Tag Archives: employment

Unique Families: Not So Unique

Image excerpt from the Washington Post, created by Christina Rivero. Click for full image.

Image excerpt from the Washington Post, created by Christina Rivero. Click for full image.

When thinking about the typical U.S. family, you might imagine a classic sitcom like The Brady Bunch: stay-at-home mom Carol, architect husband Mike, and six lovely children. At the time the show aired, a “blended” family of remarried adults was a bit of a novelty, sure, but it still stuck to the married mother and father, father is the breadwinner trope. And that’s still how many often picture U.S. families.

The Washington Post reports the findings of Ohio State University’s Department of Sociology on the living arrangements of U.S. children from birth to 17 years old. The researchers found that the children’s living arrangements varied distinctly by race. Asian children were most likely to live with a married mother and father, with only the father working, but that set-up only counted for 24% of living arrangements among Asian children. It turns out that dual-income households are the strong majority among both white and Asian children, and that both are more likely to live in dual-income households than either black or Hispanic children. Higher percentages of black and Hispanic children are living with their grandparents. Another notable statistic among black children is their greater likelihood of living with a single, never-married mother (this is true for nearly a quarter of all black kids).

No word yet on all white, three-boy, three-girl families with maids.

The More Things Change

Photo by Fotologic/Jon Nicholls via flickr.com.

Photo by Fotologic/Jon Nicholls via flickr.com.

…The more they stay the same. That is one conclusion University of Maryland sociologist John Robinson draws from the results of the 2012 American Time Use Survey. Despite the global economic downturn in 2008 and subsequent elevated levels of unemployment in the U.S., the breakdown of how Americans spend their time has changed little over the past five years.

In 2007, Americans reported working an average of 7.6 hours per day. Five years later, in 2012, employed people worked for 7.7 hours each day, while dedicating two hours to chores and five to six hours to leisure (approximately half of that leisure time is spent watching television).

Robinson explained the similar time use as social inertia:

We went through the biggest recession in history, we went through the most economic turmoil. And yet we see very little decline in the time that people spend working.

Other notable statistics include the growing parity in how much time men and women spend more equal amounts of time working, doing housework, and taking part in the leisure activities than they did 50 years ago. Additionally, U.S. citizens are found to be increasingly sedentary. Between leisure time spent in front of the television and sedentary work environments, Americans use little of their time in physical activity.

Workplace Inflexibility

Working from home photo by Victor1558 via flickr.com.

Working from home photo by Victor1558 via flickr.com.

Best Buy has ended its Result Only Work Environment (ROWE) program, which famously allowed employees to telecommute, working in the office on a set schedule, or have the flexibility to do both. Evaluations were based solely on job performance, with no consideration of attendance. Best Buy’s policy change follows a similar change at Yahoo, where CEO Marissa Meyer no longer allows staff to work from home.

Executives at both companies cite a need to improve competitiveness, and they argue that requiring employees to come to the office will enhance collaboration and innovation. Erin Kelly, a sociologist at the University of Minnesota, is skeptical. She argues that ROWE is not to blame for the companies’ struggles:

“I’m concerned that these flexibility initiatives and telework initiatives are getting blamed for what may be other problems those organizations are facing in the broader market,” Kelly told the Star Tribune.

Jennifer Glass, a sociologist at the University of Texas, similarly disputes research claims that required attendance improves innovation among employees.

In an op-ed for the New York Times, Glass writes:

[M]uch of this “research” simply shows that workers who collaborate with others in loose networks generate better ideas. It doesn’t suggest that the best way to create new products and services is by isolating your employees in the silo of a single location.

Best Buy and Yahoo are calling for all hands on deck, but do all hands need to be on deck at the same time?

Contradictions on Chinese Women in Charge

The CEO and Managing Director of Morgan Stanley Asia, Wei Sun Christianson frequently tops lists of China's most powerful women.

The CEO and Managing Director of Morgan Stanley Asia, Wei Sun Christianson frequently tops lists of China’s most powerful women (business- and otherwise).

The social status of women in China is receiving a lot of attention again, and this time there might be good news. A study out of accounting firm Grant Thorton’s Beijing Branch claims that the proportion of women in senior management positions has jumped from 25% to a staggering 51%. Of the 200 businesses surveyed, 94% of them had women in these upper level positions. This seems like a great finding for women in China, but Laurie Burkitt of the Wall Street Journal advises that the news should be taken with a grain of salt.

Burkitt cites a new study by National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and the New York-based Asia Society. Their findings claim that five Chinese men are in a senior position in the workplace for each one woman that reaches a comparable position. Burkitt also points out that just 10 of the 205 members of the Communist Party’s Central Committee are women. Even Chinese views on whether women should be in the workplace at all have been sliding. In a 2010 survey:

61.6% of men and 54.6% of women said that “men belong in public life and women belong at home,” an increase of 7.7 and 4.4 percentage points respectively from 2000.

It certainly looks like attitudes on women in the workplace are changing in China. The direction of that change remains an open question.

Service with a Smile—Or Else.

At TGI Friday's, "flair"=fun. Photo by Derek Morrison via flickr.com.

At TGI Friday’s, “flair”=fun. Photo by Derek Morrison via flickr.com.

It’s a common problem in post-recession America: you hate your job, but you also can’t just up and get a new one. We usually have social options for dealing with this, ranging from commiserating with co-workers in the breakroom to organizing for better working conditions. But if you work in the service industry, where the customer isn’t too keen on knowing you hate your job, bosses can try to bust up the social bandwagon.

A piece for MSNBC’s The Ed Show makes great use of Arlie Hochschild’s concept of “emotional labor.” The piece gives a handful of examples in which employees, from Starbucks baristas to Wal-Mart greeters, are increasingly burdened with managers’ attempts to regulate how much they demonstrate enjoying their work. The author even quotes one account of employees who could be fired for not touching each other frequently enough!

This raises some fascinating questions for work in the 21st century. We know all social interactions are governed by rules and institutions, but when work is a scarce necessity, do we have the luxury of “doing what we love,” or must we “fake it ‘til we make it”… to a better job?

The Invisible Employee

At 80 years old, Hubert Elliot is North Carolina's oldest Department of Transportation Worker. Photo by NCDOT Communications via flickr.com.

At 80 years old, Hubert Elliot is North Carolina’s oldest Department of Transportation Worker. Photo by NCDOT Communications via flickr.com.

As the baby boomers age, so does the American workforce. It is projected that by the end of this decade, a quarter of the nation’s workforce will be fifty-five or older. Sociologist Amy Blackstone, of the University of Maine, took interest and undertook a study of this group’s workplace experiences. In a piece for the Bangor Daily News, Blackstone explains the distressing results:

While older workers generally report positive experiences on the job, there are notable patterns in the harmful experiences they report. A significant number of older workers report feeling undervalued and bullied at work. Further, many older workers do not speak up about their negative experiences, nor do those who witness bullying or harassment of older workers intervene on their behalf.

In Blackstone’s survey results, older workers said they felt devalued by their younger coworkers, as though they were useless. They felt ignored and even bullied. One woman wrote:

“After about age 60-65, I began to notice that people would sometimes ignore me as though I had become invisible.”

Blackstone provides a few suggestions for improving employment for older workers. These include educating and reminding employers and employees of the importance of a positive workplace atmosphere, the knowledge and experience older workers may hold, and the need for support and bystander intervention.

Shortage of Sick Days: Worse than Shortage of Flu Vaccine?

Not a good sign around the water cooler. Photo by John Liu via flickr.

In TIME’s online Ideas section, Columbia’s Shamus Khan makes a reasonable proposition: let sick people stay home and get well. “While we typically look to doctors and medicines in a health crisis,” such as the current flu outbreak, “we should recognize that guaranteeing paid sick days to workers could do as much, if not more, to help moderate the impact…”

Khan goes on to cite the 40% of American workers who have no paid sick days and point out that “this is not just inhumane but a matter of public health.”

The jobs with the most contact with the public are the least likely to provide sick days… when you go to purchase a cup of coffee or eat at a restaurant, know that almost all (76%) of the people serving you are likely to show up to work sick, because not doing so means not getting paid and could mean getting fired. Scholars have a name for this—presenteeism: being at work when you otherwise should not for fear of losing your job or beng viewed by your boss as lazy or unreliable.

While New York’s leadership has declined to support paid sick leave policies, San Francisco has implemented one and saw higher rates of employment. “Paid sick leave works,” Khan concludes. Employees stay home and get well, spread less disease, and are less likely to visit emergency rooms (saving themselves and the wider healthcare system millions).

Sport—and Self—Performance?

Photo courtesy Murray State University via flickr.com.

Why do we impose upon young, talented, and serious-minded high-school seniors the imperative of selecting an academic major that is, more often than not, completely irrelevant to, or at least inconsistent with, their heartfelt desires and true career objectives: to be professional athletes?

In The Chronicle of Higher Education, David Pargman, an emeritus professor of educational psychology at FSU, poses this question. The answer, he seems to believe is, “Who knows?” Suggesting an improvement to the current “deep dysfunction of college athletics,” Pargman goes on to say that, since it’s plain that “student athletes want to be professional entertainers,” we should let “family members, friends, and high-school coaches acknolwedge and support that goal… to study football, basketball, or baseball.”

But how? Well, “higher education, for better or worse, purports to be a pathway to a vocational future,” Pargman argues, so let’s create a “sports performance major.” The first two years would look much like any other liberal arts education, with the junior and senior years offering specialized training in everything from physiology to heavy resistance training labs, elements of contract law, kinesiology, and an introduction to motor learning. “Such prescribed coursework would be relevant to the athlete’s career objectives,” Pargman writes, and, since the students would also be playing for school teams, their experience would be analogous to that of a musical theater student: “They study their craft and display their acquired skill before campus audiences.”

Of course, a great portion of the student-athletes would still not go on to be professional athletes, but not only is this true for many collegiate programs, the major’s design would allow students a chance to gain knowledge of other associated fields. If nothing else, the author closes, “What I propose would be infinitely more honest than the charade that now prevails” as students dreaming of a pro career so often “completely lack interest in the mandatory and largely arbitrary and convenient choice of major.” Essentially, a sports performance major might let students stop acting.

Partying for Position

Networking needs assembled (and photographed) by Joe Loong via flickr.com.

Think of it like this: Once, workers had unions. Now they have parties.

In the Silicon Valley (and, we’d argue, most other areas), the workday doesn’t stop at 5pm. But working the late shift, writes Chris O’Brien in the Silicon Valley Mercury News, is less about pounding coffee and more about cocktails and socializing—a new form of required labor for the dot-com and post-Internet boom eras. O’Brien looks to the work of sociologist Gina Neff and her new book Venture Labor: Work and the Burden of Risk in Innovative Industries to show how the parties these high tech workers attend (and feel pressured to attend) signal a shifting relationship between work and risk. The basic idea is a key, neoliberal ideal: “individuals… are told success is theirs if they just work hard and network enough.”

Neff told O’Brien that the workers she interviewed reported not wanting to go to the various social functions, but feeling like every time they skipped out, they were further out of the loop of well-known workers on the radar of employers and investors:

One woman Neff interviewed laments that her inability to attend parties after she got pregnant hurt her career: “That’s what derailed my rise. Because a lot of this is about going out and networking a lot and I just stopped.”

And maybe the dot-com boom seems a little out of date, but O’Brien points out that the responsibility for not getting laid off (or bouncing back after a layoff) is increasingly absorbed by workers themselves. It’s on them to always have secondary career options, get their business card into the right hands, and have the right numbers in their phones should they get a pink slip one day. Uncertainty has made hitting the social scene, O’Brien writes, more crucial than ever.


America’s (Corporate) Game

Photo by pj_vanf via flickr.com

The Twitterverse and blogosphere exploded after NFL replacement referees blew a call on Monday Night Football, costing the Green Bay Packers a victory. Even President Obama piped up on Tuesday, encouraging a swift end to the labor dispute between the NFL and its regular referees. Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times agrees that we should all be paying attention to the unfolding drama, but argues that we might be missing the point:

Most news coverage of this labor dispute focuses on the ineptitude of the fill-in referees; this week there will be a lot of hand-wringing over the flagrantly bad call that turned a Green Bay interception into a game-winning Seattle touchdown, as if by alchemy. Occasionally you’ll read that the disagreement has something to do with retirement pay. But it’s really about much more.

It’s about employers’ assault on the very concept of retirement security. It’s about employers’ willingness to resort to strong-arm tactics with workers, because they believe that in today’s environment unions can be pushed around (they’re not wrong). You ignore this labor dispute at your peril, because the same treatment is waiting for you.

One issue at the heart of the conflict is the NFL’s goal to end the referees’ pension plan and move to a 401(k)-style plan, which Hiltzik notes is not unique among U.S. employers.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has argued that defined-benefit plans are a thing of the past — even he doesn’t have one, he told an interviewer recently, as though financially he’s in the same boat as any other league employee.

This is as pure an expression as you’ll find of the race to the bottom in corporate treatment of employees. Industry’s shift from defined-benefit retirement plans to 401(k) plans has helped to destroy retirement security for millions of Americans by shifting pension risk from employer to employee, exposing the latter to financial market meltdowns like those that occurred in 2000 and 2008.

It’s true that employers coast-to-coast have tried to put a bullet in the heart of the defined-benefit plan. The union representing 45,000 Verizon workers gave up on such coverage for new employees to settle a 15-month contract dispute.

But why anyone should sympathize with the desire of the NFL, one of the most successful business enterprises in history, to do so, much less admire its efforts, isn’t so clear. If you have one of these disappearing retirement plans today, don’t be surprised to hear your employer lament, “even the NFL can’t afford them” tomorrow.

Another common trend is an increase in the use of lockouts as a means of resolving labor disputes.

Lockouts have become more widespread generally: A recent survey by Bloomberg BNA found that as a percentage of U.S. work stoppages, lockouts had increased to 8.07% last year, the highest ratio on record, from less than 3% in 1991. In other words, work stoppages of all kinds have declined by 75% in that period — but more of them are initiated by employers.

The reasons are obvious. “Lockouts put pressure on the employees because nobody can collect a paycheck,” said William B. Gould IV, a former attorney for the National Labor Relations Board and a professor emeritus at Stanford Law School. “In a lot of major disputes, particularly in sports, it’s the weapon du jour.” Think about that the next time someone tells you that unions have too much power.

While the spotlight is sure to remain on the ire of fans and players alike toward the botched calls by replacement refs, America’s Game may be showing us more about business as usual in the United States than we would like to see.

It’s been said that football simply replicates the rough and tumble of the real world, and in this case, sadly, the observation is too true.