The week@work – Grad students win right to unionize, the changing conversation about the economy, why America’s leaders fail and the story of Luke’s Lobster

Academia was in the headlines this week@work with the Tuesday announcement from the National Labor Relations Board, voting 3-1 to overturn a 2004 ruling allowing graduate students to form collective bargaining units. A Pew Research Center survey detected a shift in election season conversation from the economy (2012) to keeping the U.S. safe from terrorism. What conversation? The system isn’t working, and it may be we don’t have leaders who view their ‘calling’ as a ‘vocation’. And finally, a career transition story – from investment banker to ‘lobsterpreneur’ for this last week of summer.

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‘Ruling Pushes Door to Grad-Student Unions ‘Wide Open’ Peter Schmidt for The Chronicle of Higher Education

“Many more private universities can expect to see their graduate employees move to form unions in the wake of Tuesday’s National Labor Relations Board decision on such an effort at Columbia University.

The federal labor board’s 3-to-1 ruling resoundingly overturned a 2004 decision involving Brown University. In the Brown ruling, the board asserted that graduate employees should not be allowed to form unions because their doing so would intrude into the educational process.

In Tuesday’s decision, the majority held that such a belief “is unsupported by legal authority, by empirical evidence, or by the board’s actual experience.” It not only rejected the Brown precedent, but also overturned a 1974 ruling that had declared research assistants at Stanford University ineligible to unionize based on a belief that such research is part of the educational process.

The board’s decision in the Columbia case says graduate students employed by a private university are as eligible as any other type of worker to form collective-bargaining units under the National Labor Relations Act.”

In a letter to the Columbia University community, Provost John H. Coatsworth reiterated the long-held view of university administrators.

“Columbia and many of our peer universities have challenged this position. Nearly all of the students at Columbia affected by this decision are graduate students. We believe that the daily activities and the advisor-advisee relationships involved in the scholarly training of graduate students define an experience that is different from that of the typical workplace. Being a graduate student can take many years of intense research, teaching and study. But unlike university employees, graduate students who serve as teaching or research assistants come to this institution first and foremost to acquire through that work the knowledge and expertise that are essential to their becoming future scholars and teachers.”

The world of academia is changing, and with it the profile of the teaching community. As more adjunct faculty assume the classroom role, it may be harder to differentiate the job description of part-time faculty from that of grad assistant.

To be continued…

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‘Since 2012, The Economy Has Changed — And So Has The Conversation’ Marilyn Geewax for NPR

“Ah, 2012. You seem so long ago.

Back then, the economy was the star of the presidential election season, with more than 9 in 10 voters ranking it as Issue No. 1.

Voters worried about scarce jobs, expensive gasoline and a huge federal deficit.

Candidates proposed detailed solutions…

This year, the political conversation is very different, with much of the focus on non-economic issues: Republican Donald Trump’s temperament and Democrat Hillary Clinton’s trustworthiness.

And a Pew Research Center survey showed that the issue voters want to hear about most in a presidential debate is “keeping the US safe from terrorism.”

Of course, economic issues remain extremely important, but they are different from 2012. This year, the hottest money topics involve income inequality, trade deals and immigrants.”

Why are we focused on temperament and trustworthiness while the ‘big problems’ that effect our daily lives are ignored? David Brooks thinks it’s about career vs. calling, and he may be right.

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‘Why America’s Leadership Fails’ David Brooks for The New York Times

“Over the past few decades, thousands of good people have gone into public service, but they have found themselves enmeshed in a system that drains them of their sense of vocation.

Let’s start with a refresher on the difference between a vocation and a career. A career is something you choose; a vocation is something you are called to.

A person choosing a career asks, How can I get the best job or win the most elections? A person summoned by a vocation asks, How can my existing abilities be put in service of the greatest common good?

A career is a job you do as long as the benefits outweigh the costs; a vocation involves falling in love with something, having a conviction about it and making it part of your personal identity.

A vocation involves promises to some ideal, it reveals itself in a sense of enjoyment as you undertake its tasks and it can’t be easily quit when setbacks and humiliations occur. As others have noted, it involves a double negative — you can’t not do this thing.

I do think there’s often an arc to vocation. People start with something outside themselves. Then, in the scramble to get established, the ambition of self takes over. But then at some point people realize the essential falseness of all that and they try to reconnect with their original animating ideals.

And so I think it possible to imagine a revival of vocation.”

The last story this week@work is an ‘end of summer’ career transition feature.

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‘A Restaurant’s Sales Pitch: Know Your Lobster’  Janet Morrissey for The New York Times

“It was a steamy summer day in New York in 2009 when Luke Holden, an investment banker, had a craving for a lobster roll. Not just any lobster roll, though. He longed for the “fresh off the docks” taste he enjoyed growing up in Cape Elizabeth, Me.

After an exhaustive search on New York’s streets, he came up dissatisfied and disappointed.

“Every lobster was served over a white tablecloth, extremely expensive, drowning in mayo and diluted with celery,” he said. “I wondered why all the great chefs in this city had screwed this up so badly.”

So that year, Mr. Holden decided to open an authentic Maine lobster shack in Manhattan. To replicate that fresh taste that he remembered, he would need to oversee, track and, where possible, own every step in the process.

Today, he owns 19 Luke’s Lobster restaurants, two food trucks and a lobster tail cart in the United States, and five shacks in Japan.”

If you only  read one of these this week, spend some time with David Brooks…and reconnect with your “original animating ideals” and begin a “revival of vocation”. 

The week@work – work/life balance in Sweden & @Amazon, the truth about being an entrepreneur, & the value of an arts education

While the most powerful folks in the world were ranked in the annual Forbes list, the rest of the working class spent the week@work managing the challenges of work/life balance. Journalists covered a variety of topics influencing our lives @work ranging from the reality of being an entrepreneur to the value of arts education in translating tech to human practice. And there was good news from the U.S. Labor Department.

As U.S. organizations continue to experiment with innovative work/life balance policies to attract talent, Swedish companies have been implementing trials over the past 20 years.

Maddy Savage examined a six hour workday model being tested in Falun, Sweden.

“Jimmy Nilsson, who co-owns digital production company Background AB, launched the initiative in September as part of efforts to create a more productive workforce.

“It’s difficult to concentrate at work for eight hours, but with six hours you can be more focused and get things done more quickly,” he says.

His staff are at their desks between 8.30am and 11.30am, take a full hour off for lunch and then put in another three hours before heading back to their homes in the Swedish mountains.

They’re asked to stay away from social media in the office and leave any personal calls or emails until the end of the day. Salaries have not changed since the initiative started in September.

“We’re going to try it for nine months and see if it’s economical first of all, and secondly if it works for our customers and our staff,” Mr Nilsson says.”

In Sweden only 1% of employees work more than 50 hours a week. All are eligible for a minimum of 25 vacation days annually with 480 days of paid parental leave to split between a working couple. Contrast that to the new leave policy announced this week by Amazon.

Bloomberg Business reported “Amazon.com Inc. will give new fathers paid parental leave and extend paid maternity leave for mothers, as the online retailer seeks to enhance its benefits as a way to attract and retain talent.

Women who have a child can now take as much as 20 weeks of paid leave, up from eight weeks. New parents can take six weeks of paid parental leave. The Seattle-based company previously didn’t offer paternity leave. The new benefits apply to all births or adoptions on or after Oct. 1, according to a memo distributed to employees Monday.”

As the conversation on work/life balance continues in the U.S., with ‘band aid’ approaches to a significant cultural issue, our European counterparts are experiencing results in health and profitability. The next challenge: managing the stress of what to do with time away from work.

Entrepreneur and founder of IWearYourShirt.com, Jason Zook revealed ‘The Truth About Entrepreneurship’ for Inc.

“The problem with the majority of entrepreneurship is that it sucks and no one wants to just read about the struggles, the constant ups and downs, the risks that don’t pay off, the tiny lessons learned and the small victories that keep entrepreneurs going. Unfortunately, people don’t realize that’s what happens when you work for yourself or start your own company. They’re only thinking about becoming “the next Instagram” or what their incredibly lucrative exit strategy is going look like.”

He continues to share five ‘truths’, including “The truth about being an entrepreneur is that it’s downright hard and lots of people are going to doubt you along the way.”

It’s not just entrepreneurs. Anything that is worth pursuing is downright hard and people will doubt you along the way.

Wired Magazine published an interview with the new president of the Rhode Island School of Design, Rosanne Somerson. At a time when we are mesmerized by advances in technology, it’s the artists who translate innovation into human applications.

“One way our artists and designers help make sense of the tech world is by putting human beings first. They can design new things while really thinking about the user experience and the cultural impact that technology is instigating. A lot of initial research in tech is done by engineers and programmers who may not be as connected to how we perceive and experience things. Artists have a window into that that is highly developed.

Engineers are very gifted at what they do, but they don’t have this piece. I think in the future there will be these collaborations of the best IT and software engineers, along with people who can translate that into a meaningful human experience that is central to the concept as a whole, instead of an add-on. Those days are behind us. It’s really much more seminal than that.” 

The U.S. Labor Department released the latest jobs report on Friday. Journalist Don Lee analyzed the significance of the numbers for the Los Angeles Times.

“Hiring and wages surged last month as the unemployment rate dropped to 5%, a symbolic threshold with potential significance both for the economy and the 2016 election.

The latest jobless figure is the lowest since April 2008 and exactly half the rate from its peak in 2009 during the Great Recession. Moreover, the labor force expanded last month, unlike some previous months when the unemployment rate dropped because large numbers of people had stopped looking for work.

The combination of solid job growth, lower unemployment and higher wages comes at a crucial time politically as the country moves toward an election year. If historical patterns hold, economic conditions in the next nine months will be among the strongest factors in determining which party wins next November’s election.”

In other news this week@work, Forbes Magazine published its annual list of the ‘Most Powerful People’, Fast Company shared ‘What the Gender Pay Gap Looks Like by Industry’ and The New York Times reported on the latest study from the Pew Research Center in ‘Stressed, Tired, Rushed: Portrait of the Modern Family’.