Work in America - A Total Mess
The U.S. economy was in terrific condition in 2019 ? new records in the stock market, historically low unemployment, and a healthy GDP growth rate. People appeared to enjoy their jobs and work environments. Things were going very smoothly.
But work in America has changed dramatically in the past 2 years, mostly in a negative way.
1)The “#MeToo movement, women alleging they’ve been harassed and denied proper opportunities for years, has inspired more women to aggressively pursue grievances against managers and co-workers. Any comment or gesture could be interpreted as “harassment”, creating more suspicion and anxiety between employees.
2)The Black Lives Matter movement alleges all white employees are “racist” and must be retrained. Major companies like Coca-Cola and Boeing have instituted training instructing employees to “be less white” and more “open-minded”. More and more companies are altering their hiring practices to prioritize hiring more Black employees. Coca-Cola instituted a policy to only hire outside law firms with a specific percentage of Black attorneys on staff.
3)As companies begin to require employees to return to their offices, even on a ‘hybrid’ basis (for example, 3 days in the office, 2 days working remotely), employees are pushing back. Working remotely was very convenient for child care, personal care (doctor’s appointments, exercise, naps) and saved people significant amounts of commuting costs and time. The average American commuted 2 hours round trip in 2019, all avoided with remote work. The average American saved between $10,000-15,000 in commuting costs in the New York City area. It’s understandable that people are reluctant to give up these benefits.
Lastly, employees are stating that returning to the office put their health in danger. Even vaccinated employees are concerned about returning to work with others who are not vaccinated. They are also concerned about the spread of the Delta variant of COVID. Only 10% of US companies currently require employees to be vaccinated when they return to work.
Apple Computer announced it was requiring employees to return to the office in September but they are getting resistance from employees like this senior engineering program manager who stated:
“Ok, you want me to put my life on the line to come back to the office, which will also decrease my productivity, and you’re not giving me any logic on why I actually need to do that?”
4)Politics ? during 2020, many companies were affected by employee arguments over politics and the Presidential election. In 2021, some companies are taking strong political positions against state voting law changes if they feel the changes might make it harder for people to vote.
During 2020, most states relaxed voting rules because of COVID. More people were allowed to vote by mail instead of in person. In the past, people who voted by mail had to request a ballot in writing and provide some evidence of identification. In addition, voters were given extra time to vote before and sometimes AFTER the official voting date, dropping their ballots in special boxes that were unsupervised.
The majority of Americans felt these changes had a negative effect on election integrity. For example, old mailing lists were used to send out ballots to people who moved or may have died. Since identification wasn’t required, many people felt ballots could have been submitted by others.
As a result, states like Georgia tried to change voting laws to remove the COVID rules and re-institute voter identification requirements. The new “election integrity” rules also included common-sense requirements that voters could not be offered meals and food in exchange for their votes.
Under pressure from liberal groups, companies like Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines and the Major League Baseball issued strong statements condemning the “election integrity” changes. Major League Baseball chose to move its All-Star Game from Atlanta, Georgia to Denver, Colorado to protest these changes.
Companies in the past mostly stayed neutral in these political matters. By taking a stand against “election integrity”, these companies have created more division within their organizations between conservative and liberal employees.
It is not a surprise that these changes have decreased morale in American companies. A recent survey showed that 33% of employees recently said they were looking for new jobs. Normally 10-15% of employees look to change jobs.
The American workplace has become a place of grievances and dissatisfaction. There is less trust between employees and their management and between employees.
Sadly it doesn’t look like the situation will change soon. Employees are afraid to speak freely about anything not directly related to work. Any comment can provoke a complaint to management by others. People actively search other employees’ social media accounts to look for comments that could be interpreted as “offensive”.
Meanwhile, companies are instituting training programs that allege that white people need to be “less racist” and to be much more sensitive to gay and transgender co-workers. It is not enough to refer to employees by their names ? non-binary (people who feel they are neither male nor female) and transgender employees insist that others use specific pronouns as well. For instance, a male transgender employee’s pronouns are not “he/him/his” but rather “they/them/theirs”. It’s very odd to use a plural pronoun for an individual but that is the new reality in American society.
Perhaps because the economy has grown on a healthy basis since more than 12 years since the last recession, people have become more complacent with prosperity and now focus on smaller grievances in the workplace. It makes the workplace much more sensitive and suspicious with managers spending much more of their time on interpersonal issues.
This is not an easy time to be a manager in America. Or just a regular employee either.