Last week I mentioned my partner’s growing concern about the rise of antisemanticism. Michael Cyr wrote in to suggest we report the situation to the Antidefinition League.
To which Steve and I both respond with a resounding, “Oy!”
On a slightly less whimsical note, another reader was kind enough to explain:
“You invite your readers to tell you if they think you are full of beans. This reader thinks beans would be a great improvement.
“I am an employer. I do not employ and promote empty suits. I treat my employees fairly and with respect. Work ethic is not a ruse; it is a way of life.
“You promote a point of view that I find offensive: that hard work for its own sake is for suckers, loyalty is a hoax, employers are blood suckers who disregard the law.
“I tremble to think that you have naive readers who might swallow the bile in your column. You, sir, are not the solution. You are the problem.”
I figure a letter like that deserves a response, don’t you? Here goes:
Good for you. You don’t employ and promote empty suits, and do treat your employees fairly and with respect. As a matter of enlightened self-interest, I presume they’re smart and motivated enough to work hard on your behalf. I don’t see that you have a problem, or that my column might have contributed to it. It sounds like you took my advice before I even gave it.
I don’t see that we even disagree. I also find blood-sucking employers who sucker employees into excessively hard work, turn loyalty into a hoax, and disregard the law offensive. I just don’t know why you’re blaming me for their behavior.
If you’re telling me you don’t believe there are companies that behave as I described, I think you need to take a more objective look at the employment environment in this country. There’s no shortage of employers who, in the words of one CEO, consider their employees to be fungible.
I’m not making this stuff up, any more than I made up the position taken by the Business Roundtable or the offenses for which WalMart and quite a few other employers have been found guilty. Nor, for that matter, the common practice among publicly held corporations of conducting layoffs to “send a message to Wall Street.”
Underscoring the point further was a conversation just yesterday with the guy in the next seat as I flew back to Minneapolis. He’d performed an analysis for his employer last year, demonstrating that the return on investment for a planned factory relocation to China was negative. Significantly negative.
The impact of his analysis? Zilch, to three decimal places. While the bottom-line impact was negative, the impact on Wall Street analysts was positive. Profits down, employees on the street looking for work, stock price and bonus up … for a CEO, what’s not to like? For his laid-off employees, many of whom presumably showed a strong “work ethic” … well, golden parachutes aren’t for the likes of them.
Work for its own sake is called a hobby. It isn’t for suckers. Working for free so an employer can pocket the benefits is for suckers. If someone wants to work hard for an employer who doesn’t value the hard work and rewards other qualities, there are good reasons to do so, as several readers pointed out. For many people it’s a matter of self-respect. Even more important than that, slacking off is an easy and bad habit to get into, and hard to break once you have.
But working long nights and weekends because of your “work ethic” means only that you’ve fallen victim to propaganda.
Is every employer a rotten, exploiting abuser of its employees? Of course not. Many are, though, and the trend line is going in the wrong direction. Which leads to this advice:
Employees should gauge their employer realistically based on its actions rather than its Values Card, and act accordingly. Employers should act as you claim to (but should write far more complimentary letters to yours truly than you did).
You operate and your employees work in a capitalist economy. The premise of capitalism is that everyone acts in their own best interests. The name for an economy that expects altruistic behavior — work ethic, for example — is called communism, and last I looked it didn’t turn out all that well.
As for my readers naively swallowing bile …
Thanks a bunch. That’s a visual I could have cheerfully done without.