Are You Pro-Business or Pro-Worker? Why is That?

by Darwin on April 26, 2010

I often think back to my teenage jobs and wonder how those experiences translated into my current outlook on work, business, capitalism and life in general.  One theme I used to encounter frequently as a low-wage unskilled worker was the plight of the business owner vs. the plight of the worker.  I recall being surrounded by employees who were continuously criticizing the business owner or corporation as being “cheap” or not treating them right.  It was usually the same cliques that had been around for a while, often older and likely to be doing the same type of work throughout their adult life, but sometimes it was a teenager like myself.  Occasionally, I’d play devil’s advocate and ask why it is they feel that way or what their suggestions were for management to be more “equitable”.  The answers ranged from higher pay to the notion that employees should all “share the profits”.  I questioned why the company would do that if they didn’t have to.  The employees after all were usually in and out of the place every 6 months to a year, they never put up a dime of their own money to start the business and they had nothing vested in the business.  These suggestions didn’t make sense to me, but they made perfect sense to the high-minded 30-somethings working the register.  I get that experience and company loyalty should translate into increased pay over time (that’s what a raise is), but the sense of entitlement in the environment seemed over the top when I put myself in the owner’s shoes.

The Feed Store

One of my first jobs was at a feed store which both delivered feed to surrounding farms as well as a retail store in town which catered to all your typical domestic animals as well as farm animals and horses.  The owner was a 50-something guy who apparently was an early investor (or co-founder allegedly) in Border’s Books but sold out very early and missed out on a huge windfall.  He had parlayed a mild payout from years prior into this feed store.  As I recall, I was paid the going rate for unskilled labor which was a bit over minimum wage.  I worked probably 20 hours per week and I got a break or two per day.  During the summer that I worked, we drove around in a truck, listened to music, ate lunch where and when we wanted and got some exercise to boot – not bad work as I saw it.  The owner also threw us a Christmas party at his expense and gave a small Christmas bonus.  And he was Jewish.

What I found to be somewhat annoying was the constant jabs employees took behind his back about how rich he was, how cheap he was, how much more they should be paid, etc.  It just didn’t sit well with me based on my assessment.  I mean, the guy was 50-something driving a crappy car and working around the clock running his store while trying to open another.  His son worked at the store too and his wife did book-keeping.  I’d been to his house once and it was a typical middle class suburban home.  Outwardly, he didn’t appear to be particularly wealthy.  And what if he was?  Good for him.  He had over the years taken substantial business risks with his own money, put his own blood, sweat and tears into his business, and paid his employees the going market rate.

The Grocery Store

Another teenage gig of mine was a ShopRite grocery store.  I used to work relatively fast and efficiently.  I enjoyed the work, the pace, and of course a paycheck.  I recall on certain tasks like inventory, restocking shelves, etc., I’d get a little attitude from some of my co-workers that by working so fast, “management would expect it to get done that quickly all the time”.  Reading between the lines, they wanted me to slow down.  I was ruining their gig.  The cigarette breaks and goofing off would be in jeopardy if they were expected to increase their output.  I wasn’t out to be a hero or martyr myself for the local supermarket, but this type of mentality and behavior started to educate me on the thinking of “the worker” vs. “the business”.  As a young child I imagined workers and the business existed in some sort of harmony looking to achieve a common goal (textbook naivety), the reality was that many employees viewed productivity as a zero-sum game.  The more productive they were, the harder they’d be expected to work – and the more overtime hours would dry up.  Thus, slow down and demand more.

Present Day

Aside from my current workplace, I hear from a lot of people in professional roles – both friends and in comments and posts from around the blogosphere.  A lot of people are rightly concerned and annoyed by the financial crisis and the indirect impact it’s had on their incomes.  It’s tough not to be frustrated when you hear that your company beat earnings expectations by a few cents, yet there’s no raise this year.  On the flipside, what’s the competition doing?  If your company’s competitors are doing the same thing or your industry is facing increasing pressure from various forces (overseas manufacturing, declining product relevance, whatever), while the current quarter’s profit may be front and center, perhaps company leadership is looking more strategically at just how difficult things are going to be for the company years down the road and they’re making tough choices to stay competitive now and avoid layoffs outright.  Some people view what’s going on as the unfortunate by-product of another boom-bust cycle with the inevitable casualties ranging from layoffs to decreased real wages, bonuses and benefits in the present with the expectation that during the next boom, jobs will be growing, competition to retain workers will result in increased compensation and things will improve overall.  To the contrary, some people, even in relatively high positions voice surprisingly negative views on how their company treats their employees.  In many cases, they’re right.  In some cases, it just doesn’t seem to reflect reality.

In these various relationships and interactions, I’ve started to view people as being in one of two camps – pro-worker or pro-business.  If you’ve followed me for a bit, you can tell I’m pro-business.  I get why corporations do what they do.  I sometimes don’t agree, but I see where they’re coming from.  I don’t mean to belittle or chastise the opposing view.  I mean, if I’m a miner at Massey Energy I probably wouldn’t be feeling very pro-company these days.  In some businesses, nepotism runs rampant.  And how could an ex-employee of Enron not be cynical about corporate America?  I think a lot depends on historical and personal perspective.  That leads to my question:

Are You Pro-Business or Pro-Worker?  Why

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1 Keith April 26, 2010 at 10:27 pm

I don’t think either camps are necessarily right. Having grown up working in my parent’s business, I understand how much capital (both time and money) that is required to make a business successful. I expect the owner of the business to profit disproportionately to me. However, at the same time, management needs to work to create the incentives that inspire loyalty from its workers. An employee who sees their coworkers laid off at the first whiff of a downturn just so that the management can make earnings for that quarter (and keep their bonus) will not have the incentive to put in the extra effort.

Personally, I have worked for both companies that cared about their workers and others that viewed their employees almost as advisories. I was much more willing to go the extra mile for the former.

2 Wizard Prang April 27, 2010 at 4:18 pm

In my younger years, I was, predictably a little Socialist toerag. I thought that I was entitled.

Then I grew up, figured out how the world worked and gravitated to the opposite end of the spectrum.

However, it it is also true that our corporate culture is majorly screwed up. Managers, Salespeople, Bean-counters and Personnel Jockeys have way too much clout, while engineers and designers – who actually build and make widgets – have too little. And CxOs are Horribly overpaid. And publicly-owned corporations are way too shortsighted.

Nevertheless, as Dave Ramsey puts it: “Your raise is effective when you are.”

3 jim May 5, 2010 at 2:18 pm

I am pro worker AND pro business. I support both. Workers and business need each other and one can’t succeed without the other and if one fails the other generally fails too. If their interests conflict then you have to find a reasonable and fair balance.

4 Budgeting in the Fun Stuff May 6, 2010 at 2:43 pm

For me, it’s a case by case basis. I was pro-business with the bowling alley I worked at in college since the owner sincerely cared about his minimum wage staff…sure, he was barely making a profit and I never got a raise, but he kept us in the loop and took suggestions seriously.

I an pro-worker where I am now since they spend millions on advertising but we’ve been on a salary freeze for 2 years. We also weren’t making comparable salaries to others in our field even before that. They still make profits but are using the economy as a no-raise excuse. They also will literally tell us we’d be easy to replace, so yeah, I’m pro-worker here.

5 Jeroen May 7, 2010 at 8:10 am

I think those 2 camps are too binary. Fr.ex: there is a huge difference between an entrepreneur business owner and management, who also have nothing on the line, just like other employees.

The thing I usually miss in these kinds of arguments are this: both business and workers should appreciate the POV of the other side, both should also be aware of the responsibilities they have toward each other and, especially, the rest of society. This is were the current corporate culture goes wrong, IMHO.

6 Valentina May 9, 2010 at 12:24 am

Were it that black and white … on the norm I am pro business. I have been an employee and an employer; worked for small business and corporate America and now I am an entrepreneur and each has its own shade of management, financial responsibility and production set of challenges.

Sadly, when I was an employee I too noted that there was a lot of backbiting and complaining, this was true in both the small business and in the Corporate America situation. In the case of the latter the grumbling was usually in the lower ranks – the ambitious were busy climbing the ladder and were looking to the rewards of higher pay, prestige and power. The lower ranks, the ones who seemed to stay there year after year were the ones that bellowed the most.

Generally speaking Corporate America has incredible options for those who want to improve, yet few take the option. With the small business owner that is really tough, there are times when the owner goes without pay in order to meet payroll and then having toughed it out with long hours and meager take home eventually strikes the mother lode – the employees often are not aware of the earlier sacrifices and then dump on the new good fortune of this small business owner.

Not everything is rosy in the land of business but you know what, without business the employees would be whistling dixie. They really do need to pick up their socks. Entitlement is running rife and its going to cripple our countries (Canada and US) if left unbridled.

7 Earn Cash Now May 17, 2010 at 7:01 pm

I started out working for a family lawn care business at the age of 11. then when I say my family making lots of money and I was stuck with the hourly rate I decided to make a change. I left the family business and started my own. I passed them in revenue per year and I just recently bought my first hotel. I am only 26 years old and I have a lot left to do to show that I am a business man, not a working man.

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