What a great time to be an employee right now. So much leverage, so many options, and still too few employers who have a clue when it comes to how to treat employees.
I remember being in the “limbo” period between finishing high school and starting my first university degree. I was 17, and did the old “drop off a bunch of resumes and do a bunch of online job applications” trick, hoping to earn at least something in those two months to help pay for my ridiculously expensive post-secondary education ($60,000 over 7 years, for those who like math).
I was quite unsuccessful. I don’t even remember being called for an interview. Fast food places and retail stores were fully staffed. Those jobs didn’t pay well – about $10/hour back then – but in many cases they were the only jobs around, so those who worked in such places stayed put.
Now, it’s hard to find a fast food place or retailer who isn’t hiring. Most now offer above minimum wage, paying $17-18 per hour to start. I would not have believed it possible if someone had told me a decade ago that such a pay scale would exist for these jobs in the future. Factories are paying in the mid $23-25 per hour range to start in general labour positions. I’ve had internal employees at some fast food chains tell me that if you go in willing to work, you can demand $20 per hour and also make demands on preferred hours in some places.
Pay really is everything in this economy. Nothing speaks louder than salary rate, but I can’t help but think of the number of employers who lose good employees simply because they can’t treat them like decent human beings. For one, a vacation should be a “fun trip”, not a cause for a “guilt trip”. Many of us have heard of employers who grant generous vacation on paper to attract new hires, but make a fuss when an employee tries to use it.
I’ve even recently heard from someone who was told she can’t take sick days because she is “a crucial part of the business”. That sounds a lot like “we need you so much that we won’t let you take care of yourself”. What a complete oxymoron of a statement, which could only be contrived by employers who I must label as “oxy-literal-morons”. It’s so satisfying when a technical term that describes someone’s illogical decision making also happens to have an insulting word embedded within it!
Where do these attitudes toward employees come from? Where does this line of thinking begin? I’ve been giving this a lot of thought lately, particularly because the cold and flu season has started. My younger son is home from school today with a cold. Still being in elementary school, I know that whatever subject is taught during the combined 4-ish hours of instructional time today will simply be seen as a “write off” for him. There are plenty of school days in a year, and plenty of school years in an educational career. He doesn’t miss many days. Missing a lot of school is not advisable, but a missed day here and there for a valid reason should not be any more of a problem for students than it is for employees.
For high schoolers – based on my experience in high school – the attitude is much different. I don’t think I missed a single day of high school due to illness. I was in clubs and of course had field trips and such that took me away from class sometimes, but I was never absent due to an illness, no matter how sick I was. Why? Because in high school we were expected to make up for any missed lessons. We would have to find a classmate willing to let us copy their notes, and we would be expected to take on any missed classwork as homework. In other words, you could either go to class with a cold, get your classmates sick, and absolutely suffer for the day, or you could take the day off to get yourself better, only to have a mountain of extra work to do in the days that followed, all the while struggling with the brain fog that so often accompanies a nasty virus.
In many old-fashioned circles, this policy would be applauded. “Teach youth a strong work ethic from an early age”, right? I disagree. Mental health is important, too. We already have a generation of people who, thanks to a horrific economy, must often work two or more jobs just to eat. Let’s not also teach them that to be sick is to be lazy, or needing a personal day is not for team players, or that promised vacation is only available for the dispensable employees. This last point is yet another oxymoron – who came up with the idea that only employees whose work is NOT valuable can take sick leave or vacation? We are so obsessed with instilling a great work ethic, but simultaneously reward slacking-off while punishing hard work and dedication.
I am one of many people with two jobs, and I am extremely lucky to love both of my jobs. I am even luckier to have two employers who treat employees like humans. If I am sick, I am sick. If I need a vacation, I need a vacation. There is evidence that the feelings of mutual respect produced by having such a human-centred attitude tends to increase productivity rather than reduce it. Hopefully, some of the oxy-literal-morons of the world will soon get some common sense and treat their employees better. Failing to do so, would be a proverbial “shot to their own foot”, indeed.