The week@work: the crisis of civic education, karoshi, unemployment & the future of office attire

This week@work stories examine the role of education in creating civil discourse, the consequences of karoshi, the impact of weather on unemployment and the future of office attire.

While walking through the U.S.Capitol Visitor Center last week I encountered a group of junior high school students who were shrieking at each other as they reported a sighting of House Speaker Paul Ryan as if he were a chart topping rock star. What if the majority of junior high and high school students had the opportunity to walk the halls of Congress and observe the process of governing?

Harvard president emeritus, Derek Bok examines ‘The Crisis of Civic Education’.

“Schools have long been the primary source of civic education in America. As an early champion of public education, Horace Mann, pointed out more than 150 years ago: “One of the highest and most valuable objects to which the influences of a school can be made conducive consists in training our children to self-government. Yet schools cannot accomplish this task by themselves. Many studies have pointed to the difficulties that hamper their efforts, including inadequate funding and pressures on teachers from school boards, parents, politicians, and textbook publishers. In view of those problems, it is not surprising that the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which periodically evaluates the knowledge of America’s schoolchildren, concluded in 2010 that more than two-thirds of high-school seniors scored below “proficient” in their knowledge of civics and government.”

Once the American high school senior transitions to college, there is no imperative to incorporate “essential courses to equip them to perform their civic functions more effectively” into their curriculum.

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“While many colleges claim to be preparing citizens…and although they offer many classes and activities that can contribute to this end, few provide any required courses aimed at achieving that result. Instead, learning to become an active and informed citizen is simply treated as an option — much like preparing to be a doctor or a lawyer or a business executive — even though becoming a citizen is not a choice but a status acquired automatically by the vast majority of undergraduates.”

Bok suggests a number of approaches: linking community involvement experience with academic coursework; connecting the dots between the activity and public policy, engagement with student government and establishing multi-cultural residence halls.

Colleges have a responsibility to lead on this issue. Colleges own this one. If not here, where?

“In today’s diverse and highly partisan society, it is particularly important to teach undergraduates to take account of contrary opinions and arguments and to discuss such differences respectfully. Most campuses are well positioned to encourage these habits…The recent election underscores the importance of extending such efforts to encourage interaction among classmates with different political ideologies and socioeconomic backgrounds.”

Walter Sim reported on ‘Death by overwork: Will Japan finally face up to ‘karoshi’?

“With her mobile phone in hand as if waiting for her next assignment, a 31-year-old political reporter with broadcaster NHK died of heart failure in her sleep in July 2013 after clocking nearly 160 hours of overtime the month before.

Two years later, on Christmas Day, a rookie at advertising giant Dentsu leapt to her death after being subjected to a gruelling schedule and harassment at her workplace.

Osaka Sphere Building

The statistics nationwide are quite startling. Japan’s second annual karoshi White Paper, released last Friday, said there were 191 work-related deaths and attempted suicides in the fiscal year ending March 2017. This was two more than the previous year. In the same fiscal year, 498 cases of mental illness, such as depression, were deemed work-related.

And from January 2010 to March 2015, 368 suicides – 352 men and 16 women – were deemed as karoshi.”

Patricia Cohen reported ‘U.S. Lost 33,000 Jobs in September; Unemployment Rate Dips to 4.2%’.

“Staggering from the impact of hurricanes that walloped Texas, Florida and neighboring states, the economy lost 33,000 jobs in September, the first monthly decline in employment in seven years, the government reported on Friday.

But economists discounted the discouraging report, describing it as a blip in a job market that was fundamentally strong.”

Wondering what to wear this week@work? Jessica Holland asks ‘Are tracksuits and trainers the future of office attire?’

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“They were all wearing trainers and layers of black,” says Evelyn Cotter, a career coach based in London. She’s describing a recent public speaking conference she attended, where the crowd of ambitious young professionals were dressed in a uniform way.

“Everyone had come straight from work, they were wearing black jeans and smart sneakers, but it definitely felt professional,” adds Cotter. “It’s a conscious style choice. It’s not just what you throw on to play with your dog in the garden.”

“The industry of ‘athleisure’ – sporty clothes and shoes that people don’t necessarily wear to play sport – grew by a staggering 42% between 2008 and 2015, according to Morgan Stanley research. More recently, its influence has begun to creep into offices, where workers’ clothing is becoming increasingly relaxed and designed for comfort. The Society for Human Resource Management, an international organisation, tracks how many employers allow workers to dress casually every day, and that figure rose from 32% in 2014 to 44% in 2016.”

Before you head out to your favorite ‘athleisure’ retailer, check the culture and style of your employer. On days when you are meeting with clients, it’s always a good idea to mirror the style of your customer. (or their expectations)

The last story this week@work, was the first story breaking on Monday morning. Folks taking a break from work at a music festival on a Sunday evening in Las Vegas became targets of a mass shooting. In twelve minutes 58 people between the ages of 20 and 67 were murdered; 489 were injured. On Wednesday, the citizens of Manhattan Beach, California gathered on a pier overlooking the Pacific to mourn two of the victims: Sandy Casey, 35, a special education teacher at Manhattan Beach Middle School and Rachael Parker, 33, a records technician with the Manhattan Beach Police Department.

1005_nws_tdb-l-mbvigil-carr01-1.jpgThis week@work consider how you might do more than send thoughts and prayers.

 

Photo credit: Manhattan Beach vigil, Steve Carr for the Daily Breeze/ Office Attire, Sykes London for British Vogue

The Friday Poem ‘Calling Him Back from Layoff’ by Bob Hicok

The Friday Poem this week captures a moment when a telephone rings and life changes for two American workers. ‘Calling Him Back from Layoff’ is poet and English professor Bob Hickok’s intimate portrait of the effects of economic downturn.

Written at a time when Detroit was the epicenter of job losses in manufacturing, the words continue to resonate today, as we address income inequality and the impermanence of the ‘gig’ economy.

Calling Him Back from Layoff 

I called a man today. After he said
hello and I said hello came a pause
during which it would have been

confusing to say hello again so I said
how are you doing and guess what, he said
fine and wondered aloud how I was

and it turns out I’m OK. He
was on the couch watching cars
painted with ads for Budweiser follow cars

painted with ads for Tide around an oval
that’s a metaphor for life because
most of us run out of gas and settle

for getting drunk in the stands
and shouting at someone in a t-shirt
we want kraut on our dog. I said

he could have his job back and during
the pause that followed his whiskers
scrubbed the mouthpiece clean

and his breath passed in and out
in the tidal fashion popular
with mammals until he broke through

with the words how soon thank you
ohmyGod which crossed his lips and drove
through the wires on the backs of ions

as one long word as one hard prayer
of relief meant to be heard
by the sky. When he began to cry I tried

with the shape of my silence to say
I understood but each confession
of fear and poverty was more awkward

than what you learn in the shower.
After he hung up I went outside and sat
with one hand in the bower of the other

and thought if I turn my head to the left
it changes the song of the oriole
and if I give a job to one stomach other

forks are naked and if tonight a steak
sizzles in his kitchen do the seven
other people staring at their phones

hear?

Bob Hicok  ‘Insomnia Diary’ University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004

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Listen to Bob Hicok read the poem for ‘Poetry Everywhere’

 

The Saturday Read – Dominique Browning – ‘Slow Love, How I Lost My Job, Put on My Pajamas & Found Happiness’

At a time when the economy is improving, ‘disruption’ still causes businesses to fail and people lose their jobs. At our most confident pinnacle of success, we feel the shadow of ‘the next best thing’ that will replace the work we love. And yet, we typically ignore the signs that work is going away.

This week’s ‘Saturday Read’ is ‘Slow Love, How I Lost My Job, Put on My Pajamas and Found Happiness’ by Dominique Browning. It’s a meditation on success and what happens when work goes away.

Writing in The New York Times Book Review, Miranda Seymour provides the background for the narrative:

“In November 2007, House & Garden was abruptly closed down and its offices efficiently eviscerated, emptied of everything except the computers and some expensive bolts of fabric that management proved keen to retain. The change from busy, productive work space to security-guarded vacancy took just four days. The editor in chief of Architectural Digest, the tumbled magazine’s fiercest competitor within the Condé Nast empire, rubbed salt in the wound by publicly announcing that she intended to blacklist from her own pages all previous supporters of the fallen rival. “I felt,” Browning recalls, “as if I had walked into ‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales.’ ” 

The story of ‘Slow Love’ is about what happened after Ms. Browning lost her job. Prior to the memoir’s release in 2010, she wrote ‘Losing It’ for The New York Times Magazine.

“Work had become the scaffolding of my life. It was what I counted on. It held up the floor of my moods, kept the facade intact. I always worried that if I didn’t have work, I would sink into abject torpor.”

“I have always had a job. I have always supported myself. Everything I own I purchased with money that I earned. I worked hard. For the 35 years I’ve been an adult, I have had an office to go to and a time to show up there. I’ve always had a place to be, existential gravitas intended. Without work, who was I? I do not mean that my title defined me. What did define me was the simple act of working. The loss of my job triggered a cascade of self-doubt and depression. I felt like a failure. Not that the magazine had failed — that I had.”

How many of us are supported by the scaffolding of work? Are there termites chewing at the foundation?

Ms. Browning’s progress of triumph over adversity in a process she calls slow love, knowing what you’ve got before it’s gone.

“At the start of this journey, all I could think about was loss: lost work; my children who had left home; my house slipping from grasp; my parents slipping into their last years. Lost love, on top of it all, because I was finally forced to confront the failure of a relationship that had preoccupied me for seven years. Attachment, abandonment, misery – I was plagued, until, mysteriously, something in my brain shifted into a new gear, and I was no longer experiencing all the changes I was going through as the loss of everything I loved. Instead, I began feeling the value of change…and experience, events – yes, some of them calamitous – that have unexpectedly come to enhance the quality of my days.”

Visit Dominique Browning’s blog, ‘slow,love life’, to view her work today.