs for oth¬≠ers in a¬†foot¬≠ball-field-sized maze of nar¬≠row aisles and refrig¬≠er¬≠at¬≠ed enclaves. At the Ama¬≠zon Fresh unit in a¬†Newark, New Jer¬≠sey ful¬≠fill¬≠ment cen¬≠ter, she works on the out¬≠bound ship dock, help¬≠ing direct the load¬≠ing of trucks and send them off on local deliv¬≠ery routes. Brown says that after near¬≠ly three years at the e-tail empire, her job has been¬†‚Äúhell.‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúImag¬≠ine a¬†real¬≠ly intense work¬≠out, like you just got off of the tread¬≠mill, no cool down, no noth¬≠ing,‚ÄĚ she describes one espe¬≠cial¬≠ly gru¬≠el¬≠ing day with a¬†resigned laugh.¬†‚ÄúThat‚Äôs how my legs¬†felt.‚ÄĚ

Ama¬≠zon Fresh employ¬≠ees often have to comb through huge stocks of var¬≠i¬≠ous chilled and frozen items, which means they need to wear full win¬≠ter clothes to work. The stress and phys¬≠i¬≠cal exhaus¬≠tion of the job tends to wear out many new hires with¬≠in their first few days.¬†‚ÄúYou don‚Äôt have that many that have last¬≠ed here,‚ÄĚ she says.¬†‚ÄúIt‚Äôs so¬†hard.‚ÄĚ

With the pan¬≠dem¬≠ic keep¬≠ing con¬≠sumers indoors, Ama¬≠zon gro¬≠cery sales have rough¬≠ly tripled in the sec¬≠ond quar¬≠ter over last year. The num¬≠ber of deliv¬≠ery trucks mov¬≠ing in and out of the Newark ful¬≠fill¬≠ment cen¬≠ter has jumped accordingly.

‚ÄúEvery day I¬†come in, it‚Äôs just more and more and more and more,‚ÄĚ Brown says.¬†‚ÄúLit¬≠er¬≠al¬≠ly every day we break the pre¬≠vi¬≠ous day‚Äôs record for the total num¬≠ber of routes that went out for the entire¬†day.‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúOnce we get home [from work], the only thing we can do is show¬≠er and dis¬≠in¬≠fect,‚ÄĚ she con¬≠tin¬≠ues.¬†‚ÄúA lot of us [are] too exhaust¬≠ed to eat. We pass out. Then we repeat the process the fol¬≠low¬≠ing day.‚ÄĚ Some cowork¬≠ers have end¬≠ed up over¬≠sleep¬≠ing, she adds, and¬†‚Äúend up miss¬≠ing the whole¬†day.‚ÄĚ

For its part, an Ama¬≠zon spokesper¬≠son wrote in an email that while some jobs at Ama¬≠zon Fresh are phys¬≠i¬≠cal¬≠ly tax¬≠ing, work¬≠ers can choose less stren¬≠u¬≠ous labor.

‚ÄúImag¬≠ine your stan¬≠dard nor¬≠mal super¬≠mar¬≠ket aisle, [then] cut that in half,‚ÄĚ she observes.¬†‚ÄúYou‚Äôre expect¬≠ed to go through that aisle with oth¬≠er peo¬≠ple stock¬≠ing the shelves, or clean¬≠ing‚Ķ it‚Äôs real¬≠ly, real¬≠ly, real¬≠ly¬†cramped.‚ÄĚ

Ama¬≠zon boasts mak¬≠ing¬†150¬†oper¬≠a¬≠tional changes¬†dur¬≠ing the pan¬≠dem¬≠ic that include dis¬≠trib¬≠ut¬≠ing mil¬≠lions of masks at work¬≠sites, adding thou¬≠sands of jan¬≠i¬≠to¬≠r¬≠i¬≠al staff, and rede¬≠ploy¬≠ing some per¬≠son¬≠nel to help enforce social dis¬≠tanc¬≠ing rules. While it has imple¬≠ment¬≠ed social-dis¬≠tanc¬≠ing rules, and even pro¬≠vides an elec¬≠tron¬≠ic mon¬≠i¬≠tor¬≠ing sys¬≠tem to help keep work¬≠ers sev¬≠er¬≠al feet apart on the ware¬≠house floor, Brown says work spaces are still too crowd¬≠ed:¬†‚ÄúIt‚Äôs pret¬≠ty much a¬†show‚ĶWhere I¬†work on the ship dock, we‚Äôre all mashed up¬†together.‚ÄĚ

The tense atmos¬≠phere has¬†‚Äúdef¬≠i¬≠nite¬≠ly changed the rela¬≠tion¬≠ship‚ÄĚ among work¬≠ers, she con¬≠tends. Her fel¬≠low employ¬≠ees were friend¬≠lier before, but now¬†‚Äúa lot of peo¬≠ple snap at each oth¬≠er a¬†bit more.‚ÄĚ

The threat of COVID-19¬†has only added to the psy¬≠cho¬≠log¬≠i¬≠cal bur¬≠den.¬†‚ÄúWhen the pan¬≠dem¬≠ic first start¬≠ed, I¬†remem¬≠ber a¬†lot of us were watch¬≠ing the news,‚ÄĚ Brown reflects.¬†‚ÄúI was talk¬≠ing to man¬≠agers and try¬≠ing to get them [to lis¬≠ten].¬†‚ÄėHey, you know, this is going on and we might want to start prepar¬≠ing.‚Äô And they [were] just [act¬≠ing] like it [was] not that big of a¬†deal. Peo¬≠ple are dying, and it‚Äôs not that big of a¬†deal?‚ÄĚ

Although Ama¬≠zon even¬≠tu¬≠al¬≠ly enact¬≠ed safe¬≠ty mea¬≠sures, Brown says she and her col¬≠leagues spent¬†‚Äúmonths com¬≠plain¬≠ing‚ÄĚ about what they saw as sub¬≠stan¬≠dard pro¬≠tec¬≠tions, includ¬≠ing inad¬≠e¬≠quate safe¬≠ty gear and social-dis¬≠tanc¬≠ing mea¬≠sures. An Ama¬≠zon spokesper¬≠son main¬≠tains the com¬≠pa¬≠ny moved to pro¬≠tect its work¬≠ers at the out¬≠set of the pan¬≠dem¬≠ic, and that masks were¬†dis¬≠trib¬≠uted¬†in ear¬≠ly¬†April.

But Brown bris¬≠tles at the com¬≠pa¬≠ny‚Äôs claims, say¬≠ing the response was slow and devoid of trans¬≠paren¬≠cy. Work¬≠ers were espe¬≠cial¬≠ly upset, she recalls, when they received news of a COVID-19 infec¬≠tion at their site two weeks after the indi¬≠vid¬≠ual had report¬≠ed¬≠ly tak¬≠en ill.

Even¬≠tu¬≠al¬≠ly, Brown con¬≠nect¬≠ed with oth¬≠er Ama¬≠zon orga¬≠niz¬≠ers through an online peti¬≠tion cir¬≠cu¬≠lat¬≠ed by the advo¬≠ca¬≠cy net¬≠work Unit¬≠ed for Respect. Ear¬≠li¬≠er this year, she began work¬≠ing with the Athena coali¬≠tion to pres¬≠sure Ama¬≠zon to rein¬≠state some work¬≠er pro¬≠tec¬≠tions that were insti¬≠tut¬≠ed ear¬≠li¬≠er on in the pan¬≠dem¬≠ic and then dis¬≠con¬≠tin¬≠ued. The work¬≠ers are demand¬≠ing¬†the restora¬≠tion of¬†‚Äúhaz¬≠ard pay‚Ä̬†for ful¬≠fill¬≠ment-cen¬≠ter work¬≠ers, as well as¬†unlim¬≠it¬≠ed unpaid leave¬†for those who opt to stay home to pro¬≠tect their health. (Over the objec¬≠tions of its work¬≠force, Ama¬≠zon end¬≠ed unlim¬≠it¬≠ed unpaid leave and scrapped its $2¬†hourly¬†‚Äúincen¬≠tive‚ÄĚ bonus in May.) The coali¬≠tion is also push¬≠ing for more trans¬≠paren¬≠cy in the report¬≠ing of new cas¬≠es, so man¬≠age¬≠ment will¬†‚Äúactu¬≠al¬≠ly tell us the truth about the num¬≠bers of peo¬≠ple that are¬†sick.‚ÄĚ

In April, Brown par­tic­i­pat­ed in a media con­fer­ence call with Sen. Cory Book­er, D-N.J., to pro­mote an Essen­tial Work­ers Bill of Rights that would beef up health and safe­ty pro­tec­tions, pro­vide child­care sup­port and uni­ver­sal paid leave poli­cies, and pro­tect whistle­blow­ers. More recent­ly, she was fea­tured in a New York Times video about the work­ing con­di­tions at Ama­zon. She claims her pub­lic cam­paign­ing has drawn the ire of management.

‚ÄúI‚Äôm harassed every day, all day,‚ÄĚ she says. One safe¬≠ty super¬≠vi¬≠sor in par¬≠tic¬≠u¬≠lar is¬†‚Äújust watch¬≠ing‚ÄĚ to see if she vio¬≠lates the company‚Äôs social-dis¬≠tanc¬≠ing¬†rules.

Brown recalls a¬†recent inci¬≠dent in which she was speak¬≠ing casu¬≠al¬≠ly with some co-work¬≠ers about safe¬≠ty issues when the super¬≠vi¬≠sor inter¬≠vened, shout¬≠ing at them to keep six feet apart. Although they were all main¬≠tain¬≠ing their dis¬≠tance, she says,¬†‚Äúhe [yelled],¬†‚Äėyou‚Äôre in a¬†group!‚Äô‚ÄĚ They answered,¬†‚ÄúYeah, but we‚Äôre all six feet apart from each oth¬≠er with our masks on.‚ÄĚ But she says the man¬≠ag¬≠er nonethe¬≠less threat¬≠ened to write them up and warned they could be¬†terminated.

Ama¬≠zon has stat¬≠ed that it oppos¬≠es retal¬≠i¬≠a¬≠tion against employ¬≠ees who voice their con¬≠cerns about work¬≠ing con¬≠di¬≠tions. But like oth¬≠er Ama¬≠zon orga¬≠niz¬≠ers, Brown believes her treat¬≠ment reflects a broad¬≠er cam¬≠paign aimed at dis¬≠suad¬≠ing employ¬≠ees from organizing.

‚ÄúWhat they‚Äôll do is they‚Äôll find an indi¬≠vid¬≠ual, and they‚Äôll kind of make an exam¬≠ple of you. And that scares every¬≠body else,‚ÄĚ she says. Her obser¬≠va¬≠tions are affirmed by a recent Open Mar¬≠kets Insti¬≠tute report that finds that Ama¬≠zon has used sophis¬≠ti¬≠cat¬≠ed work¬≠place sur¬≠veil¬≠lance tac¬≠tics to intim¬≠i¬≠date and sup¬≠press work¬≠ers who seek to union¬≠ize or chal¬≠lenge the company‚Äôs labor practices.

Brown, mean¬≠while, is ded¬≠i¬≠cat¬≠ed to improv¬≠ing her work¬≠place. This is not the first time she has faced hos¬≠tile cir¬≠cum¬≠stances, both inside the Ama¬≠zon ware¬≠house and out. For a¬†stretch in¬†2018, she had to live in a¬†motel with her sis¬≠ter, who also works at Ama¬≠zon, because the two could not secure a¬†rental apart¬≠ment with the wages they were earn¬≠ing deliv¬≠er¬≠ing food for the cor¬≠po¬≠rate behe¬≠moth.¬†‚ÄúWe were lit¬≠er¬≠al¬≠ly starv¬≠ing,‚ÄĚ she says.¬†‚ÄúWe weren‚Äôt mak¬≠ing enough to be able to pay for the room, eat, and make it to and from¬†work.‚ÄĚ

Ama¬≠zon has denied charges of employ¬≠ee sur¬≠veil¬≠lance, dis¬≠miss¬≠ing the Open Mar¬≠kets Insti¬≠tute as¬†‚Äúa peren¬≠ni¬≠al crit¬≠ic that will¬≠ful¬≠ly ignores‚ÄĚ the com¬≠pa¬≠ny‚Äôs record of cre¬≠at¬≠ing jobs with¬†‚Äúindus¬≠try lead¬≠ing wages and ben¬≠e¬≠fits.‚ÄĚ The com¬≠pa¬≠ny claims that it does eval¬≠u¬≠ate work¬≠ers‚Äô per¬≠for¬≠mance¬†‚Äúover a¬†long peri¬≠od of time,‚ÄĚ and pro¬≠vides under-per¬≠form¬≠ing work¬≠ers with¬†‚Äúded¬≠i¬≠cat¬≠ed coach¬≠ing to help them¬†improve.‚ÄĚ

Giv¬≠en the dan¬≠gers of speak¬≠ing out, Brown some¬≠times won¬≠ders if she might end up home¬≠less again. But she‚Äôs less fear¬≠ful about los¬≠ing her job than she is about the health haz¬≠ards she faces every day as she fights to hold her employ¬≠er account¬≠able.¬†‚ÄúIt‚Äôs real¬≠ly ter¬≠ri¬≠fy¬≠ing,‚ÄĚ she says,¬†‚Äúbut if I¬†don‚Äôt do this, then I¬†could poten¬≠tial¬≠ly get sick and¬†die.‚ÄĚ

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on October 7, 2020. Reprinted with permission

About the Author: Michelle Chen is a con¬≠tribut¬≠ing writer at In These Times and The Nation, a con¬≠tribut¬≠ing edi¬≠tor at Dis¬≠sent and a co-pro¬≠duc¬≠er of the ‚ÄúBela¬≠bored‚ÄĚ pod¬≠cast. She stud¬≠ies his¬≠to¬≠ry at the CUNY Grad¬≠u¬≠ate Cen¬≠ter. She tweets at @meeshellchen.

About the Author: Molly Crabapple is an artist and writer in New York, and is the author of, most recent¬≠ly, Draw¬≠ing Blood and Broth¬≠ers of the Gun, (with Mar¬≠wan Hisham). Her art is in the per¬≠ma¬≠nent col¬≠lec¬≠tions of the Muse¬≠um of Mod¬≠ern Art. Her ani¬≠mat¬≠ed short, A Mes¬≠sage from the Future with Alexan¬≠dria Oca¬≠sio-Cortez, has been nom¬≠i¬≠nat¬≠ed for a 2020 Emmy for Out¬≠stand¬≠ing News Analy¬≠sis: Edi¬≠to¬≠r¬≠i¬≠al and Opinion.

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Amazon Expects Its Employees to Operate Like Fast-Moving Machines. This Amazon Picker Is Fighting Back.

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For Sean Carlisle (a pseu¬≠do¬≠nym) a 32-year-old grad¬≠u¬≠ate stu¬≠dent and native of California‚Äôs Inland Empire, the last three years at his local Ama¬≠zon ful¬≠fill¬≠ment cen¬≠ter have been an edu¬≠ca¬≠tion. As a stu¬≠dent of urban plan¬≠ning, he stud¬≠ies how built envi¬≠ron¬≠ments shape a community‚Äôs behav¬≠ior. As a pick¬≠er, he packs items at a break¬≠neck pace amid stacks of inven¬≠to¬≠ry and snaking con¬≠vey¬≠or belts while del¬≠i¬≠cate¬≠ly prac¬≠tic¬≠ing strate¬≠gies to raise his cowork¬≠ers‚Äô polit¬≠i¬≠cal consciousness. 

Amazon‚Äôs logis¬≠ti¬≠cal infra¬≠struc¬≠ture is designed to make humans per¬≠form with machine-like effi¬≠cien¬≠cy, but Sean is try¬≠ing to make the work¬≠place a bit more human, advo¬≠cat¬≠ing for stronger work¬≠er pro¬≠tec¬≠tions and cor¬≠po¬≠rate account¬≠abil¬≠i¬≠ty in his community.

When he first start¬≠ed at Ama¬≠zon, Sean enjoyed what he calls a¬†‚Äúhon¬≠ey¬≠moon phase.‚ÄĚ He liked that work¬≠ers were pro¬≠mot¬≠ed read¬≠i¬≠ly to man¬≠age¬≠r¬≠i¬≠al posi¬≠tions, espe¬≠cial¬≠ly peo¬≠ple with a¬†col¬≠lege edu¬≠ca¬≠tion like him¬≠self.¬†‚ÄúThey ha[d] all these things that help their employ¬≠ees advance. They have these school pro¬≠grams,‚ÄĚ he says, refer¬≠ring to Ama¬≠zon‚Äôs¬†pro¬≠fes¬≠sion¬≠al edu¬≠ca¬≠tion schemes. But about eight months in, he real¬≠ized¬†‚Äúthere was some stuff going on here that real¬≠ly could be improved. [I thought]¬†‚ÄėI don‚Äôt know if I¬†like this com¬≠pa¬≠ny as much as I¬†did before.‚Äô‚Ä̬†

‚ÄúThe cat¬≠a¬≠lyst was see¬≠ing [so many] peo¬≠ple get hurt,‚ÄĚ he con¬≠tin¬≠ues. He says work¬≠ers would tell him, ‚Äú¬†‚ÄėI got hurt, and they gave me phys¬≠i¬≠cal ther¬≠a¬≠py, and I¬†got even more hurt because they didn‚Äôt real¬≠ly assess me right and now I¬†have this prob¬≠lem.‚Äô ‚ÄĚ It was around the hol¬≠i¬≠day sea¬≠son dur¬≠ing his sec¬≠ond year¬†‚Äúwhen things hit a¬†sig¬≠nif¬≠i¬≠cant decline in terms of safe¬≠ty, and there was more focus on pro¬≠duc¬≠tiv¬≠i¬≠ty.‚ÄĚ He says that some¬≠times work¬≠ers would acci¬≠den¬≠tal¬≠ly strike the shelves as they nav¬≠i¬≠gat¬≠ed fork¬≠lifts through the center‚Äôs aisles, caus¬≠ing the vehi¬≠cles to tip¬†over.¬†

‚ÄúThe safe¬≠ty prob¬≠lems con¬≠tin¬≠ued to get worse, and my cowork¬≠ers and I¬†would say,¬†‚ÄėHey, [the man¬≠age¬≠ment has] got to do some¬≠thing about this,‚Äô‚ÄĚ he¬†recalls.

Sean believes the speed with which work¬≠ers must process orders‚ÄĒsome¬≠times hun¬≠dreds of items per hour‚ÄĒleads them to cut cor¬≠ners or ignore prob¬≠lems with their equip¬≠ment. He says that one byprod¬≠uct of the relent¬≠less pres¬≠sure to pack more items faster is a¬†high turnover among those who¬†‚Äúcouldn‚Äôt keep up.‚ÄĚ Burn¬≠ing through new hires cre¬≠ates a¬†con¬≠stant churn in the work¬≠force, as tem¬≠po¬≠rary work¬≠ers are cycled in and out dur¬≠ing peak¬†seasons.

Amazon‚Äôs offi¬≠cial data on work¬≠place injuries¬†sug¬≠gest that many of its ful¬≠fill¬≠ment cen¬≠ters have rates that far exceed the aver¬≠age ware¬≠house. Yet the com¬≠pa¬≠ny claims these sta¬≠tis¬≠tics are pri¬≠mar¬≠i¬≠ly a¬†tes¬≠ta¬≠ment to its metic¬≠u¬≠lous report¬≠ing rather than a¬†reflec¬≠tion of its shod¬≠dy safe¬≠ty stan¬≠dards.¬†‚ÄúWe ensure we are sup¬≠port¬≠ing the peo¬≠ple who work at our sites by hav¬≠ing first aid trained and cer¬≠ti¬≠fied pro¬≠fes¬≠sion¬≠als onsite¬†24/7, and we pro¬≠vide indus¬≠try lead¬≠ing health ben¬≠e¬≠fits on day one,‚ÄĚ a¬†spokesper¬≠son said in an¬†email.

Ama¬≠zon also claims to have spent¬†‚Äúover $1¬†bil¬≠lion [on] new invest¬≠ments in oper¬≠a¬≠tions safe¬≠ty mea¬≠sures‚ÄĚ that include pro¬≠tec¬≠tive tech¬≠nol¬≠o¬≠gy, san¬≠i¬≠ti¬≠za¬≠tion pro¬≠ce¬≠dures, and train¬≠ing and edu¬≠ca¬≠tion pro¬≠grams for work¬≠ers. The com¬≠pa¬≠ny main¬≠tains that it is¬†‚Äúcon¬≠tin¬≠u¬≠ous¬≠ly learn¬≠ing and improv¬≠ing our pro¬≠grams to pre¬≠vent future inci¬≠dents.¬†‚ÄĚSean con¬≠tends that some man¬≠agers have sim¬≠ply failed to take work¬≠place haz¬≠ards seri¬≠ous¬≠ly. He recalled his sur¬≠prise when a¬†man¬≠ag¬≠er told him, ‚Äú‚Äėif peo¬≠ple didn‚Äôt feel safe, they wouldn‚Äôt go to¬†work.‚Äô‚Ä̬†

‚ÄúThat‚Äôs not how that works, dude,‚ÄĚ he mus¬≠es.¬†‚ÄúPeo¬≠ple go to work because they need a¬†pay¬≠check, not because they feel¬†safe.‚ÄĚ

While work¬≠ing as a pick¬≠er, Sean‚Äôs aca¬≠d¬≠e¬≠m¬≠ic work led him to a cam¬≠paign against the planned con¬≠struc¬≠tion of a huge car¬≠go facil¬≠i¬≠ty for San Bernardi¬≠no Inter¬≠na¬≠tion¬≠al Air¬≠port. Var¬≠i¬≠ous com¬≠mu¬≠ni¬≠ty groups, includ¬≠ing Team¬≠sters local 1932 and envi¬≠ron¬≠men¬≠tal activists, formed the San Bernardi¬≠no Air¬≠port Com¬≠mu¬≠ni¬≠ties Coali¬≠tion to oppose the project, which they warn will deep¬≠en the eco¬≠nom¬≠ic and envi¬≠ron¬≠men¬≠tal exploita¬≠tion of the region by cor¬≠po¬≠ra¬≠tions like Ama¬≠zon‚ÄĒthe area‚Äôs largest pri¬≠vate employ¬≠er. Despite a legal chal¬≠lenge brought by the coali¬≠tion‚Äôs lead¬≠ing groups ear¬≠li¬≠er this year, the facility‚Äôs con¬≠struc¬≠tion is mov¬≠ing for¬≠ward, and Sean has now shift¬≠ed his focus to help¬≠ing pro¬≠tect his cowork¬≠ers from the pandemic.

One prac¬≠ti¬≠cal ben¬≠e¬≠fit that Sean and the oth¬≠er orga¬≠niz¬≠ers aim to secure for work¬≠ers in the short term is paid leave so that those affect¬≠ed by the pan¬≠dem¬≠ic can stay home with¬≠out sac¬≠ri¬≠fic¬≠ing wages. The com¬≠pa¬≠ny ini¬≠tial¬≠ly pro¬≠vid¬≠ed unlim¬≠it¬≠ed unpaid leave for work¬≠ers who self-iso¬≠lat¬≠ed due to COVID-19-relat¬≠ed health con¬≠cerns but end¬≠ed the pol¬≠i¬≠cy in May. Now Sean is encour¬≠ag¬≠ing cowork¬≠ers to seek ben¬≠e¬≠fits under a new state law for food-indus¬≠try work¬≠ers that pro¬≠vides up to two weeks paid leave for work¬≠ers who have been advised by a med¬≠ical pro¬≠fes¬≠sion¬≠al to self-iso¬≠late or ordered not to work.

Ama¬≠zon ini¬≠tial¬≠ly argued that it was exempt from the man¬≠date. But as Vice report¬≠ed in July, com¬≠mu¬≠ni¬≠ty groups and labor activists, along with the state labor commissioner‚Äôs office, pres¬≠sured the com¬≠pa¬≠ny to com¬≠ply on the grounds that its ware¬≠hous¬≠es serve as major retail food dis¬≠trib¬≠u¬≠tors. In June, approx¬≠i¬≠mate¬≠ly two months after the order was enact¬≠ed, Ama¬≠zon final¬≠ly agreed to fol¬≠low the law.

With a¬†poster detail¬≠ing the state‚Äôs new paid-leave pol¬≠i¬≠cy now on dis¬≠play in the break¬≠room, Sean says he is advis¬≠ing his cowork¬≠ers to take advan¬≠tage of what he calls a¬†legal¬†‚Äúloop¬≠hole‚ÄĚ that allows Ama¬≠zon employ¬≠ees to take paid time off out¬≠side of the com¬≠pa¬≠ny‚Äôs more restric¬≠tive allot¬≠ment. The work¬≠ers who qual¬≠i¬≠fy have man¬≠aged to use the law¬†‚Äújust to take a¬†break, or reeval¬≠u¬≠ate their¬†situation.‚ÄĚ

Sean says that despite his advo¬≠ca¬≠cy on behalf of Ama¬≠zon employ¬≠ees, he has avoid¬≠ed the kind of retal¬≠i¬≠a¬≠tion from man¬≠age¬≠ment that oth¬≠er work¬≠er-activists have reported.

At the same time, he acknowl¬≠edges,¬†‚ÄúI‚Äôm also not try¬≠ing to [pro¬≠voke] them direct¬≠ly.‚ÄĚ When it comes to engag¬≠ing with his col¬≠leagues on work¬≠place jus¬≠tice issues, he says,¬†‚ÄúUsu¬≠al¬≠ly, I‚Äôll have a¬†con¬≠ver¬≠sa¬≠tion where it just kind of unfolds like,¬†‚ÄėMan, some¬≠one in my fam¬≠i¬≠ly just recent¬≠ly passed, and I¬†can‚Äôt take time off work.‚Äô And I‚Äôm like,¬†‚ÄėOh, you should check out the law that was just recent¬≠ly passed and I¬†think you can get time off for¬†it.‚ÄĚ

Sean is build­ing a safer work­place with­in Amazon’s e-commerce leviathan one con­ver­sa­tion at a time. The son of an iron­work­er and grand­son of a team­ster, his sense of mis­sion is informed by the fam­i­ly sto­ries he heard as a child about strikes and pick­et lines.

Ama¬≠zon, which has man¬≠aged to keep unions at bay for years, bears lit¬≠tle resem¬≠blance to the union shops of past gen¬≠er¬≠a¬≠tions. But today‚Äôs Ama¬≠zon ware¬≠house work¬≠ers and dri¬≠vers are just as crit¬≠i¬≠cal to California‚Äôs econ¬≠o¬≠my as the long¬≠shore¬≠men, truck dri¬≠vers and iron work¬≠ers were a¬†cen¬≠tu¬≠ry ago.¬†‚ÄúI see Ama¬≠zon as some¬≠thing that‚Äôs prob¬≠a¬≠bly here to stay and like¬≠ly going to shape our future and our under¬≠stand¬≠ing of Amer¬≠i¬≠can cap¬≠i¬≠tal¬≠ism and con¬≠sump¬≠tion,‚ÄĚ he¬†says.

Though yes¬≠ter¬≠day‚Äôs mil¬≠i¬≠tant shop-floor strug¬≠gles have long fad¬≠ed from Cal¬≠i¬≠for¬≠ni¬≠a‚Äôs indus¬≠tri¬≠al land¬≠scape, the chal¬≠lenges fac¬≠ing the labor move¬≠ment remain basi¬≠cal¬≠ly the same. When work¬≠ers orga¬≠nize, Sean says, they can¬†‚Äúhold the com¬≠pa¬≠ny account¬≠able and shape it to be the com¬≠pa¬≠ny it is. With¬≠out the work¬≠ers, the com¬≠pa¬≠ny would not be what it¬†is.‚ÄĚ

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on October 7, 2020. Reprinted with permission

About the Author: Michelle Chen is a¬†con¬≠tribut¬≠ing writer at¬†In These Times¬†and¬†The Nation, a¬†con¬≠tribut¬≠ing edi¬≠tor at¬†Dis¬≠sent¬†and a¬†co-pro¬≠duc¬≠er of the¬†‚ÄúBela¬≠bored‚ÄĚ pod¬≠cast. She stud¬≠ies his¬≠to¬≠ry at the CUNY Grad¬≠u¬≠ate Cen¬≠ter. She tweets at @meeshellchen.

About the Author: Molly Crabapple is an artist and writer in New York, and is the author of, most recent¬≠ly, Draw¬≠ing Blood and Broth¬≠ers of the Gun, (with Mar¬≠wan Hisham). Her art is in the per¬≠ma¬≠nent col¬≠lec¬≠tions of the Muse¬≠um of Mod¬≠ern Art. Her ani¬≠mat¬≠ed short, A Mes¬≠sage from the Future with Alexan¬≠dria Oca¬≠sio-Cortez, has been nom¬≠i¬≠nat¬≠ed for a 2020 Emmy for Out¬≠stand¬≠ing News Analy¬≠sis: Edi¬≠to¬≠r¬≠i¬≠al and Opinion.

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Arranging Your Warehouse To Increase Productivity

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Your company‚Äôs warehouse is one of the primary factors in its success. Like any other machine, all of the components need to work together smoothly to achieve the best results. If an axle is bent ever so slightly out of alignment, it can have catastrophic consequences for the entire system. Likewise, if your warehousing practices and layout are not optimized, you will experience an elevated risk of mistakes and delays. 

Perhaps even more troubling is how a problematic arrangement introduces the potential for serious injuries. With so many moving parts in the form of employees and material-handling equipment, there‚Äôs always a chance that they will intersect at the wrong time or interfere with each other. 

This is why it is crucial to ensure that the facility is laid out for maximum productivity and safety. Without a layout that best utilizes the space, a warehouse is less a well-oiled machine and more of an accident waiting to happen. 

Maximize Floor Space

One of the most important steps to get the most out of your square footage is to reduce as much wasted floor space as possible. Although making aisles narrower is the obvious method for this, you may want to look at installing mezzanines to provide an additional level for foot traffic. Another idea that works well for streamlining your entire operation is reducing your inventory levels. Freeing up room on the floor reduces the number of accidents and improves efficiency. 

Go Vertical

Warehouses are three-dimensional spaces, so anything that helps you make better use of every axis will be helpful. For instance, you can install higher racks or optimize storage unit configurations. Eliminating pallets can also make a huge difference because without them you may be able to stack more units on top of one another. 

Optimize Your Traffic Patterns 

When plotting out the footprint of your facility, think about workflow and how to improve it. One of the best ways to make a positive impact is to increase the number of cross aisles. This provides more opportunities for workers and equipment to find alternate routes where they won‚Äôt be in the way of others. Investing time and resources into improving your picking system and inventory organization will prevent waste and create the most effective processes. Introducing automation such as robotic systems and bar feeders also decreases the risk of human error. 

When it comes to safety, an optimal arrangement of resources literally can be a lifesaver. However, you can take other simple steps to go above and beyond for the well-being of everyone in the warehouse. These include building a culture that promotes accountability at every level and emphasizes safe behavior. Regular inspections of your machinery and hardware also help by detecting issues before they have a chance to cause breakdowns that can hurt employees. 

When properly maintained, an engine can be counted on to operate successfully and safely every time. Likewise, a warehouse built from the ground up with best practices in mind can drive the growth of your business. For these and many other tips to increase warehouse productivity, see the accompanying infographic. 

This blog was originally produced by IEMCA. Printed with permission.

About the Author: IEMCA designs and produces automatic bar feeders since 1961 and today it is the worldwide leader for every type of application for lathes, machining centers, grindings, gear cutters, and other types of machine tools.

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Care Too Much

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Image: Bob RosnerHave you ever worked in a job where you felt like the Energizer Bunny, Superman and James Brown rolled into one. You know what I mean, like you’re the hardest working person in your company always willing to leap tall inboxes in a single bound?

If you’re like many of the people who write to me, the only problem is that the people you work with seem to be a combination of Homer Simpson, Eddie Haskell and Rip Van Winkle. We’re not just talking about your co-workers here, often your boss seems to care less about work than you do.

Well I have a simple rule, you shouldn’t care more, or work harder or be more patriotic about work than the person who signs your paychecks.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. If everyone felt this way then our productivity would just go down the drain.

Maybe. But at least you won’t be losing sleep over a job where the mucky-mucks are sleeping like babies.

Another way to look at this is that if the world were metal chain, then your standard of work should be equal to the weakest link.

Am I saying that we should all strive for mediocrity?

Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying if the bosses themselves don’t care about how things are done. If you feel like you’re working in an episode of the Jersey Shore, then it’s probably time for you to either mentally check out or find a new job. One where the leaders are actually interested in creating an environment where people are rewarded for working hard and where the leadership models this behavior.

To quote Charles DeGaulle, ‚ÄúThe graveyard is full of indispensable men.‚ÄĚ

That’s the problem. So many people are sweating, losing sleep and worrying when the people above them don’t share this level of passion, commitment or engagement. We should have a Surgeon General’s report on how dangerous this is to your health. Because it is. Not only for you, but for all the people who love you away from the job.

If during the 60‚Äôs the phrase was ‚Äútune in, turn on, drop out,‚ÄĚ then the phrase for anyone struggling in a job where you seem to care more than your boss, the mantra should be, ‚Äútune out, turn away, get out.‚ÄĚ Even if you can‚Äôt get out physically at least you can check out mentally, and maybe even physically.

Caring at work is great, but only when it’s supported by the powers that be.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, ‚ÄúThe Boss‚Äôs Survival Guide.‚ÄĚ If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

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Inspiration for World War II Rosie the Riveter Dies

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Image: Mike HallThe 17-year-old¬† Michigan factory worker who was the inspiration for the iconic World War II Rosie the Riveter, ‚ÄúWe Can Do It‚Ä̬†poster, died Dec. 26 in Lansing, Mich. Geraldine Doyle was¬† 86.

According to a Washington Post obituary, Doyle was on the job in a metal factory just a few weeks after graduating from high school in 1942 when a United Press International (UPI) photographer shot a picture of  her leaning over a piece of machinery and wearing a red and white polka-dot bandanna over her hair.

Westinghouse Corp. commissioned artist J. Howard Miller to produce several morale-boosting posters for display inside its buildings. The project was funded by the government as a way to motivate workers and perhaps recruit new ones for the war effort.

Smitten with the UPI photo, Miller reportedly was said to have decided to base one of his posters on the anonymous, slender metal worker‚ÄĒDoyle.

The poster and the name ‚ÄúRosie the Riveter‚ÄĚ came to symbolize the millions of women who entered the World War II workforce and who were especially instrumental in the war industries‚ÄĒshipyards, munitions plants and airplane factories‚ÄĒthat had been strictly male dominated. With millions of men in the armed services, women took over these vital jobs.

For more on Rosie and women on the World War II home front assembly lines, visit the Rosie the Riveter Trust.

This article was originally posted on AFL-CIO Now Blog.

About The Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.

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Poor Leaders Can Decrease Worker Productivity By Up to 40 Percent

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Mark Harkebe

As Newswise reports, based on employee engagement research by Florida State University business school professor Wayne Hochwarter,

recession-based uncertainty has encouraged many business leaders to pursue self-serving behaviors at the expense of those that are considered mutually beneficial or supportive of organizational goals.

This plays out in behaviors that Hochwarter’s team classified using the biblical Seven Deadly Sins as a framework.¬† While the percentages attached to each of those “behavioral sins,” based on feedback from more than 700 mid-level workers, is interesting, what appears further down in Newswise’s article caught my attention more from a productive workplace standpoint: FSU found that employees with leaders who committed any of these “sins” said they cut back on their contributions by 40%.¬† Notably, they were also:

  • 66% less likely to make creative suggestions, and
  • 75% more likely to pursue other job opportunities.

Hochwarter’s findings tell me that workplace qualities that some leaders might consider as soft (or at least far down on the totem pole of what they need to worry about day to day), such as trust, respect, and fairness, are not just “nice to do’s” ‚Äď they have a real impact on product/service delivery and quality, and company spending on recruiting and retraining.

This is one of the reasons that Winning Workplaces revised our Top Small Company Workplaces award application for 2011 to take a more in-depth look at how things like rewards/recognition and employee leadership development strategies impact business results.  Year after year of our small workplace award program, we see that happier, more highly engaged employees lead to better outcomes, while the opposite lead to a path of lower profitability and competitiveness in the marketplace.

This post is cross-posted on the Winning Workplaces Blog.

About The Author: Mark Harbeke is Director of Content Development for Winning Workplace. He helps write and edit Winning Workplaces’ e-newsletter, IDEAS, and provides graphic design and marketing support. Mark holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Drake University.

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Fewer Workers, Bigger Profits‚ÄĒand Endless Recession?

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Roger BybeeMotorcycle-maker Harley-Davidson is revving up its engines, nearly tripling last year’s profits in the second quarter by hauling in $71 million.

This follows first-quarter profits of $68.7 million. But Harley is still roaring toward a head-on collision with the workers in its hometown of Milwaukee, where the company has been a beloved symbol of the city’s gritty blue-collar image and pride in craftsmanship. Harley is still demanding $54 million worth of wage and benefit cuts, along with changes in work rules, from the United Steelworkers within the next 60 days.

Unless Harley gets the concessions before the current contract expires in April 2012, it has announced that it will zoom off to a new location with at least 1,400 jobs. Harley, like many other U.S. firms, is managing to extract bigger profits despite slow, sometimes declining sales and shrinking workforces, as the New York Times reported:

This seeming contradiction ‚ÄĒ falling sales and rising profits ‚ÄĒ is one reason the mood on Wall Street is so much more buoyant than in households, where pessimism runs deep and joblessness shows few signs of easing.

Many companies are focusing on cost-cutting to keep profits growing, but the benefits are mostly going to shareholders instead of the broader economy, as management conserves cash rather than bolstering hiring and production.

Clearly, bigger profits are doing nothing to promote an economic recovery. CEOs have little motivation to invest in new machinery and hire more people as spending power continues to lag badly‚ÄĒdue precisely to the widespread wage-slashing and job cutting by other corporations doing the very same thing.


The persistence of high unemployment‚ÄĒwidely predicted to extend for as long as another four years or even longer‚ÄĒgives CEOs enormous leverage over workers. Even when profits are roaring back, as at Harley, U.S. corporations face no obstacles to relocating production in low-wage southern states or repressive nations like China or Mexico if workers refuse to concede to their demands.

Ford is cited by the Times as another firm that has managed to make bigger profits with lower sales and fewer workers:

At Ford, revenue in its North American operations is down by $20 billion since 2005, but instead of a loss like it had that year, the unit is expected to earn more than $5 billion in 2010. In large part, that is because Ford has shrunk its North American work force by nearly 50 percent over the last five years.

Somehow the Times’ neglected to mention that 62% of Ford’s production now takes place outside the United States. More generally, the environment of long-term, prolonged joblessness has created an environment where maximum production is squeezed from the fewest workers possible, the Times stated:

Because of high unemployment, management is using its leverage to get more hours out of workers,‚ÄĚ said Robert C. Pozen, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School and the former president of Fidelity Investments. ‚ÄúWhat‚Äôs worrisome is that American business has gotten used to being a lot leaner, and it could take a while before they start hiring again.‚ÄĚ

Corporate America’s no-hiring mode continues a long-term trend, as job growth in the U.S. over the last decade has been under 1% compared with gains in of 22% to 38% every decade since 1940.

While corporations individually have discovered how to profit temporarily from vast reductions in their workforces and the biggest wage-slashing spree since the Great Depression, their strategies offer no way out of the Great Recession. As the Times noted, the increasingly leaner and meaner workplace has a downside:

The problem is that companies are not investing those earnings, instead letting cash pile up to levels not reached in nearly half a century.

‚ÄúAs long as corporations are reinvesting, the economy can grow,‚ÄĚ said Ethan Harris, chief economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

‚ÄúBut if they‚Äôre taking those profits and saving them, rather than buying new equipment, it hurts overall growth. The longer this goes on, the more you worry about income being diverted to a sector that‚Äôs not spending.‚ÄĚ

The current direction of Corporate America not only prolongs the
recession. It also re-distributes wealth upward‚ÄĒthereby taking away the very spending power from working families that is needed to break out of the recessionary cycle.

At a moment when the richest 1% already hauls in 23.5% of all annual income in the United States, there is little likelihood that the super-rich will be igniting an economic recovery with even more cash on their hands. They are much more likely to simply add to their already-vast savings:

‚ÄúThere‚Äôs no question that there is an income shift going on in the economy,‚ÄĚ Mr. Harris added. ‚ÄúCompanies are squeezing their labor costs to build profits.‚ÄĚ ‚Ķ
In fact, while wages and salaries have barely budged from recession lows, profits have staged a vigorous recovery, jumping 40 percent between late 2008 and the first quarter of 2010.

About The Author:

Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and progressive publicity consultant whose work has appeared in numerous national publications and websites, including Z magazine, Dollars & Sense, Yes!, The Progressive, Multinational Monitor, The American Prospect and Foreign Policy in Focus. Bybee edited The Racine Labor weekly newspaper for 14 years in his hometown of Racine, Wis., where his grandfathers and father were socialist and labor activists. His website can be found here, and his e-mail address is winterbybee@gmail.com.

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Chaos 1, Order 0

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Image: Bob RosnerBefore Northwest Airlines became a memory following its merger with Delta Airlines, it offered a moment of brilliance. The company decided it would no longer board their planes by rows. You know, seating people in ten row clumps starting from the back of the plane.

Why would they end what is clearly the most orderly and effective way to board an airplane? Precisely because it wasn’t.

Instead, they decided to let first class customers, the disabled, the kids and frequent flyers board first. After that, first come, first served. Now here is the wild part. According to Northwest Airlines, letting people get on the plane randomly, instead of by row, would cut five to ten minutes from the boarding process. By boarding randomly, the airline expected to get 200 people on a plane in 20 to 25 minutes. If my math is correct (and since I’m a graduate of the New Jersey Public Schools, you should have your doubts), that could result in up to a 30% reduction in boarding time.

Think about it. Forcing people to go onto a plane section by section creates logjams in different parts of the plane. On the other hand, letting people on randomly spreads the logjams all over the plane.

Why is this important for those not in the airline industry? Because it’s my experience, reinforced by my emails for the last ten years, that the vast majority of corporations think like Northwest Airlines used to think. They like to command and they like to control. Even when involved with a creative project, organizations want to see plans, projections, reports and lots and lots of meetings.

This announcement reminds us that sometimes a little chaos can get us all where we need to go faster. Significantly faster.

So why do corporations value order so highly? Oddly enough it all comes from our experience in elementary school. A number of years ago I worked for former Army General turned Superintendent of Schools for Seattle, John Stanford. He observed that our school system was largely set up in the early part of this century to create factory workers. And it hasn’t changed from its earliest days. That’s why if you’re like me, you probably remember so much of an emphasis on discipline from your early years.

Factory workers. Obviously these days most of us are not on the line, but rather in jobs that require creativity and initiative. Yet, our brains were trained during the majority of our formative years to value order over all else.

I know what you‚Äôre thinking, that I‚Äôm taking one little example and getting totally carried away. Ironically, I‚Äôm going to accuse you‚ÄĒthe corporate people reading this blog‚ÄĒof doing the very same thing. Stop embracing command and control at the expense of allowing pockets of chaos to thrive throughout your organization.

3M, widely seen as the corporation that consistently generates the most revenue from new products, allows each employee time to work on their pet projects during working hours. Sure they’ve got to finish their regular assignments, but they are given a little bit of leash to do something outside the scope of their jobs.

Which reminds me of the arch enemy of Maxwell Smart in the old TV show ‚ÄúGet Smart.‚ÄĚ It was ‚ÄúChaos.‚ÄĚ All of our lives we‚Äôve been told that chaos is the enemy. Make it your friend, like Northwest Airlines did, and you just might be surprised at how much more your organization will accomplish.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, ‚ÄúThe Boss‚Äôs Survival Guide.‚ÄĚ If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

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Upward Assessment of Darth Vader

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Image: Noel S. WilliamsA recent survey by The Conference Board, a not-for-profit organization that disseminates information about business management and economic trends, showed that job satisfaction in America hit a record low in 2009.  Part of the problem is managers who run roughshod over morale.  Part of the solution is employee surveys that provide an underpinning for managers’ performance appraisals.

Formal grievance procedures against miscreant managers are a drastic option, and often bring adversity to the whistleblower.¬† But so-called ‚Äúupward assessments‚ÄĚ empower subordinates by giving them input into management performance appraisals.¬† Measuring management behavior, not some nebulous notion that ‚Äúthe company cares about its people,‚ÄĚ will rein in abusive managers simply because once something is measured, it generally improves.

I don‚Äôt need to refer to the human resource trend du jour — I already know this because my previous manager was Darth Vader reincarnate.¬† Recognizing the threat to his evil little empire, he usurped the survey process, twisting it to the dark side.

Published norms, articles about workplace bullying, quarterly process meetings and retreats were all his decoys, but his ultimate subterfuge was the employee survey.   He cunningly constructed this devious document to shirk responsibility and shroud his malice.  His dastardly plot recognized that direct surveys represented a powerful check upon his unfettered malevolence.

When I started this job I was bemused that our 25-person department had its own set of norms:  ten principles that basically boiled down to the golden rule.  Everyone else in our large organization was content to operate under organization-wide principles.

On the surface, our department was a group of top-notch professionals working in accord.   It seemed we had struck the optimal balance between efficiency, effectiveness and employee moral, but why did we have a special set of norms, I wondered?   Why were they plastered everywhere:  on the conference room walls, on our manager’s door, in meeting rooms?  One could not walk more than a few yards without encountering them.

I was new, but no one on our team seemed capable of belittling, intimidating, disrespecting or otherwise mistreating a co-worker.  Was this because of the norms?  Or was something more sinister at play that the norms were hiding?

A few months after I started it was time for my first quarterly ‚Äúprocess‚ÄĚ meeting.¬† As far as I could tell, this was rare, if not unique to our department.¬†¬† Part of the unusual agenda called for a discussion of our norms and a potential employee survey.¬† An extra copy of our norms was posted on the meeting room door, almost as if there had been a recent breach of etiquette.¬† There had been, many breaches, the perpetrator ambushing her victims then squirming to our manager Darth for refuge.

As I ventured more frequently into various domains within our organization I noticed people wincing when I told them where I worked.  But I was new, an innocent wookie oblivious to the dark side of the force.  I went about my merry way even as my day or reckoning drew closer.

Our next departmental oddity was our yearly retreat.  Wait a minute; retreats are for dysfunctional teams, aren’t they?   I remembered from business school they might be an appropriate venue for an organization that manufactured widgets even while marketing was promoting screws and operations was into nails.  Clearly, they needed a retreat, but not our small, laser-focused workgroup; unless, of course, this was part of the elaborate charade.

It was, and my days of blissful ignorance were ripped asunder back at H.Q. when I fell into the crosshairs of Darth’s personal assistant.  Apparently, my tendency to ponder nuances annoyed her.  For daring to suggest that inventory items need to be entered into a database for proper tracking I was publicly excoriated.  Such was her venom that several witnesses were quite shaken, a 12-year veteran of salty Navy language, I was even taken aback but maintained enough composure to suggest she read our norms.

I was beginning to connect the dots.  Our department’s public image was but a cover up, all a happy face on a veil that concealed the twisted anger of an ogre who was mollycoddled by lord Vader himself.

I was but the latest victim of a long line of rapacious rampages where employee pride and self-confidence were laid waste.  No wonder everyone was so compliant and cooperative, they had succumbed.  After each devastating raid, our resident ogre sought respite in Darth’s chamber.  Job done, she then retreated to her cube to suddenly transform into the public image of serenity beneath her conspicuous copy of our incongruous norms.

Now I knew why everyone winced, everyone except unaware upper-level management.  Job satisfaction is good for productivity so they must be informed.   Not through formal grievance procedures,  but by eliciting employee input into our manager’s performance appraisals, Darth could be redeemed, and the ogre laid bare and slain.

By attempting to hijack it, our manager had shown his repressive regime’s soft underbelly: the employee survey.   His rendition was an utterly corrupt and deceitful document that deliberately avoided questions about management, misdirecting potential blame to feeble droids.  The sham demonstrated that a targeted survey could be powerful straightjacket on managers disposed to running amok.

An employee survey designed to elicit upward feedback would shine light into the dank crypt where he and trusted assistant conspired to wreak havoc.  Executives could then expose the tyranny lest another promising career be dashed.  Powerful energies aimed at self-preservation could be unleashed toward productive ends, and that represents a big disturbance in the force for good.

About the Author: Noel S. Williams currently enjoys work as an Information Technology Specialist.  While he also holds a master’s degree in Human Resource Management, it is his training as Jedi Knight that gives him the fortitude to delve into the dark side of workplace unfairness.

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