Sunday, February 8, 2009

The rules have changed for all of us.…

It is fairly commonplace in today’s economy and workplaces to complain about workloads, positions eliminated, the lack of raises and a host of other real or perceived concerns. It is easy to understand these feelings and even these perspectives of people in the workforce.

The workplace situation, particularly in North America, has changed. Dealing with these changes can be painful both at a personal and professional level. As we all adjust to this new environment, there are other things to be considered than those previously mentioned and examining these might place things in perspective. We’re now playing by a new set of rules and the failure to recognize that is only going to make the transition to this reality longer and more painful.

First, let’s consider some information: (Source: )
  1. Americans represent 5% of the world population, yet:

    • We use 30% of the world’s resources.

    • We use 25% of the fossil fuels consumed.

    • Americans were happiest in 1957 when they had considerably less material possessions than today yet their reported state of happiness has been in steady decline every since.

  2. On average Americans work 1777 hours per year. Despite popular opinion, that’s not the highest in the world. ( Source: )

  3. “The Human Development Index (HDI) is an index combining normalized measures of life expectancy, literacy, educational attainment, and GDP per capita for countries worldwide and is recognized as the standard means of measuring human development.“ (Source: ) According to this HDI, American citizens rank in the middle of the top 30 nations. So, while most American citizens’ lives are certainly not shabby, there is plenty of room for improvement.

All of this is shows there are many strong indicators that we’ve needed to change some things for a long time. External forces, excessive consumer spending and use of credit as well as weak politicians who failed to act in our best interests and yes, even we ourselves have put us in a financial situation which now forces us to change the way we think about things we have become accustomed to having but don’t necessarily need or that make us happy. Furthermore, we are ALL going to have to contribute, take some responsibility and contribute to the solution. This includes understanding that it is going to take a long time (i.e., a very long and sustained effort) to recover from this situation.

It also pays to remember that there is a reason good managers view their staff as a “team”. They need a team effort, aiming at the same goals and with everyone willing to put every ounce of his or her energy and intelligence into it to reach the objectives that make the company successful and, in turn, provides jobs for employees. Here are a few ways team members, in any organization, can help reach those goals.

  1. Manage and reduce expenses. Managers need your help here. Your managers are not being cheap in asking you to do this; they’re trying to stretch every dollar so that they can meet the challenges in front of all of us. So please think about the expenses you incur while traveling and what you can do to minimize them. For instance, while they’ve always asked you to book your travel ahead to get the best airline ticket prices, understand that in today’s environment now it is even more important. Question your expenses yourself. Could you save money? Will you do so without your manager pressuring you? If you do, you’re clearly already a team member.

  2. Offer and/or accept handling more responsibilities than before. Yes, you’re right, it doesn’t seem fair. But what frustrates managers to no end is how those of us in North America seem not to realize that we are competing on a global scale. Look at those stats at the top of this post. Understand that you’re not just competing with your peers in this city, state or even country. You’re competing with people around the world. Many of our global competitors work for less money to do the same job and just as well. Guess what? They’ll take your job because that is one way companies compete. Who can do the job, at the same level of quality and output, for the lowest price? Is that you? If not, then understand that complaining about it is NOT a solution. You have a couple of choices; 1) do the job for a competitive rate, or better, 2) elevate your value-add (i.e. your skills) to make it difficult for your employer to hire someone with your skill set in another country. Do you really think your company managers have been offering tuition reimbursement and courses on your desktop just so they could have a deduction on the company tax return? They were offering those courses to help facilitate your elevating your skill-set so that you could make yourself more valuable to the company. If you didn’t avail yourself of that opportunity, please be sure to look in the mirror when you’re ready to start assessing blame for a situation you somehow think you didn’t help create. If you’ve availed yourself of the training, then what you can do to help all of us deal with that new workload is to help your organization figure out how you can do that increased amount of work for the same, or better yet, less effort. Yes, it is easier to ignore this need and leave it to your manager to solve. But think about whose job your manager is going to work the hardest to protect. Most likely it will be the person that walked into their office and said, “I have an idea about how we can do this job better and with fewer resources.”

  3. Maintain a positive attitude. No one likes change. That’s a given. Human beings are creatures of habit. Understood. But as we also know, change is inevitable. Sometimes for the better, sometimes not. Attitude is often the tipping factor, that which can take a bad situation and make it bearable. This is especially important if you’re in a position of management. You have others looking to you for guidance and direction. Helping convey at attitude of “we can do this” is critically important. Demonstrate it, live it, breathe it. It will make you stand out in very positive ways in your work environment.

  4. Think about something bigger than yourself. We saw the U.S. adopt this major new attitude in a national election late last year. However, it isn’t yet apparent that this attitude has filtered down to individuals yet when it comes to their jobs. The crisis has, but not the attitude. We’re still seeing instances of people who want to place themselves before their co-workers and the company where they work. Being a team member is about more than just winning the game; it’s about helping to take care of each other. It’s about each other, at home, at work and around the globe. “Me” is being replaced by “We”. Join in and demonstrate it. You’ll feel better.

We all hope this economic crisis will end sooner than later. To get from where we are to that point is going to require real teamwork, some real hard work and some real understanding that the rules have changed -- for all of us. Don’t complain, refrain. Be more efficient, not less. Learn new skills and apply them. Work harder, because we must. Ensure that your focus is “we” not “me”.

We can get through this and we will.