If Eags frying chicken at a Seattle-area KFC had been born in Japan, he would be today's KFC 重要なビジネスマン (Jūyōna Bijinesuman translated from Japanese: "important businessman"). Ah, so: Eagasan would be a KFC Jūyōna Bijinesuman because KFC is a top outlet in Japan for fried chicken. (The president and chief executive of Kentucky Fried Chicken Japan purchased the trademark white suit/black string tie worn by company founder "Colonel" Harland Sanders at auction recently for $21,510.) Most KFC restaurants in Japan have statues of Colonel Sanders by the entrance. Instead, Eags tells us of his inglorious exit from KFC-employment. The power of geographic fate is awesome. Eags fries no chickens any longer, just fat cats in our public arena. In his look at life on the job in the USA today, Eags quotes Homer Simpson as a spokesman for our current work ethic. Not a bad choice, but a better spokesman for our current work ethic is "Wally," the do-nothing computer engineer with the ever-present coffee mug in hand who works in a cubicle next to "Dilbert" (the namesake of Scott Adams' comic strip). If this is (fair & balanced) relief that Eags is KFC's loss and is instead a stalwart opinionist in this blog,so be it.
[x NY Fishwrap]
By Timothy Egan
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In my younger and more vulnerable years I labored for a time in the lard-steamed back room of a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet, well before the chain was re-branded under the flag of KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut. As assistant night manager, I learned that no wing, drumstick, breast or thigh, no matter how much contact it had with the floor, could not be redeemed as presentable extra-crispy through the wonders of the fryer.
Alas, my ascent through the culinary trade was cut short by a duplicitous boss. This Colonel careerist had granted me a night off to attend a family event. Don’t worry, she said, I’ll get somebody to fill in for you. When that somebody failed to show up for work, I was fired. It still hurts — the betrayal, the cold lie, how easily I could be tossed despite my dedication to the secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices.
I thought of this black mark on my résumé while reading an exhaustive and depressing new study of the American workplace done by the Gallup organization. Among the 100 million people in this country who hold full-time jobs, about 70 percent of them either hate going to work or have mentally checked out to the point of costing their companies money — “roaming the halls spreading discontent,” as Gallup reported. Only 30 percent of workers are “engaged and inspired” at work.
At first glance, this sad survey is further proof of two truisms. One, the timeless line from Thoreau that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” The other, less known, came from Homer Simpson by way of fatherly advice, after being asked about a labor dispute by his daughter Lisa. “If you don’t like your job,” he said, “you don’t strike, you just go in there every day and do it really half-assed. That’s the American way.”
The American way, indeed. Gallup’s current survey, covering two years, is a follow-up to an earlier poll that found much the same level of passive discontent from 2008 to 2010. Even in an improving economy, people are adrift at work, complaining about a lack of praise, with no sense of mission, and feeling little loyalty to their employer.
You would think the usual suspects were to blame for this sea of seething in the cubicles of America. While productivity per worker has soared over the last two decades, pay has remained flat or gone down. The gulf between those at the very top and those who do all the heavy lifting has never been greater. Too many corporations, especially in a tight job market, promote a view that everyone is replaceable; the workers are mercenaries with bottom-of-the-bin benefits. Take it or leave it.
All of that is certainly at play. But here’s the surprise: the main factor in workplace discontent is not wages, benefits or hours, but the boss. Yes, that cretin from Kentucky Fried Chicken, in countless forms. The survey said there was consistent anger at management types who failed to so much as ask employees about their opinion of the job. Ever.
“The managers from hell are creating active disengagement costing the United States an estimated $450 billion to $550 billion annually,” wrote Jim Clifton, the C.E.O. and chairman of Gallup.
Regular praise, opportunity for growth, and the occasional question from a higher-up of a lower-down about how to improve things would go a long way toward getting the checked-out to check back in, the study found. Among those who loathe their jobs most, 57 percent said they were ignored at work, and 41 percent said they couldn’t even say what their company stood for. As such, there’s no mystery why customer service is so bad, or being farmed out to robots.
Another surprise is the age and educational level of the most discontented workers. College graduates, now more than ever, earn far more than those with just a high school diploma. But the grumpiest, least happy people in the workplace are college graduates and baby boomers.
Yes, millions of people would love to have those jobs held by the unhappy. (A point that corporations always make, by way of prompting further discontent.) More than 11 million Americans are unemployed, and 10 million more are underemployed, meaning they want more work but can’t get it. Millennials, the boomers’ kids, are living in their own workplace hell of intern nation, and perhaps that is why they are most likely to say they would leave a job within the next 12 months for something better. It’s even worse in Europe, where many young adults have given up hope entirely of ever starting a meaningful career.
Sad to say, there are two great tragedies in professional life: not having a job, and having a job you hate.
So, what to do? For starters, companies that have been sitting on record piles of cash could start spreading it around with their employees, which would have the immediate benefit of letting them know they were wanted. You hear the evangelists for low-pay states, people like Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, preaching the virtues of the corporate free ride and the perils of raising the minimum wage. But the unemployment rate in Washington State, which has the highest minimum wage in the nation at $9.19 an hour, is well below the national average. In the Seattle area, it just dipped to 4.7 percent, a level some economists call “full employment.”
What the Gallup survey makes clear is that the easiest way to make life better in the workplace is the simplest: all those unctuous, self-important, clueless bosses out there could notice the toiling subordinate who’s been taking up space for many years. Fake it, if you have to, just to see what it feels like. Ω
[Timothy Egan writes "Outposts," a column at the NY Fishwrap online. Egan — winner of both a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 as a member of a team of reporters who wrote the series "How Race Is Lived in America" and a National Book Award (The Worst Hard Time in 2006) — graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism, and was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Whitman College in 2000 for his environmental writings. Egan's most recent book is The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America (2009).]
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