Life In The Trench: Productivity on the Backs of Employees, Big Bonus for the Boss

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This post originally appeared on our sister website, About Your Job.

This is a guest post from R. David Thomas, a writer living Santa Cruz, California:

Employers have come to act more like slave drivers, dumping and ever-increasing amount of work on fewer and fewer workers.

Employers have come to act more like slave drivers, dumping and ever-increasing amount of work on fewer and fewer workers.

There is no caste system in the United States of America. Politicians and party line pundits are quick to denounce the existence of class warfare. However it is alive and well in the workplace. It is a subtle intrusion on our lives and the corporations we work for would rather we didn’t notice.

There are several ingredients required for the proper care and feeding of the class warfare beast. Investors and boards of directors provide the recipe and upper management cooks the meal.

Case Study
Max works in the accounting division of a fairly large company. After lunch on a particularly busy Monday, he returns to the office to discover one of the other people in his department have been laid off. The supervisor calls him into the office and asks Max if he can take up the slack.

If Max says no, the supervisor will think he is not a “team player” and it may be likely he doesn’t have the ability to do the job he’s already doing. Max is also aware that the job market is thin and he doesn’t want to lose the job he already has. They just laid off his co-workers and he realizes he could be next on the chopping block.

There is no choice for the intrepid Max other than to accept the additional responsibility. Of course there is no raise in pay for him, but that’s okay with him because he believes in the company and loves his job.

Two months pass and Max is successfully handling the work of two employees. It is tiring and a bit stressful, but he’s managing it. Then one of his other co-worker is caught using the company computer to send out personal emails and is summarily fired.

Once again, Max is called into the supervisor’s office. The boss needs him to help out with the terminated employee’s responsibilities. I think we already know Max is in a position where he cannot say no. Now he is going to be doing the work of three people until they can find a replacement for the person who was fired for misusing their computer.

A month goes by. Two months pass and the company still has not hired a new employee. After all, why should they? Max is getting the job done. He’s completely stressed out and barely has the energy to make dinner when he gets home.

But at least he still has a job. And they are letting him put in a few hours of overtime.

Max is beginning to look a bit disheveled and the human resources manager takes notice.
She calls him into her office and asks “How is everything going with your work?”. It’s a ‘trap’ question and he knows it. The only answer is ‘everything is fine’. Complaining about the work load will make them question his loyalty and ability.

The company is saving more than $100,000 a year and paying out a little bit of overtime. Upper management gets a bonus and the rest of savings swells the coffers of the board of directors and investors.

(This is a true story by the way – it’s happening right now to a very good friend of mine.)

Corporations are currently reporting record profits. Yet no new jobs are being created.

As a result of the thin job market, employees who are overworked or mistreated are hesitant will not leave a bad job. Management knows this and uses it to their advantage to exploit the employee.

When jobs are plentiful, companies treat valuable employees well for fear they might lose them. So they changed the game.

Soaring profits should create new jobs. But if companies do not hire more employees, the unemployment rate rises. This creates a scenario where employees cannot leave to find a better job since they are “lucky” to have a job in the first place. Management gets the upper hand and can demand more from them. Then new employees are not necessary even though the company has the financial resources to hire them.

This is the face of greed.

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