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White-Collar Sweatshop: The Deterioration of Work and Its Rewards in Corporate America Paperback – June 17, 2002
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
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From Publishers Weekly
Financial journalist Fraser fingers the "merger frenzy," ushered in by federal and state regulatory changes, for the layoffs, longer work days, shrinking benefits packages and the rise of contingency workforces that have beset white-collar workers since the early 1980s. As soon as hostile takeovers, leveraged buyouts and corporate bustups dominated the landscape, financial goals took priority over all other business considerations, making cost cutting, layoffs and benefit reductions the order of the day. The single-minded pursuit of these strategies, Fraser opines, has gradually transformed the paternalistic workplace familiar to white-collar workers circa 1979 into our present Darwinian arena, which Fraser characterizes as a sweatshop. Through interviews with white-collar workers and references to various studies, she charts adverse trends for workers in such industries as banking, communications and high technology. In her attempt to put a human face on the impact of these changes, each page is strewn with generic quotes about uncaring management and pervasive stress that portray workers as powerless before their employers ("There's something so unfair about all this"; "the company's attitude is, This is the way of the world. If you don't like it, go somewhere else"). Considering her stark portrait of bitter and forlorn white-collar workers, Fraser's proposed remedy sounds both hollow and nave, as she calls for workers to restore balance in the workplace by lobbying for reduced workweeks, reasonable productivity goals and limits on the use of contingent labor. Agent, Sloan Harris, ICM.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Why amid record levels of employment and a booming economy, asks Fraser, are so many people unhappy? Fraser is currently the financial editor at Inc. magazine. She has documented workplace dissatisfaction over the last four years and comes to the conclusion that today's white-collar worker faces an "epidemic" of overwork and stress, has no time for family or personal interests, lacks long-term financial security, and suffers uncertainty wrought by corporate and technological change. Although Scott Adams has made light of these problems with his Dilbert cartoon strip, he has also given them validity. At the same time, though, others have suggested that these complaints are simply selfish whining. Certainly, Fraser's "sweatshop" is hyperbole, but she does offer a justifying explanation. Regardless, the sheer number of people--across a wide range of industries--eager to tell their tales of woe indicates something is amiss. Fraser interweaves these stories with supporting data and research to document disconcerting levels of malaise in the workplace. David Rouse
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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She wrote, "If there is any lesson that the 1980s and 1990s have taught white-collar workers, it is that they can be replaced easily." (Pg. 35) She adds, "Some corporations maintained robust hiring schedules after, or even during, layoff phases. This gave them the option of replacing higher-paid, older workers with less expensive junior staffers and part-timers or consultants who would not qualify for costly benefit packages." (Pg. 41)
Noting that "most businesses, despite having thrived during the past decade, have cut away at their benefit packages even more than at white-collar compensation levels... It's another facet of the work-harder-for-less-mind-set that drives today's cost-conscious business leaders (many of whom are sheltered from the pain by supplementary benefit packages reserved for chief executives and top corporate officers)." (Pg. 58) She observes, "layoffs, downsizings, and other human-resources-related cutbacks have thrived, all within a healthy business world. That's because the 'sweatshop' economy is insatiable and its ultimate arbiter is Wall Street. Its goals are governed by a single overriding assumption: the only bottom line that matters is the corporate bottom line." (Pg. 68)
She records, "Not every employee stayed on at a troubled company... But large numbers of men and women did---accepting heavier and heavier workloads, often while their salaries and benefit packages were frozen or reduced... many found it difficult, if not impossible, to cut ties when they still believed in the 'rightness' of a business world build upon mutual loyalty." (Pg. 126) She asserts, "Corporations... encourage executives and surviving employees not to dwell too much on any of the human costs involved in cutbacks... if staffers DID spend too much time thinking about the suffering of their former colleagues... job-stress levels might rise so high as to prevent people from meeting the ever-increasing productivity goals that usually accompany workforce reductions." (Pg. 167)
She argues, "Workloads have gotten so heavy that free time really does seem an unimaginable luxury for men and women in all kinds of jobs and industries across the United States. Cell phones, laptops, and other workplace technologies loom as inescapable, since without them white-collar staffers cannot hope to meet the '24/7' demands of their employers... many instead lost the ability to relax, concentrate on their families, and pursue leisure interests safe from intrusions from their workplaces... Americans were working harder by the end of the 1990s than their counterparts in Britain, France, Germany, and even Japan... What was it all for?" (Pg. 200)
This is a very insightful analysis of an increasingly prevalent problem in the modern workforce.
I say "unfortunately" because technically it really is a good book. It is well-written and well-researched and the author really has captured a good deal of what's wrong with the workplace these days, so it's not that it was executed poorly. In fact it was often too on target. I found myself growing increasingly uncomfortable reading some of the accounts of corporate sadism. Like a rape victim who reads another woman's account of her ordeal or a veteran who reads about another soldier's experience in a desperate firefight these accounts can be very exhausting to get through at times.
The problem I had was that despite really nailing the problem the author has little to offer in the way of solutions (or hope) other than what seemed to me to be wish-upon-a-star platitudes. Now, it's really not fair to expect that one person should have the answer to over 30 years of corporate greed and profit-addicted short sightedness. Still, I felt many times that reading this book was a waste of my time since I already knew how messed up things were; I was looking for relief not a chance to relive the horror.
If you want an accurate, often excruciating, blow-by-blow account of why work [is no good] and why no matter how hard you work you will earn less and less and still get laid off then this book may be for you. If you pretty much know why you're getting shafted at work but want to find a way to avoid the pain then you probably should pass this one by.