It’s job insecurity, stupid

Big news of today is that U.S. Americans are, in record numbers, dissatisfied with their jobs. 

No big news is that two of the three guesses of the experts regarding this matter are at best redundant:

(1) people who are unhappy with their jobs are underemployed because of the economy, which does not explain why dissatisfaction continued to increase even when we had a strong economy, and

(2) people who are unhappy with their jobs are unhappy because health insurance and other factors have cut into their wages, effectively reducing what they earn.  This point does partially explain why workplace unhappiness continued to grow even during the good times, although it sort of cancels out that fondly-held wishful thinking among employers that fat paychecks do not equal happiness.   And it does not address a core issue; in fact, none of the theories I read did. 

What needs to be addressed?  The fact that our present work environment breeds bullies like rabbits at a fur farm.  How?  Job insecurity.  Bullies thrive on making others feel, well, bullied — and being able to threaten people’s jobs and emotional well-being without fear of retribution is a bully’s paradise.

I started to work over 30 years ago.  It was different back then.  Yes, we had our malcontents — I was often one of them — but the majority of people felt secure and, if not outright happy, then at least content with their jobs.  You could depend on your job being there for decades to come, and your coworkers became an extended family.

As the years went by, that sense of security and permanence slipped away.  (I commented on a key reason for this a few days ago.) Along with the security went the real teamwork and comradery.  Nowadays what one is left with is something akin to a jungle, complete with eyes glaring out of bushes and sharp teeth and claws digging into one’s back.  Life at work is precarious and cheap.

When management promotes this, it is called bullying.  Having been a bullying victim several times before I was forced to quit my secretarial career, I can write a book about it — and probably will someday, naming names and places.

As I said, the last and most notable time, the bullying cost me my career.  In that situation my primary bully was a nurse-turned-manager (although in my case, she had two arrogant doctors unwittingly assisting her).  She was well-known throughout the organization as a bully, and mine wasn’t the first career she had either damaged or ended.  In fact, soon after I started there I was told by an outside source that Nurse Bully had recently driven out a well-regarded secretary whose career at that facility predated hers (“watch your back,” said this person, “they go through a lot of secretaries here…”).  Later I found out about an extraordinary story: at some point Nurse Bully had fired two secretaries on the same day, and they both went to H.R. and got their jobs back immediately.  I’ve never heard a story like that before or since.

The career of my immediate predecessor ended equally as badly as that of her predecessor, although that didn’t happen for some months after I started, because this young woman was herself a tough little corporate-game player who managed to get herself promoted, which is why I was hired.  But in the end it wasn’t enough to save her career in that facility; she ended up getting mowed down by the 200-lb. bowling ball called Nurse Bully just like the rest of us did.

The point of all this is that in spite of the tangible results of her serial bullying, management refused to do anything about Nurse Bully even though she was not only a bully, but an incompetent manager (incompetence and bullying tend to go together — and the bullying tends to be directed at underlings who threaten the bully by being competent in their own roles).  I understand she’s still there, blithely untouched by anything she’s done to anyone else.  Why is anybody’s guess, but the point is that most bullies seem to go unpunished for far too long, free to multiply the damage they cause for ages before anything happens to them.  Some go through their entire careers unscathed.

Because of all this I maintain that the issue of job security must be strongly considered, and this business of bullying — and it is a business by now, as it ‘s so institutionalized — is a byproduct of the lack of job security that needs to be addressed.  Bullies need to lose their jobs before anyone else does, period.  Management needs to stop protecting them, or at least figure out why they are being protected and eliminate whatever it is doing the protecting.  What’s in it for management?  Increased worker satisfaction and retention (starting with management’s own intention to retain workers, which has to be more than words on paper), and reduced healthcare costs — even if wages remain static.

That’s right — while some people may be underemployed these days, and many are losing increasingly substantial parts of their static paychecks to health insurance companies (Fat Man, do you hear me?  No?  Oh’re deaf), it’s not the whole story.  The rest of the story is that bullies are costing U.S. business billions — and bullies are partially a byproduct of job insecurity.

I’ll wager that by increasing job security so that everyone doesn’t feel so damn scared, you will reduce satisfaction for bullies and ultimately, bullying itself.  The recalcitrant cases like Nurse Bully, the bitch I worked for, could be sent off for professional help or just plain old fired, which would embarrass at least some of them into behaving like human beings.  (But no, I do not feel that even being fired would get anything through the thick skull of Nurse Bully.)

To put it very briefly once again, the issue of job satisfaction is strongly related to job security, and bullying is often a byproduct of the lack of job security.

It’s just a thought.


One Response

  1. […] even a good review can have its uses.  Remember Nurse Bully?  Yes, that’s the bitch I used to work for…the one who helped drum me out of a job […]

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