Monday, September 16, 2013

Crumbling Pyramids

A while back I wrote about how much I was enjoying my blue collar job, but things have changed quite a bit since then.  I don't mind the actual work when I'm allowed to just do the work, but there's too much micromanagement going on.  I don't need to be told how to load a truck five months after I started the job, because if I didn't know how to do that after five months I wouldn't have the job anymore.  I especially don't need to be told how to do my job by a new operations manager who clearly lacks the understanding of how the operation works, and who doesn't seem comfortable being a manager.  I'm not sure why those two things don't disqualify somebody from being the manager of operations, but I've never been in the position to hire an operations manager before, so I can't be certain what the process is like.

What the new ops manager has done since he started several weeks ago is make my current job seem much like most of the old jobs I've had.  At just about every job I've ever worked, at some point a new manager would be hired.  This new manager would look at how things work on paper and start making decisions based on that, rather than learning how the actual day-to-day operations happen.  Essentially, this would be like an NFL team hiring somebody to be head coach because they've run a successful fantasy football team.  The person may be great at managing based on statistics, there's so much more to deal with when you're put in charge of real people who live in a real world full of real happenings and consequences.  While I'm no (insert name of a current popular football player here), I've begun to feel that management types basically look at me and other workers as if we are fantasy football players; we're just numbers on printed out reports.

Let me rewind to my first real job, meaning the first job I had that wasn't working for my dad or cutting the grass of a blind priest down the street (who would pretend to check my work when I'd finished).  I worked in a grocery store as a cashier; I was fast, friendly, and was consistently complimented on my ability to not bag groceries like a complete idiot.

All was smooth sailing while the manager who hired me was still on, but he got transferred, and the next manager decided (or most likely was told by a higher-up) to play the numbers game.  It didn't matter now who the best and most experienced employees were.  To save a few bucks, the company hired a handful of new cashiers and gave them the most hours.  Yeah, filling up the schedule with employees who were paid less money is a sound strategy for saving money on paper, but what was the end result?  Customer service took a nosedive, a lot of the new hires ended up quitting or no-showing, and then when the manager was desperate enough to give the more experienced (more expensive) workers more hours, most of us had stopped giving a shit about doing our best because we were now aware that customer service wasn't worth a damn to the company.

A few years later I found myself working in an office making phonebook ads.  Despite knowing all along that there was no future in a company that put out a pretty-much-obsolete product, I settled into the position because the pay was decent, I got a lot of vacation time, and I was good at the job.  Then came folly after folly from the CEOs and the board of directors and whatever other titles all the fat, old, white people were given by their buddies at the top.

After the CEO who ran the company when I was hired messed the fuck up so bad that the company filed for bankruptcy and was booted off the stock exchange, naturally said CEO (Dave Swanson) was rewarded with millions of dollars and a golden parachute package.  Then came the new CEO (Alfred Mockett), who, you guessed it, played the numbers game.  He began stripping down the company to make it 'more profitable' without really taking the time to learn how the company worked.  Layoffs after layoffs followed, and the employees who were "lucky" enough to still have a job were forced to pick up the slack created by the dwindling staff.  I went from having to make eight ads an hour to nine, then to twelve.  The proofreading department was cut down to the point where only a handful of ads would actually get proofread before being sent out to the customers.  Anybody with an ounce of brain could have guessed that the end result would be a higher amount of claims and a lower amount of customer satisfaction, and I'm sure the people in charge knew that, they just didn't care because they needed to figure out how to raise their own pay so they could install new patios to go with the in-ground pools of their second or third homes.  And what better way to do that than by squeezing the people at the bottom?

After a few months of this new 'strategy', we received an announcement that our work would be outsourced.  The slimeballs actually had the gall to say that the new employees in the Philippines were faster and made less errors.  Of course, the slimeballs didn't know enough about their own company to realize that we were able to access the ads made by the new employees, including the history of how many times the ads were sent back due to errors.  We knew it was bullshit.  Despite the motivational posters the infer that making quality advertisements is somehow akin to climbing a snow-covered mountain or surfing, I was served with more proof that the people in charge of these companies really don't care at all about putting out a quality product.  They care about lining their own pockets no matter what they have to destroy to do so.

And that brings me to my present situation.  Working the hours I was getting when I first started at the warehouse just barely provided me with enough pay to get by.  Then along came the new manager, ready to play the classic game of Figure Out How to Save the Company Money and Fuck Your Employees and Your Customers Because We, the CEOs, Need More Than Nine Million a Year.  (I think the board game version of F.O.H.S.C.M.F.Y.E.Y.C.B.W.CEOs.N.M.T.9.M.Y would have been more successful with a less clunky title [and if people still played board games].)  My hours (and my coworkers' hours) have been cut to the point where it almost doesn't make sense for me to have a job.  The end result: we all care a lot less about doing a good job, because our reward for doing a good job was to have our hours cut.  The same strategy has yet again led to the same outcome; managing by statistics, rather than by earning the ins and outs of the company, have led to a decrease in customer service and employee loyalty.

Oh, so what about the title of this article?  "Crumbling Pyramids" refers to an analogy that I think sums up why so many companies are failures and why the economy is in the toilet.  Think of a company as a pyramid; you've got the CEO/President/Whoever-is-in-charge at the top, the middle-management types in the middle (where else would they be?), and the employees that do the most work for the least amount of money at the bottom.  Now, those at the top decide they need more than what they're "earning", so they do what most of them do and start squeezing the people at the bottom.  And this creates a top-heavy pyramid with a giant, bloated top being supported by an ever-weakening base.  A pyramid built this way is bound to crumble, and each one eventually does.

Our companies will continue to fail, our economy will become evermore turd-like, and the pyramids will keep crumbling so long as the greed is left unchecked.  You want happy workers?  Pay us wages we can live on.  You want loyalty from employees?  Stop cutting our hours to replace us with people specifically hired because you can pay them less.  You want a successful company that plays a part in rebuilding our tattered economy?  Stop lying about delivering quality products and services and start delivering quality products and services.  Stop sitting at your desks on your fat asses and running the companies based on reports; get up and walk around the floor.  Talk to your employees.  Learn how things actually work, not just how they look on paper.  And stop being so damn greedy!  If you can't be satisfied by a few million dollars a year, then quit.  Take all of your cronies and your important-sounding-but-not-really-important job title holding friends with you.  The less you suck out of your companies and our economy, the more there will be for the rest of us.

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