Readings: “Worklife”

Adam Davidson’s article on “Cleaning Up” from the New York Times Magazine (2/28/16) is something that we should take very seriously this presidential cycle–a little bit of Trump’s so-called business sense, a little bit of Sanders’s idealistic equality, and so forth. The basic concept is reminder of how short-term business decisions, usually fueled by the stock market and a reliance on immediate returns, can depressingly spiral downward for everybody involved. Managed by Q, Dan Tehran’s cleaning-and-more company, on the other hand, has been modeling out the long-term benefits that come from paying workers better, to the point at which they can also serve as marketing representatives, helping to defray the larger costs of drumming up new business (when you’re inevitably replaced) and constantly retraining a new staff due to the turnover that comes from being depressingly stuck in place without an opportunity to grow.

That said, Q also profits from the other big moneymaker of this Disruptive Era–it serves as the middleman between offices and suppliers (of maintenance, IT, security, etc.), taking a small fee in exchange for essentially providing a speedy one-stop shop for all of an office’s needs. Then again, even if these fees are helping to prop up the higher wages for actual employees, isn’t that better? A company should be profitable, but how profitable does it really need to be, so long as it’s making money and growing? Happiness for customers and consumers should be the primary goal; money in the pockets of “investors” should be a secondary concern, especially if it’s at the expense of those who actually work at the company. Or put it this way:

If the company cut worker pay by $1 a week, the firm would instantly realize a profit of $52 million a year. Then image that the company cut wages $1 an hour. That would mean an additional profit of $2.1 billion. Maybe the chief executive would realize that cutting pay would inspire many to quit. But he could cut the working time in each office b, say, 10 percent, allowing Q to lay off–or not hire–100,000 workers worldwide.

There’s that slippery “less-is-more” slope to the hell that we’re currently in, where the comfortably rich still insist on squeezing the desperate poor, not really caring about the long game. (See also: the environment, the Ponzi scheme that is Social Security, etc.) I’ve worked for a consulting agency before, I’ve seen the way in which we’re encouraged to “improve efficiency,” which really boils down to “using less labor” and thereby “spending less,” regardless of how many untold benefits there are to having extra eyes, minds, and hearts dedicated to a project.

There’s a running theme to the remainder of the New York Times’s Work Issue, and that’s in creating a healthier, friendlier work environment–whether that’s in the places you have meetings or eat your food, or in the flexible scheduling that may have you working from home as needed. (The crucial bit is that the work gets done, right? So long as that’s happening, wouldn’t you rather that your employees be happy? And perhaps motivated, even, to do more?) Think of it as trying to start a fire: the more you pare down, with less tinder, a duller knife, the harder it is to spark something new. Don’t think, either, that just because the fire’s started, you can just re-task those engineers to something else, or “fire” them completely, because someone’s got to maintain it, improve it, watch it. So yeah, you’ve saved some money in the short term, but what will you do when you’ve ruined all of your tools and driven away all the people who once would’ve willingly contributed to that kindling?

There’s a better way–there has to be.

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