Unhappy Employment

February 6, 2010:

Besides the Toyota debacle, four obscure news items cropped up this week. First, many states’ unemployment funds are near bankruptcy. Second, the NFL and the players’ union hit an impasse negotiating the 2011 contract; could millionaire  players draw unemployment? Third, interviews revealed that small employers hesitate hiring new workers because they take a big unemployment insurance hit if they are soon dismissed, so hire temps. Fourth, of those people working in the United States, the latest Conference Board survey shows job satisfaction at its lowest ebb since 1987, lower for all age groups, and lowest for those under 25.  And why are employees unhappy? Four major reasons:

  • Job design
  • Organizational health
  • Managerial quality
  • Extrinsic rewards

The Conference Board acknowledged that the survey bodes ill for “multigenerational knowledge transfer” and “employee engagement.” Most media interpreted these stories as a financial paradox: high unemployment taxes keep employers from re-hiring people quickly and getting “too attached” to them. They may also induce employers to hang onto employees a little longer to avoid an unemployment tax increase.

These stories are interpreted differently if one asks basic questions. What’s work? What’s efficiency? How do we know when a work organization’s performance is “better?” For that matter, what is a company; a financial construct, or the integrated performance of all the stakeholders that enable it to do whatever it does? And finally, does financial reasoning put companies into “commodity trap” conundrums?

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