For many years labor workers have had unions. Unions have played an important part in protecting workers who had little say in the way they were treated by their employers. Huge changes have resulted from the work of Labor Unions.
There is a similar power imbalance today with corporate office workers. Workers are being taken advantage of by large companies, job security has vanished, benefits shrinking, the workday expanding and our workspaces disappearing. But we all get paid, we have nice houses, we go on vacations, so we put up with this slow erosion of our humanity. When we see an injustice we just keep our heads down and hope we’re not next. They tell us that we should be happy to have a job, we are "doing well."
Unemployment is at an all-time low. Companies are looking for ways to attract talent, yet those ways tend to be in baubles, not benefits. For example, maybe they offer a ping pong table, but they don’t offer extra vacation days. Now is the time to seize the opportunity and shift the power back into balance.
If you could wave a magic wand and transform your job into a humane workplace, what would that look like? Here are some ideas, I’d love to hear yours!
Know exactly what puts my job/bonus at risk. If I’m going to get laid off, it’s fair that I know what is driving that decision. Something like: “If the product line you work on doesn’t hit the 20% profit target, the company will need to eliminate 30 jobs, in order of seniority.” That works for me. I know exactly what I need to do, and what I need to help others do, in order to protect my job. People understand that this is not a guarantee, but they appreciate it not being a total mystery. When it’s a mystery, people go into protective-mode and this is generally bad for that profit target.
Align Performance Bonuses with Executive Bonuses. We all know that executive pay gap has grown by 7x in recent years. Who is keeping that in check? Do executives get bonuses even in years when the rest of us don't? We don't really know.
Stop taking away benefits. We deserve stable benefits. Combining sick days and personal days into less overall days off is not fooling anyone! It’s a sleight of hand with the way companies juggle your benefits around and when the music stops you have less than you did before. I had a week of vacation taken from me when I switched departments for a promotion. (This was a contributing factor to my leaving that job!) Years ago, I had an employer that gave “benefit dollars” you could use for days off, healthcare, or retirement. Great! Everyone is different, people want to use their benefits different ways, that’s fine, just stop taking them away.
Give me a place to sit. For goodness sakes, let your employees have some modicum of control over their working area. There have been many studies that show productivity improvement in companies where the people can control their work area. These new open areas may save space, but at what productivity cost? One person told me that she felt like her existence was slowly being “erased”. IDEO famously lets employees completely define their workspace.
These are examples where the collective power of could help protect the employees. In today’s world, the individual is powerless against the company. And complaining relegates you to a whiner, and rightfully so since there is literally nothing you can do about it. You don’t need a union to speak with a collective voice, go find some like-minded coworkers and sing a petition.
What are some injustices in your workplace? What have you done about it?