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Why Work Sucks and What We can Do About It

There is an actual book called Why Work Sucks. I learned about it reading Joan Blades's and Nanette Fondas's The Custom-Fit Workplace: Choose When, Where, and How to Work and Boost Your Bottom Line, which answered that exact question -- and offered some concrete solutions.

As Blades and Fondas showed in their carefully researched book, The Custom-Fit Workplace, 55 percent of American workers are unhappy at their jobs. Many have told pollsters that they would forgo some pay in exchange for flexible work options. While job-sharing and other work flexibility tools exist, workers are reluctant to ask for them because we are in a recession.

But, actually, now is the time to ask, the authors argue. It may seem counterintuitive, but as Blades and Fondas laid out, flexibility is not only good for employee morale, but it is good for the bottom-line, too.

The hard part is asking. Allowing workers such flexibility calls not only for progressive management, but a complete change in our thinking and culture.

Today, our workplace does not work for most folks with caregiving responsibilities, or anyone who wants a life outside of work, because it is paternalistic. Even as we have moved from an assembly-line, industrial economy to an information, project-based one, work is set up for one person -- presumably a man -- to work long hours while someone at home -- presumably a woman -- cleans house and picks up after the kids. It is no wonder so many women in the workplace report being unhappy.

But it isn't any better for men, who, are more involved as parents and caregivers than ever before. Nearly 40 percent of men in 2008, compared to 19 percent in 1996, are their parents' main care provider, according to this article in the New York Times. Furthermore, with the decline of union jobs has gone a decline in worker rights. Thus we have this authoritarian work culture, in which workers are treated like children who must be micro-managed, and they are painted as slackers for requesting more flexible work options -- even if they would be working smarter!

As Blades and Fondas noted in their practical tips for employers, there is no evidence that offering flexibility -- with a trial period, which is key -- to employees will make them less productive, but actually, the opposite has occurred for those workplaces that have implemented such progressive policies, and have encouraged their workers to use them. Employers such as Costco, Cisco, SAS, Del Land, AT&T and Johnson Moving and Storage, have saved money on reducing staff turnover, energy costs -- AT&T actually closed an entire complex to let its employees work from home, saving the company $6 million --  and an increase in productivity as the workers, who reported being happier, were not embroiled in commutes and office politics.

Businesses have been able to utilize the skills of new mothers, by allowing them to bring their babies to work, or offering onsite childcare, or simply a safe place for women to express milk. Fondas and Blades were able to capitalize on nursing, tying a decrease in sick days to babies being nursed.

Companies save on re-training and recruiting new employees by allowing workers "custom-fit" jobs. And there are so many options out there for all kinds of industries and workers needing a certain schedule.


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