Homer Simpson said it — or was it Confucius?
I’ve spent many grueling years slaving away in the salt mines known as the American workplace. At the tender age of 13, I started weeding Mrs. Dwyer’s rose garden for $1 an hour, then I worked as a laborer with Iannucci Construction Co. for $6 an hour and later taught grammar for $7 an hour, loaded steel drums onto trailers for $9 an hour, and ultimately took a pay cut to pursue a career in journalism as a reporter, editor, manager and executive, where I calculate my salary averaged 86 cents an hour.
I have so many horror stories they’d make your hair curl, and mine curled so much it fell out. Sometimes it was like being in the cast of “The Walking Dead,” that TV show about zombies running wild.
I always tried, but often failed, to be a fair and decent boss. Fortunately, now that my years as a manager are behind me, there’s no need for me to “motivate,” “inspire,” “provide positive reinforcement,” or pretend slackers are star performers.
According to recent surveys, American workers are fed up, and nothing in management’s bag of tricks will improve the situation. Not rap sessions with the CEO. Not coffee an’ with the Chief Innovation Officer. Not an Employee of the Month parking space or a private port-o-let. Not new and improved snack machines with gluten-free products. Not dental insurance, vision insurance or flood insurance.
Is the problem the employers or bad bosses or a chronically unhappy workforce? Which came first, the chicken or the barbecued wings?
One study concluded 70% of workers can’t stand their jobs, even when they have perks like office massages, catered meals and free brewskis, which means the walking dead have a serious morale problem.
Another study said 65% of Americans would take a new boss over a raise. Most people don’t have that choice. For them, it’s no new boss and no raise, which leads me to conclude bad bosses cause more misery than the IRS, Simon Cowell and impacted wisdom teeth — combined.
Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace Report surveyed 150,000 workers and found only 30% of them are “engaged” in their work. More than half are bored by their jobs, and 18% are chronic whiners who “roam the halls spreading discontent.” These malcontents cost the U.S. $550 billion a year in lost productivity.
In addition, a Harris study found that more than half of U.S. workers are looking to change their careers and only 14% feel they’re in “the perfect job.”
Yes, this deplorable situation requires innovative thinking from our visionary executives. When we faced a similar slump in employee morale at a newspaper where I once worked, the publisher commissioned a company-wide attitude survey. Guess what he discovered? Rome was about to be sacked.
Confucius — or maybe it was Jack Welch — once said, “The wise manager does not need an attitude survey. He knows morale is always bad so fire everybody.”
The study probably should have landed in a locked file cabinet or a paper shredder. Instead, the great minds of senior management got together with the human resources professionals and developed an EMT program to resuscitate morale. The centerpiece of this initiative was “Whacky Tie Day” along with other “fun” things.
We showed up at work wearing the craziest ties in our closets. Since more than 60% of the staff was women, who didn’t wear ties, someone suggested “Whacky Bikini Day,” which certainly would have improved morale for the 40%. But that idea got shot down in the interests of maintaining productivity.
Another lesson: Productivity trumps morale every time. Confucius said that. Or maybe it was Lee Iacocca or possibly Homer Simpson.
Joe Pisani may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.