Corporate America: a New Story? (!)
For years, I’ve been thinking about changing corporate and workplace landscape. It recently was Father’s Day, and I know how our dads, and other providers (maybe that’s YOU!) are and have been affected by these changes, by the weight of job and family obligations, as well as the drive to succeed, make a contribution, and follow our own dreams…
Would you believe, there is a tie between the two? The changing corporate landscape, and a Cirque du Soleil show I attended? I know, it surprised me, too! Read on…
From Forbes telling Corporate America, “You need a new story“, to Dan Price, CEO and founder of the Seattle company that recently committed to an across the board minimum wage of $70K/year for all their employees by 2018, who is one business leader actually writing and living a new one that you may have heard of, and of course the flood of recent changes during and post-covid lockdowns especially, things are changing. For the better, I think, overall.
Father’s Day, Cirque du Soleil, and the death/rebirth of the American dream
Do you think your dad was happy at work? Did yours, like my father figures, believe their loyalty to their company would be valued and well rewarded? Do you believe this today about your organization, or the company for which the main bread winner in your family works?
My uncle, a blue collar machinist that worked his entire career for a large company, International Harvester, was caught among one of the first massive waves in the late 1980’s, which is now all too often the norm – companies not offering or making good on retirement promises.
My father, a white collar District Parts Manager and a 25+ year ‘company man’ for General Motors, saw his years of dedication similarly devalued when he needed to count on his retirement package and stocks many years later.
As I sat in the Cirque du Soleil performance called One Drop, (a one-time performance/fundraiser to celebrate World Water Day that raised $6M for water issue awareness – how double cool!), it wasn’t just the other worldly sets and seemingly non-human feats of acrobatic wonders and artistic expression on hyperdrive that caught and keep my attention.
There was a scene in the middle that portrayed, well, what we’re talking about here … performers in suits, on a treadmill heavily laden with computer keyboards, phones, and chains … a dark, oppressive set weighed down with office desks similarly shouldered with workplace burdens ….
I didn’t think at the time to try a photograph of the scene, and couldn’t find one online, but I want you to picture the feeling of utter drudgery, wheel spinning, and burden it carried … somehow, I bet you can …..
As Forbes said in their article Corporate American Needs a New Story,
“The old story was that loyalty was rewarded. You worked for the company for years, sacrificed family time, put in long hours, and subordinated your dreams to the company’s. In exchange, the company gave you lifetime employment, and a decent retirement.”
Well, as you all know, that story went away a long time ago. Layoffs, company implosions, and economic dire straits put paid to all that. No lifetime employment, no retirement, not even many jobs – they’re all gone..…”
(The Cirque story drones on, with the musical accompaniment repeating, repeating,
like that dreaded career treadmiil, going nowhere on all that spent energy…
“Lose your soul ….. lost control ….. lose your soul ….. lost control …..”)
Forbes continues, “Corporate America needs a new story….
“….What are the current raw data for the new story? Not good.
On the one hand, we read that corporate fat cats get huge payoffs, no matter if the company is suffering.
On the other hand, layoffs abound, and if you’re lucky enough not to get laid off, then you’re working ridiculous hours with less and less support from the company. “Give me 20 percent more next year with 20 percent less budget,” is the cry from the boss as he heads to the golf links. Stories are emotional, and the current emotions are angry and bitter....”
(Cirque’s story board now flashes on the larger than life screen,
“ …. If I don’t step into the light of my dreams, will I rot from within? ….”)
“.…Corporate America had better come up with a new story, one that gives us back our hope, and one that changes the view of Wall Street that it’s all about greed and self-interest. Why should we care about working for a big business today?
What’s the quest that we’re on? Where is the purpose, the excitement, the adventure, and where, oh where is the reward?
Until corporate America can find a new story to tell, one that is as compelling as the old one was, trust is going to be fragile, loyalty is going to be flimsy, and attitudes are going to be grumpy.
And if you don’t think all of that goes directly to the bottom line, then you need to wake up...”
The good news: some are, some companies, are writing their own new story. While some companies continue to try to squeeze every last drop & then some from employees left feeling unappreciated and used, there ARE progressive organizations out there learning how to do things more equitably, with benefits for all – customer/clients, shareholders, and the staff that support it all, at all levels.
Have you heard of the Seattle based credit card processing company, Gravity, who’s young founder/CEO announced recently a commitment to paying ALL employees a minimum of $70K/year?
Why did Dan Price do this?
” I wanted to spark a conversation, to get people thinking about a different way to do business.” he said.
He’s cutting his own previous $1M annual salary to $70K for at least the years it will take to implement his commitment to all staff. Impressive – and inspirational, I’d say!
Gravity isn’t the only great place to work – here’s a list (thanks again to Forbes!) of the 100 Best Companies to Work For. Some criteria used to determine rankings are those many of us would agree really matter.
From the article:
“This survey asks questions related to (the surveyed) employees’ attitudes about management’s credibility, overall job satisfaction, and camaraderie ….. and Culture Audit, which includes detailed questions about pay and benefit programs and a series of open-ended questions about hiring practices, methods of internal communication, training, recognition programs, and diversity efforts.”
Dan Price’s revolutionary business decision was influenced by happiness research done by Angus Deaton and Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize-winning psychologist. Quote from this New York Times article, “They found that what they called emotional well-being — defined as “the emotional quality of an individual’s everyday experience, the frequency and intensity of experiences of joy, stress, sadness, anger, and affection that make one’s life pleasant or unpleasant” — rises with income, but only to a point. And that point turns out to be about $75,000 a year.”
We all might not be making that magic $70K, or, may have a terrible boss that adds exponentially to your stress at any salary level (read “Seven Things Only Weak Managers Say“, and, follow it’s author, founder of The Human Workplace, too, who’s mission is “to reinvent work for humans” and “to bring humanity into the workplace and support people at the intersection of work and life.”) However, every one of us can help support these efforts within our own jobs, our own career choices.
As the closing scene of the One Drop said,
“Remember the people that sacrifice something for you,
because maybe that something was their everything….”
To our fathers and care givers that did their very best with the best they knew of the choices and agreements they thought they had, we thank you.
To those of us that stand on their broad shoulders, knowing now that we are in a different age, and have new resources, with new options emerging and new choices to make:
Step into your dreams … don’t let your soul rot on the career treadmill .... leap!
Soar! (I think we can all tell in an instant that the Cirque performers LOVE their work and are living their dreams!)
This is of course the drive behind work from home, remote work and the “great Resignation” as well. I originally wrote a version of this article in about 2018. Change IS coming, slowly, but surely… do you agree?
Be the light in your own story … be the one drop that makes a difference in your company, your family, your one “wild and precious life.”
(PS Here’s the 30 second One Drop trailer video for a (leaping! soaring!)jum p start of inspiration!)