Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger
I’ll compress the facts of this case in order that I get to the heart of what is wrong here. A Massachusetts Accountant’s wife has Stage IV Lung Cancer, with a prognosis of months to live. He went to his employer of 13 years, with whom by their own admission he had an exemplary record, to request a flexible schedule so that he could assist his wife. He was fired by them instead and has been unable to get another job. Friends of the family have expressed interest in assisting but are daunted by the task of setting up a fund.
Welcome to the America of 2011, where the bottom line is profit and loyalty is a one-way street, only to be invoked for the employer’s benefit. The links below will provide the story in detail, but I’d like to take this to a more macrocosmic level. My thanks are given to Jerry Wolkoff, his blog and to my wife for making me aware of this heartbreaking story.
While in the history of the industrialized world many employers were smart enough to realize that loyalty of employees was a two-way street, for the most part most employees were considered expendable cogs in the business wheel. This indeed was taught when I was a Business Major in college in the early 60’s.
It was called Theory X and looked at threat of job loss a being a great motivator for getting the most out of workers and/or paying them as little as possible. It seemed wrong to me then and when later in my career I had hundreds of employees working for me, it still seemed a bad idea. I succeeded as a “boss” by showing the same loyalty to my employees that I expected them to show me.
Since the age of Reagan, with the Union movement being diminished and with good stock market share price the most important outcome for corporate leadership, employees are viewed again as replaceable cogs, despite individual skill levels. We know that famous, or infamous based on perspective, careers have been built by CEO’s coming into a company and firing employees in droves, to drive up their market price. Much younger employees, with much cheaper salaries, replace those fired. Other times these jobs are resurrected overseas, for sweatshop wages. While corporate profits skyrocket, our industrial base is tenuous and unemployment is rampant. Proponents of this strategy argue that this is a result of a free market regulating itself and the displaced workers should “be responsible” and learn new skill sets to regain employment.
What is lost in this are the many corporations going down this path towards their own destruction. Only within the past few years Circuit City destroyed itself by firing it most experienced, higher paid sales staff. They found to their detriment that workers have different skill levels and are not mere easily replaceable with cheaper, less experienced ones.
The cognitive dissonance abroad in our country shared by the many that support corporate predations over their own self-interest may seem unfathomable. This is not necessarily the case though. Many non-Professionals who work for a living are themselves in fear that they will be cast among the unemployed despite their hard work. They may adopt a don’t rock the boat mentality having a psychological defense mechanism of Reaction Formation, or even “Stockholm Syndrome” and so view management as their “Liege Lords.”
I believe that this corporate philosophy is incorrect and dysfunctional. I hold that this dysfunctional state is true for the company itself, as well as its’ employees. My experience is that workers thrive under good, caring treatment and work harder than even expected. My sense is that profit making companies benefit when their workers thrive and ultimately fall apart when fear in the ranks distracts workers from doing their jobs.
I must return though to the take off point of this story. This husband and wife and the trying time they are going through. It is easy to spout socio/political theory when one is not personally affected by the tragedies caused by the crisis of individual lives. What words of comfort are there for this man who by all reports worked hard and diligently for his firm, only to be discarded in his families time of need? We all sputter on about the mythology of the American Work Ethic, spurred on by a mythology exemplified by Horatio Alger. Alger’s heroes all worked hard, for a fact, but each and every one succeeded by an accident of fate, or marrying the boss’s daughter. Where did the “Work Ethic” and playing by the rules get this husband and wife?
Is this to be one sad story in an ongoing saga of sad stories as the American Dream fades into its sunset, replaced by a Third World reality? Shouldn’t company’s and employers be better than this, or is that just vain fantasy?