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Americans at Work

By JLP | April 14, 2008

I am sitting at my desk at work right now, clearly not engaged in productive activity for my employer. I don’t have any pressing deadlines, but there are certainly customers I could be calling, things I could be processing ahead of time, and skills I could be learning that would help me do my job better.

Instead I’m writing this.

I have a friend who really busts his hump all day long every day for his employer. He just got this new sales job, so he’s really trying to impress. He’s constantly reaching out to refereral sources. He sets up at least 1 meeting a day with a potential client. He’s learning quickly, he’s always polite and helpful, and he’s already initiated over 20 new deals in 6 weeks – they expected him to do 10 in his first 90 days.

Interestingly, this friend told me he was thinking of strategically slowing it down, in order to avoid setting the bar to high with his new employer. But in reality I know he won’t do that; he takes pride in his reputation, which is clearly tied to his production at work. That’s the beauty (and scariness, to me) of sales.

I just read the following article by Ben Stein on Yahoo! Finance: Want To Survive the Recession? Work it Out. Ben uses some personal anecdotes to point out that many American workers (specifically young ones) just don’t care about doing their jobs well. He asserts that despite the idea of workers begging for jobs that the media perpetuates, in reality it’s employers that are begging for qualified workers.

Why? Well, because many of us have never had to struggle at work. Those in my generation – myself included – have never faced a tough (or nonexistant) job market, a deep recession, or even a job loss. On top of that, many if not most jobs today are such that it’s easy to slide by without really trying your best or working your hardest. No one will notice if you’re online shopping instead of working on that power point for an hour or two. Sure you may only get “meets expectations” at your next review as opposed to “exceeds expectations,” but that is likely the extent of the consequences.

The difficult thing for all involved is that some of the best workers aren’t even noticed by their employers in certain industries. Secretaries are often more vital to the company and to the client relationship than the highly paid people they support, in my experience. But they seldom get the bonuses, the glory, even the thanks. Customer service reps aren’t going to get paid more or even recognized for being polite to you on the phone. Only if you are physically producing something might you get recognized for finishing ahead of schedule; or if you are selling something your boss will notice if you exceed your quota.

Ben closes with a quote that I’d like to echo: “I wish every worker in America had to be a freelancer at selling or writing or painting or carpentry or computer repair or law or something for two years. I wish Americans could have a period in their lives when they only got paid for what they sold and produced. It would do this country world of good.”

I know it would do me a world of good; what about you?

More from Meg at The World of Wealth

Topics: Generation X, Generation Y | 8 Comments »


8 Responses to “Americans at Work”

  1. Joe @ SimpleDebtFreeFinance.com Says:
    April 14th, 2008 at 3:33 pm

    I have a confession: I too work no where near the level I could (should). In fact, I should be working right now.

    I find I waver from feelings of guilt to righteous indignation. The indignation comes from not getting proper recognition for the work I do; the guilt comes from knowing what my grandparents went through and that I should be thankful to have a job – especially one that pays well and carries a low risk of bodily harm.

    I don’t know, maybe I’m not alone in feeling this way…

  2. Joey Says:
    April 14th, 2008 at 6:07 pm

    Lately I’ve found plenty of reason to disagree with Ben Stein, but on this he has a good point. I think one problem is accountability. I work in a warehouse with a guy whose motto is, “They’re paying me.” Performance seems to have little to do with whether or not you are valued as an employee at many places of work. Merely showing up seems to be enough to keep a job these days.

    Another guy I work with used to keep asking me to slow down. He said I was making him look bad. My response to that was that he made himself look bad, I was merely doing my job the best I knew how. Doing your best and taking pride in your work just aren’t American values anymore.

    They don’t make everything in China just because it’s cheaper.

  3. Michael Says:
    April 14th, 2008 at 7:29 pm

    It depends on your work environment. I personally don’t sit around and worry about how much I struggle at work and how it would benefit me if I did. Am I getting my work done? Yes. Do I do what is asked of me? Yes. Beyond that, I couldn’t care less because I have better things to spend my time doing. Life is too short to desire a struggle.

  4. Link Builder 16 Says:
    April 15th, 2008 at 2:09 am

    This one is quite convincing. the nature of work nowadays is not similar to what is in our ideals or to the conventional notions. Surely, we work in companies and even gone through with them without having to exert our utmost effort. And of course, we can’t blame anyone for that because it’s in the nature of kind of job we have. Most company tasks are repetitive and do not necessarily requires our creativity because there are already protocols on how to do it. Hence, why need to do the extra thinking? Why exert an extra effort when there are already guidelines that must be follow, right?
    :(

  5. Miguel Says:
    April 15th, 2008 at 10:21 am

    After years of putting in excessive hours, evenings, wknds, holidays, etc., I have finally reached a point where I am paid for my experience, judgement, business/client relationships, and decision-making skills, rather than the actual number of hours I put in. Whether I’m sitting at my desk or not, leaving early, leaving late, whatever is not relevant. That’s the good news.

    On the other hand, I’m not exactly on easy street yet, unless you consider 10-12 hour days easy. At the core of this “ideal” situation is accountability. I basically run my own patch of corporate turf. I’m only as good as the results I produce. The downside is that there is no such thing as a true vacation. Whether I am lounging on a beach, or having dinner, I have to be reachable 24/7 and ready to deal with any issue. Kinda makes the idea of 9-5 productivity moot.

    To the point of the post, there is no doubt that people treat their work very differently when they have accountability – either positive (pay tied to results) or negative (keeping job tied to results). I’ve always sought situations where accountability is taken to the extreme because this is usually where the maximum pay-off resides. And it has served me well.

  6. Chad Says:
    April 19th, 2008 at 2:43 am

    i am actually one of the people Ben talks about. I started a small computer repair, sales and freelance software developing business. I did it for about 5 years.. the last 2 or 3 was full time. I learned alot of hard lessons, and yes i fell on my face in the end, but it has made me look at the other side of the fence now that I have become an employee of someone else again. I think I am the only one at the place I work at with the mentality i have. I understand the challenges and struggles the Boss has to go thru, where most of my co-workers have this entitlement mentality.. I breathe air, therefore I am entitled to the maximum amount of pay for the least amount of work. The Boss has no right to make as much money as he does… etc. Most of the people I work with are bitter and angry most of the time, it’s clear that they hate thier job. I love what I do. Its challenging, but at the same time, My outlook is I’m not an employee, but by working there I am investor of the company.. I invest my time, experience, talent, and other skills… and when the company wins, I win.. If the company loses, well… they close doors and we all go home. My co-workers just don’t grasp this concept.
    Now the company i work for isnt perfect, it has its major share of flaws.. and lots of things i would do differently (many of the people i work with HOWL about this stuff and say its BS) but, my response to them is.. “Its thier company, if they want to run it like that, that’s thier right. Needless to say, My opinion with my co-workers is NOT very well accepted, but I dont care. They don’t sign my paycheck.

  7. db Says:
    April 20th, 2008 at 11:14 pm

    Well, I for one think Ben Stein’s is only half there.

    I don’t know what universe he’s been living in where people haven’t had to work hard to get their jobs. In my universe, me and everybody around me has been having an incredibly tough time over the past several years. The name of the game where I am is that employers expect a lot out of you and in return you are supposed to be grateful even when you’re laid off.

    The company that I’m working for right now is very open that none of our jobs (I’m in IT) are safe from being outsourced to India. In fact, over the past several years they’ve been steadily having us train Indian workers and then they lay us off as soon as they decide they’ve safely transitioned another bit of work over there.

    In the face of this, nobody feels inclined to do any more than what is necessary to keep oneself from being made redundant any sooner than necessary. It’s not an environment conducive to slacking off, and in fact we frequently work mandatory overtime despite being salaried.

    I’ve been a consultant before, and I know that it’s really NOT my cup of tea. I just don’t like the whole schmoozing the client thing, and I don’t like having to travel all the time.

    All I want is a challenging job that I can do without having to be both a developer and in sales, and without having to live out of my car or a suitcase.

    I wish Ben Stein well. But he’s out to lunch on this one.

  8. Fabulously Broke Says:
    April 27th, 2008 at 12:53 pm

    I have to disagree.

    I love my job a lot. I work hard, I work fast and I work efficiently, but only when I have to. Just because I work fast and hard doesn’t mean I have to be constantly on the go 8 hours a day, solid, straight.

    I do the work fast/hard so I can rest as well and be confident in knowing that I can get the job done when push comes to shove.

    If not, I take it easy at work because I know there will always be snafus along the way…, but I always get the job done in the end…and I’ll do what it takes to do that, but I’m NOT willing to work at quadruple capacity (compared to the others I work with) because I can…

    If it were my own company, it’d be a different story, but it ain’t. *cough*

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