The week@work – The future of work: exploring the influence of finance on inequality, work quality and experiments to allude all those ‘ceilings’@work

We are living in interesting times @work. Some of our traditional work models no longer fit with our values. As society and culture push back on antiquated work structures, new models emerge. The articles published this week@work consider the future of work by examining the external influences on the workplace and experiments at new models. And, one author suggests the Bureau of Labor Statistics include quality of life metrics in their employment reports.

The first two articles appear as part of the excellent Pacific Standard series on ‘The Future of Work and Workers’.

In the first, ‘The Future of Work: The (Excessive) Power of Finance’, Roosevelt Institute Fellow, Mike Konczal, writes about the broader implications of financial power on inequality @work.

“Academics often discuss the “financialization” of the economy, a mind-numbing term that simply means the increased size and power of finance, especially over corporations, the rules of the economy, and the way we view society. It’s this broader problem that should cause us to worry about the future of work and labor. Only by overcoming this challenge will the economy achieve the innovation and broad-based prosperity it is capable of creating.

When people discuss inequality, they tend to focus on technology, or globalization, or demographics. But recent research has emphasized that the rules of the economy, the laws, regulations, taxes, and practices that structure and influence the markets themselves, are a major generator of inequality. Those rules have consistently been re-written to benefit wealth and finance over everyone else, creating another major challenge for workers.”

In the second article,‘The Future of Work: Exploring the Quality of Work’ University of Minnesota’s Ann Markusen asks us to reconnect with the experience and meaning of work and develop policies and practices aligned with work life quality.

“We have lost track of the whole job, the meaning and experience of work in people’s lives, and how policy and employer practices have demeaned them. And we fail to probe deeply enough into why this is happening, especially shifts in societal norms and the behavior of employers. We should broaden the conversation about work beyond important metrics like labor force participation, unemployment rates, weekly wages, hours worked, and median income to investigate more deeply the quality of work life and its significance for us collectively.”

We could broaden recurrent Bureau of Labor Statistics and state/local employment surveys to cover workplace comfort, safety, flexible leave, quality of manager/peer/customer interactions, pride in one’s work. We could then track changes over time in the quality of work, and by industry, occupation, age, race, and location..More attention to work quality, from researchers, schools, the press, and politicians, will contribute significantly to the future of work in this country.”

One company exploring a new model, ‘Holacracy’ is Zappos. National editor of The Intercept, Roger D. Hodge spent some time with employees and shared his experience in ‘First Let’s Get Rid of All the Bosses’ for The New Republic.

“The contemporary movement of corporate reform, the drive to make the workplace more humane and meaningful, to imbue companies with joy and a higher purpose, will not stand or fall with Zappos. But if it does fail, if Amazon clamps down and assimilates the happy-wacky Zapponian culture and absorbs all those smiles and hugs and high-fives into its vale of tears, the rest of the reform movement will suffer. The stakes are pretty high, at least for people who would prefer not to spend their days in a live-action Dilbert comic strip. Unfortunately, right now it seems that most of the self-organizing and self-actualization at Zappos is being carried out by Hsieh. Everybody else is just following along.”

For half the population, the existing models haven’t worked and folks (women) who aspire to senior positions are trivialized with media labels. Are we surprised when women ‘drop out’? Or amazed at the success of incubator projects developed outside the bounds of the traditional?

Jessica Roy created a list of 28 (if I counted correctly) ceilings in ‘All the Ceilings Women Keep Hitting Their Heads On’.

“If a woman faces sexism in a male-dominated industry but the media doesn’t coin a cutesy nickname for her very real struggle, does it even make a sound? Here, a comprehensive list of all the ceilings women can’t stop hittin’ their heads on…

The glass ceiling: Women in the corporate world.

The stained-glass ceiling: Female Catholic priests.

The grass ceiling: Women in soccer.

Wait, now there’s a broken window we can injure ourselves on? UGH.”

Maggie Lord, the founder and editor of ‘Rustic Wedding Chic’, offered suggestions for those building a business between full time work commitments in an article for Entrepreneur, ‘The Naptime Entrepreneur: Pursuing Your Business in ‘Off Hours”.

“I come from a long line of entrepreneurs, so I knew that with hard work and determination, it was possible to build my own business. That being said, building a business and a family at the same time wasn’t always easy. It’s taken me time to realize that both my son and my business need my attention — but not at the same time. By resolving to be present in either of these priorities when I’m focusing on them, building a brand and a family has been possible.”

Our laws, practices and policies significantly impact our lives @work. But they don’t contain our commitment to change, nor limit the many creative detours we find to navigate around the brick walls.

Are you suffering from ‘work martyr complex’? You may need a vacation.

This one’s for all of you who believe you are truly indispensable at work. It’s also for your employees who are really annoyed that you don’t trust them to carry on in your absence. Breaking news – the world will not end if you take a vacation. If it does, I think welcoming the apocalypse on a beach with a Kaluha Colada is preferable to being crushed in a stampede of office workers headed to the one working elevator in the building.

The syndrome, ‘work martyr complex’, has been recently identified among workers in the U.S.. Entrepreneurs are particularly susceptible.  It’s highly communicable and may result in personal burnout. Long term effects include loss of perspective, sense of humor and anyone who has ever worked for you.

It’s one thing to leave paid vacation time on the table, but it’s taking it to the next level when it’s treated as a badge of honor within organizations. Executives encourage employees to take time off, but many leave a portion of their own vacation time unused. These same executives expect folks to be available even when thousands of miles and multiple time zones separate you.

Good news, the effects of ‘work martyr complex’ are reversible. All it requires is that you remove the Joan of Arc costume and be yourself – you know, yourself – the creative, curious colleague who used to interact with co-workers and leave the office for lunch or a walk around the parking lot.

By the way, your competitors are poaching your best people. How? By offering extended vacation time and gaining the benefit of increased productivity from a refreshed workforce.

Journalist Jack Dickey reported for Time Magazine on this new trend in the retail sector:

“On May 14, billboards went up around Houston and Philadelphia, with H&M advertising careers…and extolling one benefit in particular. Five weeks vacation is possible, the signs read.

H&M’s recruiting campaign says a lot about anxieties in the American workforce. The retailer is trying to crack an unexpectedly hard nut: getting American workers to take more time off.”

Beyond the direct competitor benefit consideration, the research is solid. Stepping away invigorates employee contribution.

Entrepreneur Magazine uncovered ‘The Secret to Increased Productivity: Taking Time Off’.

“There is a lot of research that says we have a limited pool of cognitive resources,” says Allison Gabriel, an assistant professor of management at Virginia Commonwealth University who studies job demands and employee motivation. “When you are constantly draining your resources, you are not being as productive as you can be. If you get depleted, we see performance decline. You’re able to persist less and have trouble solving tasks.”

That’s counterintuitive in a culture programmed to believe that it takes near-nonstop work to get the sale, beat the competitor or do whatever is needed to succeed. For most entrepreneurs, rest is considered the province of lesser mortals, put off for a future that never arrives. It’s as if each day is an Ironman triathlon that requires one to crawl across the finish line on all fours.

Vacations have been shown to lead to significantly higher performance upon return to the job. The energizing ingredients are time away from stressors (you need two weeks to get the recuperative benefits from burnout) and mastery and social experiences while on vacation that build competence and social connection.”

If you don’t give your employees time to think and play, you’re not going to have the creativity you need to succeed,” says Vincent Berk, CEO of FlowTraq.”

Time to redefine vacation as an organizational value, not a benefit.

Entrepreneur’s Notebook – The Cambridge Satchel Company

Why do folks decide to start their own business? Entrepreneur magazine offers a laundry list of possible motivations that include financial independence, tax benefits, ‘a story to tell’ and reinvention. For Cambridge Satchel Company founder, Julie Deane, her motivation was to fund a private education for her daughter and remove her from a school where she was bullied. Her ‘story to tell’ is one of reinventing the traditional school satchel.

A Daily Mail article summarized her journey from kitchen table to fashionista:

“When Julie Deane discovered her daughter was being bullied, she vowed to move her to the £12,000-a-year school down the road.

But unable to afford the fees, the housewife sat down at her kitchen table and wrote a list of ten ways to raise money.

Halfway down the list she wrote ‘selling traditional leather satchels’. It was a business venture which, just four years later, would generate an annual turnover of more than £12million.”

And this is why you should listen to your family (and your potential customer) :

“Emily and her younger brother Max, now 11, were reading Harry Potter at the time and had asked their mother for leather satchels similar to those worn by the book’s characters. Starting small, she found a leather supplier in Hull and asked him to make her eight chestnut brown satchels.

She said: ‘I chose satchels because I had always loved mine as a child. It lasted me all the way through school, whereas my children’s rucksacks became tatty and dirty within a few months.’

The Cambridge University graduate had been enjoying life as a full-time mother while her husband, a partner at an engineering consultancy firm, was the breadwinner. But she immersed herself in books on how to run a business and quickly found herself working all hours of the day from the kitchen of the family home near Cambridge to keep up with demand.”

The bags caught on as a fashion accessory worn by celebrities. Her satchels are sold in the U.S. at Bloomingdales and Saks Fifth Avenue.

Growing her business from a website, she obtained $21m in investments earlier this year, from U.S. backers, Index Ventures. Her plan, after an international trade visit with the Prime Minister, is to break into China and “train up the next generation” of British craftsmen. All the bags are handcrafted in the UK.

Why do some ventures succeed while others do not? Ms. Deane knew her product, had strong motivation for success and worked hard to translate her vision into a reality. The result? She has created jobs, preserved a vocation for leather craftsman and offered a quality product.

In an interview with the Huff Post Third Metric she was asked:

“Did you ever dream – a few years ago, that you would own such a successful company?”

“I didn’t think about it, I have always worked hard at following up every opportunity and building the brand. Trying to exceed expectations of customers (individuals and trade) and not compromising ethics or quality.”

Asked what advice she would share with aspiring entrepreneurs:

“Give it a go, it’s never been a better time to reach a global market. Don’t risk what you can’t afford to lose, that way you will remain optimistic, creative and happy.”

That’s my red satchel in the photo. I bought it online four years ago after returning from a trip to the UK. I had seen the competition in a variety of retail outlets, but her story and the quality of the product closed the sale.

If you have an idea and are committed to hard work, then ‘give it a go!’