What’s Going On, Brother?

What’s going on? The world is filled with tension. People are cynical about their institutions.  Our nation is engulfed in disruptive change. We cannot stand it! We trust no one, too.  According to a Gallup survey (January 2010), people have a negative image of the federal government and big businesses.  In fact, distrust abounds toward most organized institutions including corporations, organized labor, politic parties, and the media.  Many people wonder what has happened to our country.

In 1971, Marvin Gaye released his thirteenth album What’s Going On.  The album heavily captured the nation’s social consciousness such as the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement.  

Gaye sings, “Father, father, everybody thinks we’re wrong
Oh, but who are they to judge us
Simply because our hair is long
Oh, you know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some understanding here today
Oh….What’s going on?”

As Americans continue to fight for their jobs and their way of life, I also ask our nation, “What’s Going On?”  The economic downturn continues to worsen for today’s workers.  Therefore, individuals need to consider their own career strategies. Unfortunately, we are witnessing the last era of the full-time workforce.  According to a USA Today analysis, part-time work is at a record high while overtime is at an all-time low. An average of just 33 hours was recorded for the average worker in May 2009; it was fewer hours than any time since the Bureau of Labor Statistics begun to track it in 1964.  In fact, over 9 million people want to work full-time but can only find part-time employment.

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, the ranks of involuntary part-timers have increased by 4.9 million since 2008. Some managers reduce workers hours in a noble effort to avoid layoffs while other managers use it for corporate gain by reducing the number of workers with benefits. However, those economic indicators that reviewed underemployment may not have provided the whole picture. For example, underemployed workers and those individuals who have lost jobs or have given up the job search are statistics that are worth watching to determine the health of employment in the nation.

Consequently, few Americans are optimistic about their careers. With the continuing layoffs by American businesses, many employees and government officials are looking for social responsibility. Company after company has downsized its workforce as a way of continuing profits; these same companies expect the remaining employees to be productive and be happy “you’re still employed.” Some managers do not care about the personal welfare of their employees.

As more employees desire a more purposeful life, this management attitude provides a continual conflict in an organization trying to be profitable. Clearly, employees will not give 110% if they feel that management is using them. Employees will keep critical information to themselves, give management the minimum performance in order to keep their jobs, and provide no sense of loyalty to the organization that is not reciprocal.  Therefore, effective leaders need to understand this uncertainty among workers and develop strategies to motivate them.

How do employees prepare themselves for a future of uncertainty in the marketplace?  What can managers do to promote a high level of performance while suffering from the aftermath of  massive downsizing and outsourcing?

 © 2010 by Daryl D. Green

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26 thoughts on “What’s Going On, Brother?

  1. Being a part of Career Services department, I witnessed many layoffs within the past two years. But I also noticed that workers who were able to work hard under all the pressure and fear to be laid off, who were giving 110% and had a great performance, were able to not only keep their jobs, but in some cases, got promoted and were given a raise. At this point, it is very important to adapt to the situation and to be able to compete, keep developing skills and keep up with new developments in the field.
    I also noticed that many people decided to change their career path and/or come back to college to further their education just to be able to compete on the job market. There is a clear understanding that technology and knowledge are crucial. What some see as a problem, some see as an opportunity.

      • I feel that employees who were able to maintain high performance under those conditions and pressure are exceptions, not norm. Many people lost their jobs and got hurt financially by this recession and only few took advantage of the situation and kept moving towards their goals. No matter what is going on the job market and how hard it is sometimes to maintain positive attitude, I believe, hard work and loyalty to your company always pays off under any circumstances.

  2. I agree with Alla that the future employees will need to adapt to the disruptive changes. Employees need to be current with knowledge and technology. The Boomers and the generations before them were able to go to college and maybe get a masters or doctrine and were able to use their stale skills up to retirement. That is not the case anymore. Employees need to be well rounded and able to adapt their skills in different environments. A manager needs to show compassion and camaraderie because managers are in the same boat with the employees because their job is just as venerable. They need to have the attitude that with everyone’s hard work and dedication that we will do whatever we can do for that not to happen to us. You can only control what you are able to control. Managers also need to figure out what is the motivation of their employees are now after a layoff or outsourcing.

  3. Adding to what you just mentioned Griffin; what can managers do to motivate their employees? Each employee has a different motivational factor. What if all I care about is getting a paycheck, or being the one receiving all the fame and glory, getting a raise, or just a simple good job or job well done. These are all things to think about. Once managers realize that employees are human beings with feelings and emotions and not simply someone to help them get ahead in their careers we will all be better off. This is a dog eat dog society we all live in today, but if we stick together the tough times will not seem so gloomy. It may not be your dream job or you may even hate schooling; however, you may have to get some training in order to stave off a personal layoff and ensure job security. Opportunity is out there if you are willing to do your part, hold on tight and not let it go.

  4. As has been mentioned, one activity employees can and should do to better prepare themselves for a future of uncertainty in the marketplace and remain competitive in an ever increasing global economy is to increase their education, and technical certification. This was stressed by our recent guest speaker, Horace Andrews. An individual continuing their education can take the path of formal selected academic curriculum like accounting, engineering or nursing at a local college or university. Or, they can pursue the other big option of learning a technical craft or skill set at a local technical vocational center. Better educated & skilled individuals are always going to be in demand for those who are proficient in their chosen academic or technical field. While the employee is still engaged in their full or part time “day” job, they should concentrate on enhancing their skill set through either one of the education paths outline above. Employees will have to probably become more flexible in being willing to re-locate to another section of the country or the world to stay employed in the future marketplace. Also, I’m starting to think more and more that employees maybe should start thinking more seriously about joining a union if one is available at their place of work, either a professional union or the conventional union typically setup for houly workers, either skilled or unskilled. With so much turmoil in the American workplace going on these days, I am increasingly wondering if maybe joining a union might not be a good idea for workers rights, although being in a union is certainly no guarantee against losing full time job status to part time or even losing a job entirely.

  5. Employees prepare themselves through education whether it is from on-the-job experience, or through schooling and training. Education and experience are the only ways to be prepared. You must make yourself valuable and marketable.

    Motivating the downsizing survivors is difficult. First, Susan Heathfield suggests you must invest in helping the downsized employees move on. It’s ethical, and plus your survivors are watching. Second, as trust is damaged after downsizing you must go above and beyond to show the survivors that you truly value their contributions. That relationship must be maintained. Then adjust your goals and realign the existing job duties. You do not want your survivors feeling the pressure that they are under staffed but must meet the goals and handle the jobs of the previous larger workforce.

    Resources: http://humanresources.about.com/od/layoffsdownsizing/a/downsizing2_2.htm

  6. Excellent thread, Alla, Billey, Griffin, Fred, and Landon!

    I hope others will follow this path of enlightenment.

    This speaks to the dilemma that most of the country faces. Who are the unemployed and underemployed!!!

  7. I agree with Alla’s and Griffin’s points. We are all in the same boat whether you are a manger or front line employee. With the job market and economy the way it is, everyone has been forced to realize that the “normal” 9 to 5 jobs no long exist. The majority of the motivation must come from within. Those who stay motivated and give “110%” will see the rewards (raises, possible full time employment). Those who are underemployed, people who maybe over qualified for their current position, if they can remain motivated from within, will probably see the benefits later on. Unfortunetly,at this time in must career paths, just having a job is the motivator. Workers must realize, just like everything else, things will turn around. Those who put the effort in will see the rewards when this happens.

  8. Having worked for the city for the past 17 years, downsizing is something I have not experienced. However, in reading the above blogs, I think we can all agree that perseverance and self-improvement are essential for survival in an uncertain world. Even more important may be the motivators we rely on as we pursue our personal and professional improvement. Not becoming over dependent on extrinsic factors like money or praise from our superiors to be the sole source of our happiness. Understanding that extrinsic factors may be fleeting and/or unreliable. Rather we should seek out jobs, educational opportunities and training that will facilitate self-reinforcement and a higher sense of self-efficacy or confidence in our abilities. Finding a balance between motivational factors will make us more employable with an expanded skill set and more adaptable with a proper perspective. In short, if you are looking to others to be your source of happiness you will likely be disappointed in an uncertain world. Look inward and upward for proper motivation. Then and only then, can you be resilient enough to survive with your sanity.

    Reference:
    Jones, G & George J. (2008). Contemporary Management (6th Edition).
    New York, NY: McGrawhill/Irwin.

  9. As I think about how managers can motivate their employees I reflect back to Group B’s intrinsic and extrinsic survey of the class. A lot more people were motivated by intrinsic values. This is the key to motivating employees especially since many companies are not able to provide extrinsic motivation. People want to feel appreciated and noticed for a job well done. However this type of motivation does take a lot of effort from the manager. Managers have to take an active and sincere interest in their employees on a professional level. And then they must vocalize individually the value that the employee brings to the company.

  10. i think because of this economic down term motivation of the workforce by the manager is becoming a harder and harder job, whats a raise if you get fired a month later, and the last thing they wont is another day off when the work week is already shortened. a good idea maybe be to give an employee performing at a higher level an extra day on. As it has been in Business over the years companies must adapt to thier environment. we have now come to the point where employees must adapt to thier environment.With the fight for jobs employees must take every possible step to make sure they are not only qualified but over qualified for positions. But if faced with uncertainty in the work place i would take a different approach while everyone was doing the minimum to keep thier job i would give 120% hoping that even if managers, dont say anything that they still do notice.

  11. After seeing a drastic shift in how the marketplace operates, it is important for individuals to learn how to position themselves more efficiently in this ever evolving marketplace. At one time, going to school and getting you Bachelor’s degree was enough to land a $40,000 to $50,000 a year job. Now, education is not enough. These kinds of salary figures require both education and experience. Many people are asking “How do I do both”. To be able to succeed, one needs to establish him or herself with an organization going into their freshman year of college if not sooner. This will get their foot in the door at the company that they want to work for after school. While working part time for this company, the individual will need to also attend school and pursue a degree in the field that they are currently working in. After they graduate, they will be more likely to get that higher salary since they have built relationships as well as obtained working experience within the organization while earning their education. Also with this added knowledge and education, the employee has built up their resume so that if they were to be laid off, they have increased their chances of being hired by a similar organization. This is how to conquer the new market place.
    In order for managers to be able to motivate their employees after downsizing, they must determine a way to tie some sort of incentive to performance. If an employee is going to be paid more for doing more efficient and effective work, the chances are they will do this 99% of the time.

  12. Good points!

    “In order for managers to be able to motivate their employees after downsizing, they must determine a way to tie some sort of incentive to performance.”

    Sound interesting! Got some backup on this thought?

    • By incentive programs I mean programs that employees can take advantage of such as simple things like open communication with management, job search aids, etc. As the listed article mentions, if employees are hard workers and they end up getting laid off, the employer should take the time and offer counseling sessions to help them better cope with this change. They can also offer services that help write resumes for the laid off individuals. This will build morale with the employees that are still with the company since they do not feel a scared of abandonment if they were to be laid off.

      http://www.managesmarter.com/msg/content_display/incentive/e3i31c3e88c0eab00bd873f5dcbb84a458c?imw=Y

  13. I agree with several responses that continuing education is key to staying ahead in the market. Fred mentions above the speaker, Horace Andrews, that visited the class a few weeks ago. Mr. Andrews stressed the importance of networking. It is always important that an employee continually makes those connections that will keep them ahead of the game. One quote Horace had in his presentation was from Oprah Winfrey that went something like “luck = preparation + opportunity”. One cannot rely totally on luck to get by. The first part of that equation (preparation) lies solely on the individual looking for luck.
    To touch on Adam’s comment of tying incentives to performance; that is what my company does. If employees are motivated by some sort of compensation that ties to their performance that also meets the overall achievements of the company (ex. sales, productions goals), everyone wins. In other words, if those on the front lines are rewarded for their achievements, the company will do better as a whole since the company goals will tie into the employees goals. The employee performs better, then the company will perform better.

  14. Companies stared this situation with the recession. Companies try all the time to be prepared for stormy times, but difficulty there are well prepared and quick attitudes need to be done. Again I have an Aluminum market example, because my brother and I worked for Alcoa Aluminum Company.
    Last year with the recession times Alcoa used the structure of Alumax to change process and try to put the company back in the rails to profits. In 1998 Alcoa bought Alumax, an Atlanta based Aluminum Company. The great deal at this transaction was that Alumax worked with a lean structure. All Alumax structure is based on the short cost processes making its products with a biggest margin. Totally different that maximum productivity processes of Alcoa that makes Alcoa products the most expensive of their competitors. However their services are considered the best ones that makes Alcoa the leader of their market.
    With the recession Alcoa needed to change some operations. So, Alcoa promoted some former Alumax leaders in managers of some facilities changing their process for a lean structure. Some of the activities included to lay out workers, close production lines and change labor contracts. However the company came back to profits in the beginning of 2010.
    Companies must prepare themselves, organizing their process and cutting fat all the time. Every time some process can be improved. Some RH policies can be developed to make performance better with less expenditure. Leaders can use the 3M as an example to organize their times to improve the departmental process and to evaluate their operations. Re-signed labor contracts or even use a competitor example to improve internal process.

  15. I have lived through this 3 times already in my career. I unfortunately selected a high paying, volatile employment market before truly settling down in my career. My experience has led me to one opinion only…keep your skills developed and always have a goal. Employees must continue to market themselves, whether they are employed or not. Everyone must continue to strive to improve their knowledge base. That may be achieved through higher learning institutions or through educational development classes within your industry. Keep adding on those credentials and make yourself marketable to your managers. As for managers instilling performance after downsizing, only relationship leaders inspire those remaining employees to exceed. Managers that truly care for their employees have the compassion and empathy to get their staff focused on their job.

  16. How do employees prepare themselves for a future of uncertainty in the marketplace? What can managers do to promote a high level of performance while suffering from the aftermath of massive downsizing and outsourcing?

    I will agree with the comments about continuing education to combat uncertainty in the job market but another key factor that was mentioned is the use of networking. There are many useful tools out there that were developed for the sole purposed to self promote i.e. LinkedIn, I would recommend to anyone to sign up for an account; also twitter can be used as a networking tool by searching other twitter users in your geographical area and field.
    One of my responsibilities for New Horizons is Workforce Development, if a company is going through layoffs or downsizing I will go to HR and laid off employees and present solutions for re-training to help increase the individual skill set, vaule and marketability. A lot of these individuals had intentions of retiring from the company and never pursued education or professional training and are now struggling to compete in a very tough job market. So I see first hand the importance of continuing education and the pursuit of knowledge.

    Managers responsible for sustaining performance have a tough road ahead because after a layoff employee moral is low and attitudes towards management have changed. If I was a manager I would follow the “honesty is the best policy” rule. A managers first concern should be his subordinates, if they are following this rule there should be a mutual respect and could turn an otherwise negative environment into a positive environment. If an employee knows they will continue to have a job they will continue to work and be productive.

  17. Leadership begins at the top. Leaders who are motivated will be more likely to motivate their employees under their management. Demands are higher than ever beginning with senior management, middle management finally to the workers. The demands are to produce more with fewer employees.

    Internally employees must prepare themselves for the uncertainty of the future. Managers need to stay positive, motivate their employees daily, and give instant feedback including positive and negative. Due to the current economy managers are forced to evaluate the bottom line daily instead of previously looking at a longer span of time. Management is forced in the workplace to keep all parties aware of the workplace status. Employees who feel appreciated and are given feedback are more likely to perform at a higher level. Accountability is key to the survival of today’s organizations.

  18. What great insight from all the earlier bloggers! I agree with the vast majority that motivation mainly comes from within. Managers can provide some motivation, but personally I believe in Theory Y. People go to work and do a good job each day because it’s their desire to do well. I am blessed to have a great job, and do not foresee any down sizing, however I still felt the need to return to school and get my MBA. In this economy, and uncertain future for many, it’s important to stay educated, network and stay prepared for whatever may come. It is our responsibilities to take care of ourselves and be the best we can be each day.

    “I will prepare and some day, my chance will come.”
    Abraham Lincoln

  19. Employees can prepare themselves in a marketplace full of uncertainty by continuously advancing their skills. For example, this could include informal training/certification to distinguish themselves from other similarly qualifies candidates. A trend we have talked about in class numerous times is the predication that Spanish will be increasingly demanded in the future. Therefore, being bilingual would definitely grant an advantage. I am fortunate that I am fluent in English and Arabic. However, I’m building upon 12 years of studying French and currently learning French as well.

    Managers can promote a high level of performance while suffering from the aftermath of massive downsizing and outsourcing by motivating their employees and leading them through difficult times. This is where having trust and a good relationship with employees pays off. Motivating employees would be much easier if workers trust their managers and believe in their leadership skills. Additionally, workers would focus more on how to do their job better than trying to protect their jobs or wondering about uncertainty. According to a USA Today article, “companies that have a trust-based management system and high employee morale will have a significant edge over than those that don’t.”

    Developing Manager-Employee Trust – USA Today
    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1272/is_2675_130/ai_77400383/

  20. Employees should prepare themselves by giving their best at work as this might help the company make decision of who will go based on the performance.

    Motivating employees is the key thing that contributes to success for a company. When employees are motivated they perform their duties sincerely and perfectly which leads to quality products or services and hence customer satisfaction. When a company downsizes it retains the best employees and I believe this needs to be communicated to them that the company appreciates what they do and that’s why they are still part of it. The company should also communicate that it’s undergoing hardships and employees might or will be required to perform more duties than usual, as their performance will not only mean profits for the company but also job security for them.

  21. It is hard to find job security in business organizations nowadays, especially with the bad economy downturn we are facing. Downsizing employees is a common phenomenon in companies that depends on local business in its revenue and had negative impact by the economy. I think that unique skilled, hard working, creative and disciplined employees expose to less threat of lay off. Are they a hundred percent safe? The answer is no. It can be the best time for employees to focus on career development in this hard time. Getting an additional training and education or even learning new profession help to prepare against potential lay off.
    When employees get laid off, you can feel the tense that dominate the department and the stress that control the lay off survivors. Managers need to reassure those survivors their values to the organization and let them know why they are valuable in order to keep them motivated and productive. They also need to repair trust, because such an action breaks the trust between employees and employer.

    Reference:

    http://humanresources.about.com/od/layoffsdownsizing/a/downsizing2.htm

    http://www.facebook.com/notes/momentum-coaching/how-to-motivate-employees-after-layoffs/188151606516

  22. The American economy that exists today has high unemployment rates and low wages. An article from “Escape from corporate America states, “Not just women, but Americans in general, continue to grow increasingly unhappy at work.” This is made evident through a job satisfaction survey from the Conference Board that shows declining rates over the past two decades. People are fighting to maintain their quality of life, however, the battle appears uphill when businesses are thinking of ways to cut their costs and see the average worker as dispensable. Big business is focused on cutting the rising cost of health care and other benefits that must be paid to full-time workers. Instead, they opt to employee part-time workers to avoid the high cost of compensation. The average American worker recognizes the changes that exist today and has noticed the sense of loyalty that existed in the 80s and 90s is a mere memory. Big business claims to be suffering in today’s economy as well and asks for sympathy among the working class. People are performing robotic tasks and disassociating themselves with their employers. Management needs to consider the costs of high turnover rates and having to train new employees to feel the void of an unhappy worker versus being loyal.

    Delaney, L. January 17, 2010. Escape From Corporate America. Can’t get no job satisfaction. What About You? Retrived from http://escapefromcorporateamerica.blogspot.com/2010/01/cant-get-no-job-satisfaction-what-about.html

  23. I think that employees can prepare themselves for a future of uncertainty by continuing to develop their skill sets and reinventing themselves. Many employers offer some sort of training or development courses. Employees can take advantage of the benefits offered by their employees and use them to their advantage in order to not only increase the value that they add to the company, but also add value to their own careers. Employees should seek to keep their skills current by keeping in tuned with industry publications and attending conferences and workshops related to their professions or other areas of interest. They may also prepare through networking and making connections with others in their industry, as well as outside of their organizations. These contacts may come in handy in the case of a layoff or if a move is necessary.

    Managers, on the other hand, can promote a high level of performance by seeking to build morale among their employees, and working to make their employees feel that their contributions are valuable. Managers should communicate with their employees and ensure that the necessary resources are in place for employees to be able to do their jobs efficiently and effectively. Employees are more likely to stick around when they feel secure, valued, and able to make progress.

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