Thursday, November 17, 2022

WSJ's Kessler Continues His Rants Against "Quitters", The Jobless And 'Aspirational' Seekers - He Should Check Out Iceland

WSJ columnist Andy Kessler is at it again, dissing those who he believes "quit" their jobs out of no good reason, or refuse to kowtow to their corporate overlords demands.  What is it with this guy who keeps needling those American workers trying for a better work-life balance, or more humane conditions (so they don't have to wear Depends because of 1 min. restroom breaks) or who just aspire to something better to fill their time.  Kessler begins his latest rant (The Decline of Work, Nov. 14, p. A17) thus:

"You hear these all the time now. “I want a career with a purpose,” which usually means an activist. Or “I need a good work-life b a l a n c e . ” which suggests someone doesn’t want to work very hard. Gimme a break. The CEO of a Fortune 500 company told me he recently spent an entire afternoon discussing his company’s pet-bereavement policy. He asked the human-resources folks, “Let me get this right, someone’s goldfish dies, and they get a week off from work?”

Kessler can belittle such requested bereavement time but in fact it is more often a relative who died of Covid complications, or a child's drug (fentanyl) death.  In any case, I would not trust any CEO of a Fortune 500 company, the same bunch that in the 1990s designated age 50 for males as the best age for downsizing - given productivity was on a descending curve from that point.

And, reviving his earlier Sept. polemic against "quitters" Gessler then writes:

"Work has become a dirty word. Cyber bohemians just want to dream and stream. And now this: The New York Times ran an opinion piece titled “How to Fight Back Against the Inhumanity of Modern Work.” What? Paper cuts are a bigger risk these days than losing an arm in a loom. Still, I thought the piece would be about dirty jobs— the hardships of coal miners, the plight of burnt-out nurses or the inhumanity of waking up at 5 a.m. to milk cows. Nope. The author complained about digital monitoring— coders, cashiers and others being tracked by evil bosses, who are measuring productivity. Gasp! Has society become that spoiled? Apparently so."

This is no joke, son.  American workers are now tracked relentlessly at work, every move they make, every time they use the restroom and every keystroke to their laptops. In lower paying jobs – like at Amazon or Target - the monitoring is already ubiquitous: not just at Amazon, where the second-by-second measurements became notorious, but also for Kroger cashiers, UPS drivers and millions of others. Eight of the 10 largest private U.S. employers track the productivity metrics of individual workers, many in real time, according to an examination by The New York Times.

Now digital productivity monitoring is also spreading among white-collar jobs and roles that require graduate degrees. Many employees, whether working remotely or in person, are subject to trackers, scores, “idle” buttons, or just quiet, constantly accumulating records. Pauses can lead to penalties, from lost pay to lost jobs.

Some radiologists actually report seeing scoreboards showing their “inactivity” time and how their productivity stacks up against their colleagues’. At companies including J.P. Morgan, tracking how employees spend their days, from making phone calls to composing emails, has become routine practice.  This shows the massive corporate surveillance has even migrated to elite jobs and professions.  

Indeed, architects, academic administrators, doctors, nursing home workers and lawyers have all described growing electronic surveillance over every minute of their workday. They echoed complaints that employees in many lower-paid positions have voiced for years: that their jobs are relentless, that they don’t have control — and in some cases, that they don’t even have enough time to use the bathroom.  Many white-collar workers described being tracked as “demoralizing,” “humiliating” and “toxic.” Micromanagement is becoming standard, they said. And it makes them want to search for more fulfilling as opposed to de-humanizing work.  Which Gessler will never get given he’s ensconced at a nice air-conditioned office, with donuts and coffee at the ready and only one column a week to churn out.

Among the saddest anecdotes from this cruel "post-pandemic"  era is the plight of grief ministers, counselors.  Surveillance metrics are now being applied to spiritual care for the dying. The Rev. Margo Richardson of Minneapolis became a hospice chaplain to help patients wrestle with deep, searching questions, e.g.  “How am I going to face my own death?”  She and her co-workers could turn off their trackers and take breaks anytime, as long as they hit 40 hours a week, which the company logged in 10-minute chunks. During each of those intervals, at some moment they could never anticipate, cameras snapped shots of their faces and screens, creating timecards to verify whether they were working. Any interruptions, or no digital activity, means pay being docked. Beyond that, any snapshot in which they had paused or momentarily stepped away could cost them 10 minutes of pay. 

By its very nature dying defied time planning or timed quotas. Patients broke down, canceled appointments, drew final breaths. This left the clergy scrambling and in a perpetual dilemma as per their pay.  In the words of one grief minister: “Do I see the patients who earn the points or do I see the patients who really need to be seen.

Clocking and surveillance had transformed the whole grief counseling experience into one of monetizing transactions.  The type of attention and time intensive care that had drawn ministers and grief counselors to this work could now impede their point totals and earnings. In the word of one quoted in a NY Times piece:

“You have to be in front of your computer, in work mode, 55 or 60 hours just to get those 40 hours counted and paid for,"

Which is sickening. But does Kessler care?  Judge for yourself, as when he writes:

"It isn’t news that the U.S. is a service economy, yet too often the focus is on labor vs. capital, as if we still make widgets. Unions want to arm-wrestle value from capital and force higher wage payouts than is economically sound. "

Actually, most unions simply want to ensure workers have more choices, especially in regard to time - family time, and person al time. If the pandemic taught us anything it's that time is a precious commodity, and we squander it or misuse it only with potential regret.  Value from capital?  Only to the extent that capital does not rule or dominate over our humanity and human choices. When it does we cease to be viable, living beings but mutate to cogs. 

The most urgent complaint across professions and jobs -  spanning industries and incomes - is that the working world’s new clock domination is just plain wrong. It's not only inept at capturing offline activity, but totally unreliable at assessing hard-to-quantify tasks and prone to undermining the work itself.  In other words clock domination has become inimical to human welfare and I'd argue, to the growth of capital itself - because of the inextricable loss of productivity.

Kessler again:

This blatantly disregards human capital—what workers learn on the job is theirs to keep. We increase productivity and wealth by having workers figure out how to do more with less from the bottom up. So please stop paying people not to work. The best antipoverty program is a job because a job’s value comes from this increase in human capital. One-time payments are a waste."

In other words it was a "waste" for workers - released because of shutdowns - to get those American Rescue Act payments of $1200 each, say to buy groceries or pay off some bills.  Kessler, in fact, was against giving any money to anyone - including parents at home with kids - to get a red cent. They ought to have lived off their 401ks rather than get boosted unemployment benefits or gov't handouts.

Kessler's final takeaways? Say those of you just released from Twitter, or being released from Amazon?

"Every (legal) job adds value, and if you slack off or don’t deploy your human capital and live up to your potential, you’re stealing societal wealth from the rest of us. That’s selfish.... 


Though it is still hard to find cashiers or construction workers, layoffs are rampant in overbuilt Silicon Valley, a canary in the coal mine. Half of Twitter, 11,000 at Meta, plus Stripe, Zillow, Snapchat, Netflix, Coinbase, Robinhood, Salesforce,...Advice from Mike Rowe: 'Stop looking for the ‘right’ career, and start looking for a job. Any job. Forget about what you like'. Focus on what’s available. Get yourself hired.....And please don’t ask for pet-bereavement benefits."

 Ah yes, conflation of any grief time off with 'pet bereavement' again.   Kessler's message, not much different from the one in September, is for all American workers to just suck it up and take the indignities so long as you get that paycheck. Never mind you might get zero family time or even personal time - or are docked pay for being too long in the rest room. (Because you got diarrhea from that cafeteria burrito)   This is the new normal, and no more government "handouts" so we can get inflation under control. (Which the GOP House is now going to blame on "excessive" Social Security benefits).  

If the American reactionary media - like the WSJ - took time to look at other nations, like Iceland, they'd see that less working time has massive benefits and there'd be less quiet quitting, and no "great resignation".  In Iceland a pilot program for working 4 days a week has been immensely successful, with workers there now "spending more time exercising, doing household chores, engaging in hobbies and spending more time with family" - according to a recent NATION piece ('Get A Life', November, p. 12)  As one of the Icelanders quoted in the piece put it: 

"Reduced hours shows increased respect for the individual. That we are not just machines that just work. We are persons with desires and private lives, with families and hobbies."

Totally spot on. And one wishes those like Gessler and his "nose to the grindstone" ilk at the WSJ would get that too!

See Also:


by Jim Hightower | September 16, 2022 - 6:10am | permalink

— from OtherWords


For generations, workers have been punished by corporate bosses for watching the clock. But now, the corporate clock is watching workers.

Called “digital productivity monitoring,” this surveillance is done by an integrated computer system including a real-time clock, camera, keyboard tracker, and algorithms to provide a second-by-second record of what each employee is doing.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos pioneered use of this ticking electronic eye in his monstrous warehouses, forcing hapless, low-paid “pickers” to sprint down cavernous stacks of consumer stuff to fill online orders, pronto — beat the clock, or be fired.


Gen Z workers demand flexibility, don’t want to be stuffed in a cubicle

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