Trends and Statistics

Generation X Speaks Out About Corporate America

July 20th, 2008

Written by Pamela Skillings

Back in May, I posted about an interesting article by Tammy Erickson on the Harvard Business Review blog. Tammy provided an overview of Ten Reasons Why Gen Xers are Unhappy At Work and most of them rang very true for this Gen Xer (yeah, I hate the stupid term too but I’ve accepted that it’s never going away).

Anyway, BusinessWeek picked up Tammy’s story and recently published a selection of very insightful responses from Gen X readers who are rebelling against Corporate America. These are most definitely my  people.

Here are a few interesting selections (though it’s really worth reading all of the reader comments):

"If you truly value authenticity and aren’t motivated by ‘increasing shareholder profit,’ and you wind up in publicly traded corporate America, at some point you’ll probably leave."

"Many of us want to do work that we believe in. We want jobs that fulfill us on more than just a financial level. We don’t want to spend our entire lives with our respective noses to the grind[stone] only to retire or semi-retire with small pensions and little or no means to enjoy our later years… We want to work for places that value us as human beings."

"Corporate America needs me? Then I suggest that they, as a group, clean up their act, because as it stands, as my good friends Wayne and Garth say, ‘They are not worthy.’"

And then there’s Amy W., a precocious  member of Gen Y who has learned from the pain of Gen X:

"Fortunately, we may be better equipped to set out on our own and avoid the whole sordid mess altogether. I’d rather struggle now at 25 and be reliant on myself for my income at 30, than get a "great job" now and have some corporate snafu rip the rug out from under me at a similar time."

Read Gen X Talks Back at BusinessWeek.com

P.S. Critically acclaimed actor Emilio Estevez is a man always in search of new challenges in his life and his work. Read more.

Paid Vacation Time — A Right or A Luxury?

July 7th, 2008

Written by Pamela Skillings

vacation starvationThe media is full of stories about summer vacation fun and the annoyingly named stay-cation trend, but what about those poor schlubs who have been spending all of their sunny days at the office this summer? Are all Americans entitled to paid vacation time?

A recent poll by Take Back Your Time/Opinion Research Corporation found that 69% of Americans support a paid vacation law while 27% are opposed. And how much vacation is enough? The majority of respondents said three weeks sounded about right. Read more about the poll.

American workers are obviously sick and tired of  "vacation starvation" and the burnout symptoms that often result from a non-stop work schedule. U.S. companies offer the stingiest vacation allotments in the industrialized world — an average of 8.1 days after a year on the job. Meanwhile, our French colleagues average 25 vacation days per year and German employees take off for 30 annual vacation days.

And those of you with 8.1 days off each year are among the lucky. 25% of Americans receive no paid vacation leave at all.

But wait, there’s more. Recent studies have shown that half of U.S. workers don’t even take the vacation days they’re given. U.S. workers forfeited approximately 421 million vacation days in 2005. Often, employees postpone their much-needed vacation breaks due to heavy workloads and/or concerns that employers will disapprove. But what if your employer was required by law to give you a break?

Take Back Your Time is a U.S./Canadian initiative to challenge the epidemic of overwork. Take Back Your Time believes that the lack of vacation time in the United States is a serious problem and that a law guaranteeing paid vacations would lead to higher hourly productivity and reduce the escalating cost of health care by making all Americans healthier.

According to their research, men who don’t take regular vacations are 32% more likely to die of heart attacks, and 21% more likely to die early of all causes.  Women who don’t take time off increase their risk of heart attack by 50% and are twice as likely to be depressed as women who go on vacation.

Evidence also indicates that workers who take regular vacations are more productive and loyal employees.  Read more about the Take Back Your Time initiative.

Has any of this convinced you to take some of those unused vacation days already? Do you believe that every hard-working American should be lawfully entitled to a few weeks of paid vacation? Would a paid vacation law put undue burdens on employers?

I’d love to hear opinions from all of you who are currently sitting at your computers instead of sitting on the beach (and all of you freelancers and telecommuters who might be currently sitting at your computer WHILE sitting on the beach).

Gen X Job Hate

May 20th, 2008

Written by Pamela Skillings

"I’m worried about Generation X and corporations. As far as I can tell, these two have a tentative relationship at best – and are likely headed for some rocky times ahead."

So begins a recent blog post by workforce expert Tammy Erickson on her Harvard Business Review blog.  As a member of the generation they call X, I must agree wholeheartedly with many of the fine points that Ms. Erickson makes in her  post. 

Is it any wonder that so many of us are plotting escapes from Corporate America? But Ms. Erickson is also right that corporations will need Gen X leaders in the years ahead and that there are ways to make corporate career paths more engaging for all of us cynical Xers.

It’s definitely worth a read: Ten Reasons Gen Xers are Unhappy At Work

Large Companies Oppose Universal Health Care

May 1st, 2008

Written by Pamela Skillings


A new survey by consulting firm Watson Wyatt found that 84% of large U.S. employers do not support a single-payer system such as universal health care coverage. Of the 453 companies surveyed between November 2007 and January 2008, 78% favor private-sector solutions. 

“The link between health and productivity is a vital part of a company’s success. Most employers are not willing to cede influence over programs that affect their workers’ health," said Ted Nussbaum of Watson Wyatt in a press release. “Despite their frustration with rising costs, employers believe they can do a better job managing costs and meeting the needs of their workers than the government can.”

Isn’t it nice that your company cares so much about your health and productivity? I’m sure their feelings about universal health care have nothing to do with the fact that government-mandated health care coverage could lead to higher costs and tax implications for corporations.

I don’t claim to be an expert on the health care system, but I do think it’s ridiculous that it’s so much harder to get reasonably-priced benefits when you don’t work for a big company. Then again, many who work for large corporations argue that their benefit plans aren’t exactly reasonably priced either.

More interesting reading:
Watson Wyatt’s overview of the health care reform proposals of all three presidential candidates and the potential impact on employers.

How Well Are You Really Supporting Your Kids?

March 31st, 2008

Written by Pamela Skillings

fathersonI’ve spoken with many caring parents who say that they are staying in well-paying jobs that exhaust them for the sake of their kids.  These moms and dads are willing to put up with long work hours and other office frustrations in order to provide a better life for their kids. But an interesting blog post from Jonathan Fields at Awake at the Wheel makes a powerful argument that the value of your daily presence far outweighs the value of a big paycheck.

As Jonathan puts it so eloquently, "Is the way we’re working truly setting our kids up for the best possible future? If you’re slaving away at a job, even a well-paid job, that funds college accounts and buys nice things, but summarily empties your soul and steals your presence from the family, the answer is a resounding no."

He goes on to cite some very interesting studies, which all seem to agree that kids who eat dinner with their families on a daily basis do better in school and in life.

And this is not an argument for working women to get their barefoot butts back into their kitchens. The studies also showed that it didn’t matter if mothers were employed, full-time or part-time, as long as they (and dads too) were able to make time for family meals on a regular basis.  That doesn’t have to mean homemade pot roast and pie. It’s the time together that makes the difference, not the meal itself.

So if you’re faced with a career decision between more money and more time for your kids,  think long and hard about which is the best choice for both you and your family. You obviously have to earn enough to keep a roof over your family’s heads (and that can be a challenge in and of itself here in New York City). But beyond that, your time may be worth more in the long run.

By the way, Jonathan is not just spouting theory. He personally left a career as a high-powered attorney to become a yoga instructor (now yoga entrepreneur), blogger, and writer. His blog has lots of great insights on career issues, blogging, and other topics.

What Did You Accomplish Today?

March 21st, 2008

Written by Pamela Skillings

to do list
Decades ago, our grandparents would have had easy answers to that question. They would have pointed at a field harvested, a box of widgets manufactured, or at least a pile of papers processed. For knowledge workers in the Information Age, it is much harder to identify the tangible results of a day in the office.

Almost everything that we do is virtual. We debate in meetings, answer emails, fight through bureaucracy, and type away on our computers. The result for many is frustration and decreased job satisfaction. A great article by Jared Sandberg in The Wall Street Journal analyzes the effect of intangible work results on employee satisfaction and makes some great points.

I was struck by the quotes from successful knowledge workers who said that they envy people with lower-paying and less prestigious jobs that offer immediate and tangible feelings of accomplishment. One insurance broker even cited his envy of  Mr. Fred Flinstone, who always seemed so satisfied to slide down that dinosaur’s tail when the whistle blew at the end of a work day at the quarry.

The article also speculated that these feelings of frustration may be partially responsible for the boom in weekend do-it-yourselfers. A management consultant confessed that she took up needlework to get the feelings of control and accomplishment that she was missing at work.

I can definitely relate to the sentiments quoted in the article. I used to leave the office at the end of the day exhausted, but feeling like I had just spent hours running on a hamster wheel. Not every day, but far too often.

I don’t think this feeling is inevitable in the Information Age, though I do think it’s hard to avoid in many bureaucratic corporate environments. Sandberg suggests that setting meaningful short-term work goals can help people feel more satisfied. Making to-do lists can also help. It’s an undeniably great feeling to cross an item off the list. Cutting back on meetings and unnecessary red tape can also make you more productive.

Working for myself, I still spend a lot of time on my computer, but I also feel a strong sense of accomplishment almost every day. The drawback of working for myself is that I never get to slide down the dinosaur’s tail when the bell rings at the end of the day. I often work late into the night, but I have autonomy over where, when, and how I work. For me, that has significantly boosted my job satisfaction even when my daily work results are hard to define.

What’s your take on the impact of sense of accomplishment on your job satisfaction?

Women in Finance Still Paid Less

March 13th, 2008

Written by Pamela Skillings

According to a new survey from the Financial Women’s Association, women who work in finance are still paid less than men for comparable work and have made little progress on the equal pay front since 1998.

96% of the 259 association members surveyed said that women are paid less. This is exactly the same response received to the same question a decade ago in the Financial Women’s Association’s 1998 survey. When asked about improvements over the last three years, only 10% felt that pay parity had improved.

The survey also revealed that nearly two-thirds of respondents consider their gender a factor that holds them back in their careers in the financial industry. Many cited a lack of access to decision-makers, mentors, or the type of assignments that are critical for career advancement. Some of the specific obstacles perceived as obstacles to women’s career advancement were:

  • "Old boys’ neworks"
  • Women failing to support other women
  • Female stereotypes
  • Family obligations
  • Limited access to flex time/part-time
  • Lack of political savvy and "ability to play the game"
  • Ethnicity

Is anyone else starting to feel really depressed? I worked in the financial services industry for many years and I must admit that I witnessed a lot of these obstacles firsthand. In at least one position, I know I earned significantly less than a male colleague with less responsibility, fewer years of experience, and lower performance scores. I also remember well feeling shut out of the old boys’ network and many lovely specific incidents that I won’t get into here.

So I’m not surprised that these factors are still issues. I guess what bothers me is the fact that these issues are still so common. And the fact that there have been no improvements since 2002 (at least) despite all of the happy corporate talk at big companies about diversity and on-ramping and encouraging women leaders.

Is the financial services industry particularly unfair to women or is this a symptom of a bigger issue across industries? In my research for Escape from Corporate America, I was encouraged to learn about great programs to promote diversity and flexibility at many forward-thinking and employee-focused firms. Unfortunately, these companies seem to still be exceptions to the rule when it comes to fair treatment of all employees, regardless of gender and ethnicity.

What do you think? I’d love to hear from financial services industry employees about their response to this survey and whether they think the results are representative.

Escape from Corporate America

March 1st, 2008

Written by Pamela Skillings

The latest brief from the "Escape from Corporate America" movement comes by way of a great article by in Condé Nast Portfolio. The piece focuses on the growing number of Millenial generation workers who are quitting their well-paid and prestigious corporate jobs to pursue careers with meaning.

The story cites research that has shown that workers born after 1980 (approximately 80 million of them) care much more about how they spend their time on the job than about how much money they make. For the Millenials profiled in Viana’s article, it’s all about passion — passion so strong they were willing to give up six-figure salaries to start new companies from scratch.

In my own research, I have found that members of the Millenial generation are much more confident and vocal about their desire for meaningful work, but they’re not the only ones seeking career fulfillment. I interviewed professionals from all age groups who walked away from job security to pursue their dreams.

I think it just takes a little bit longer for Gen Xers and Baby Boomers to feel ready to make such a dramatic career change — most have been trained to climb the corporate ladder and many have been taught that job fulfillment is a selfish idea. Meanwhile, the Millenials have been raised to believe they can be whatever they want to be — CEOs, entrepreneurs,  or rock stars.

While some mock the Millenial sense of entitlement, there may be lessons that the rest of us can learn from them. I think it’s inspiring to see people willing to give up fat paychecks to try to change the world or at least find work that they love. Check out the links below to the web sites of the corporate escapees profiled in Viana’s article (you’ll find links to other great corporate escapees in my "Escape Artists" blogroll over there –> ):

  • OldCampus.com — An online political hub started by former investment banker Manish Vora
  • Change.org — A social networking site that connects people who are passionate about the same issues, founded by former management consultant Ben Rattray.
  • GiveWell.net — An online hub for researching charities, launched by former hedge fund players Holden Karnofsky and Elie Hassenfeld.



Workplace Stress is a Business Problem That Companies Prefer to Ignore

February 17th, 2008

Written by Pamela Skillings

Workplace stress is the most frequently cited reason U.S. employees consider leaving their jobs, according to a new survey by consulting firm Watson Wyatt Worldwide.  Employees defined their  top causes of workplace stress as long hours, work/life balance, technologies that expand availability, and managers’ inability to recognize stress.

More surprisingly, another Watson Wyatt survey found that nearly half of employers (48%) acknowledge that stress caused by overwork is affecting business performance and 32% said that work/life balance issues were taking a toll on the bottom line.

Although companies know that workplace stress is a problem, very few are taking steps to address it. Only 5% said they are taking action to address stress caused by long hours. A more encouraging 16% said they are taking action to relieve stress caused by work/life balance issues.

Those companies that don’t address these issues may find themselves paying the price in health care and retention costs. According to a statement by Shelly Wolf,  national practice director of health and productivity at Watson Wyatt: “Too much stress from heavy demands, poorly defined priorities and little on-the-job flexibility can add to health issues. By leaving stress unaddressed, employers invite an increase in unscheduled time off, absence rates and health care costs — all of which hurt a company’s bottom line.”

Your BlackBerry is Making You Stupid(er)

February 11th, 2008

Written by Pamela Skillings

Did you know that your obsessive BlackBerry habit could make your thinking fuzzier than if you had just smoked a joint?  Dr Glenn Wilson, a psychologist at King’s College, London University,  conducted a survey on this subject back in 2005 on behalf of Hewlett Packard. According to Dr. Wilson, "Workers cannot think as well when they are worrying about e-mail or voicemails. It effectively reduces their IQ," says Wilson.

The tests conducted on 1,000 volunteers showed that those distracted by a mobile device or computer saw an average drop of ten IQ points while the stoners saw only a four-point drop. Interestingly, the impact was more pronounced in men than in women. Wilson also suggested that ongoing exposure to our  "modern culture of information could cause a permanent drop in intelligence."

Just thought you should know about yet another good reason  to learn to disengage from our technology when an important task is at hand. If your boss complains, just tell him you need all of your IQ points today.

And whatever you do, don’t check your BlackBerry while smoking a joint or you’re liable to do something truly moronic.