Thursday, November 29, 2007

You get what you give

Brian Sommer asks Why are we paying bonuses? He's reporting on the frustration among executives over bonuses as entitlements, mercenary employees, how to motivate employees, and diminishing consulting skills in the workforce. Which is a lot of ground to cover in a single post.

What stuck with me most was Brian's description of local Chicago execs complaining about their employees increasingly having a "what's in it for me" attitude.

Ok. Forgive me for not feeling the executives' pain here, but what exactly do these execs expect to happen when their businesses reward loyalty and job tenure with... what?

Let's list the disincentives mainstream contemporary US businesses have come up with:
If a company's hiring policies lead it to mostly hire rational people, then the rational and expected response to these disincentives is a mercenary attitude. To paraphrase John Maynard Keynes, when the incentives change, I change my behavior. What do you do?

This is what the "ownership society" looks like - and it looks an awful lot like every man for himself. I've got mine... and good luck to you.

Today's NY Times has an article that touches on this topic and, frankly, made me sad when I read it. What Do I Do? Depends on What Week It Is describes Sean Aiken's quest to work a different job every week for a year and is chronicled on

But here's the part that broke my heart (emphasis mine):

The 20-somethings who turn to One Week Job find in Mr. Aiken “an ideal of the unstable life,” says Penelope Trunk, the author of “The Brazen Careerist” (Business Plus, 2007), who blogs and lectures on the transformation of the workplace. “He sends the message ‘job-hopping is O.K.,’ ‘moving around is O.K.’”

That is a comforting message, she says, because while Gen Y talks of seeking passion and embracing what is new, that is just brave cover for a less comfortable truth. “The reality is they might prefer one job that would last forever and end with retirement, but that kind of job doesn’t exist anymore,” Ms. Trunk says. “The alternative, the instability, terrifies them. Sean Aiken is an example of how uncertainty and constant change can be O.K..”

No, the job-for-life doesn't exist anymore. That's the reality right now, and maybe forever. But it's a reality based on choices. And those choices have consequences. So execs, if your employees have a mercenary attitude, then you should be asking yourselves what is driving that response. It's not character defects. It's not a few bad apples. And it's not because people were just better back in the good old days.

You get what you give.

Photo: Good and Bad by vees

1 comment:

bunyeta said...

Ok, I'm not a techie, just a natural rabble rouser; and your observations make me want to go out and rouse the rabble! Something in the ethos of these times not only rewards executive greed but endorses the endentured servitude that feeds it. Bad enough to have slaves. But expect them to sing, too...?