Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Were You Laboring on Labor Day?

We hope your re-entry into the real world hasn’t been too painful today. Tuesdays that feel like Mondays are always a bitch. Not to mention all the recurring tasks, reports and housekeeping chores that rain down on you whenever the calendar page flips over to a new month. Not fun.

Admit it. Many of you snuck in some work over the long weekend to get caught up or to preempt a crisis from hitting this coming week. Not surprising.

Most of you have been around the block a few times. You know you can’t just saunter into the office tanned and relaxed and expect everything to go smoothly after a long weekend away from phones, emails and your desk. It doesn’t matter how great your team is or how “self-managed” you think your firm is.
That’s the joy (and stress) of being an entrepreneur and/or being in a leadership position. You may be out of your “place of work,” but work-related issues (problems and opportunities) are always lingering in your subconscious while friends, family and neighbors are having a carefree time at the pool, beach, lake or barbecue.

How the other 90 percent get by

I bring this up because I finally got around to reading Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich’s gripping account of what it’s like to be among America’s working poor—a group of workers that’s unfortunately growing by leaps and bounds. Without pity or hyperbole, Ehrenreich brings you inside the life of a waitress, hotel maid, house cleaner, nursing home aid and Wal-Mart associate. She didn’t just write about those jobs while working undercover and then go home to a plush home or condo. She lived the life 24/7 trying to eat and pay rent on her low-wage income. Her health, not just her psyche, took some hits for this book.

We know many of you have risen from modest upbringings to achieve great academic and career success. But, if you haven’t lived the low wage life since high school or college, give Nickel and Dimed a skim.

Here’s what got to me. It wasn’t the lousy work conditions as much as the LACK OF AUTONOMY. You’re told when you work and when you don’t. You’re told when you take your meal and bathroom breaks, what to wear and when you’re permitted to talk with colleagues (almost never). If you’re lucky enough to be hired, you’re also presumed to be a criminal or drug addict until you’ve proven yourself trustworthy. Then there’s the issue of “time theft” in which the overtime hours you didn’t want to work in the first place mysteriously disappear from your paycheck.

We may have demanding clients, employees and vendors who drive us crazy. But most of us know the times of day and days of the week in which we do our best work. We can schedule our hours within reason to work when we’re most efficient. We can schedule or vacations (or mental health breaks) when it’s most convenient for us and our families—not when “the man” says we can go. Sure relationships with spouses, family, friends and communities can suffer when we’re under deadline or traveling a lot. But at least we’re not a slave to a disgruntled supervisor or an outdated HR policy.
Can you say PTO day!


Five years into the economic recovery, the stock market and corporate profits are at record highs. But the number and quality of jobs are still lagging for most Americans. As a New York Times editorial noted yesterday, “Wage growth has not kept pace with productivity growth, resulting in falling or flat wages for most workers and big gains for corporate coffers, shareholders, executives and others at the top of the income ladder.”

We’re lucky enough to make our living, directly or indirectly, from the top of ladder. Respect your perch. HB

Our blog has more, as does the FREE Resources page of our website.

TAGS: Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed, time theft, post Labor Day blues

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