Thursday, June 19, 2008

Work or modern slavery?

Ok. I've had it. There have been some general themes I've noticed lately and I just can't shut up about them any more. And one way or another, they all tie to work - my personal nemesis. 

Health Insurance

Some people have it, some people don't. Some people think it should continue to be privatized, some people advocate universal health care. Either way, right now the system sucks. 

It seems most people who have health insurance get it through their employer. What does that mean?
  1. your stuck with whatever insurance company your employment provides
  2. your stuck with whatever premiums they demand (ours is going WAY up this year)
  3. heaven forbid you get sick, change jobs, want to retire, or want to take some time off to actually live a little  - if you're not working, you don't have health insurance (unless of course you want to cough up a ridiculous sum of money a month to cover your butt)
How many people have stayed in jobs they hate because they need the health insurance? How many moms are working outside the home (who would rather be home) because they need health insurance? How many people would love to retire, but instead have to put in just a few more years because it will cost $800 A MONTH for insurance until age 65-67 (depending on when you were born) when social security kicks in? - Obviously I know someone in this boat right now and it make me mad!

Office Administration / Human Resources

I know money is tight even for businesses these days, but the way things used to work was if a company couldn't pay you as much as other places, there were non-monetary perks - maybe you got to wear casual clothes, or maybe you could have flex time, or an extra afternoon off every once in a while, or hundreds of other things we could think of if we took the time. Not any more obviously. No more perks. Want to work from home for a few hours a week - denied! Boss gives you a Friday afternoon off before a holiday weekend - no way, jose - HR will come back later and make you take those hours off your vacation allotment. And that raise you were promised a year ago, keep dreaming. 

YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME! I am watching this happen to friends and am completely disgusted. Would it kill companies or HR departments to be nice? I mean, are things going to fall apart if they practice a little compassion and kindness? The typical excuse is the "well, if we let one person do it, we have to let everyone do it." Bull!  If the person deserves it and his/her boss says it's ok, why is it anyone else's business?!?! And these people need to stay in jobs for financial security (or health insurance) so they put up with this crap. IT'S NOT RIGHT!

Ok. I'm starting to calm down. Heart is beating a bit slower....

So what's the deal with this whole work thing? Are we each just a part of a greater machine? Or are we people? And if we are people (which I'm sure is what, in all their political correctness, those lovely HR people would say), are we free or are we slaves? Cause from the look of it, companies are expecting us to be their personal slaves. Work until you drop? Live the life of dreams? It seems you can no longer expect to have both.

Thus far I've been lucky, I have a lot of flexibility with my job, but I'm wondering if the shoe is about to drop for me as well. So, anyone else out there seeing these same negative trends?


Beany said...

I agree with your sentiments on both points.

I am thinking of retiring from FT work in a 2-3 years and thinking about whether I can weather the lack of benefits. I did it reason I shouldn't be able to do so in my 30s...except now I have fear, uncertainty and doubt about my abilities.

HR is the bane of my existence.

eco 'burban mom said...

My husband keeps a life-strangling job for the insurance (we have 4 kids!) and the senority. He has been with this company for more than a decade, and our economy is so bad here in Michigan that fear keeps you in your job. No one wants to be the low-man on the totem pole or the new guy. If layoffs and cut backs happen, you are the first to go.

I am blessed, I work in a very flexible environment allowing me to work at home two days a week and keep my hours flexible on the other three days so I can be home with the kids after school. Of course, this means I don't make as much money as I could, but I think the trade off is worth it. Being pigeon-holed into a strict 8-5 would kill me for sure. I think I am more productive and more dedicated because of this benefit.

I wish more companies would understand - to keep highly productive workers, you need to treat them well. If you treat me like a prisoner, I might be the one most likely to carve a shank out of the plastic spoon that came on the deli lunch tray, dig my way out of the cubicle and escape!

Chile said...

I consider myself extremely fortunate that my sweetie has a much higher earning capacity than I do. We agreed years ago that it was perfectly doable to become a one income family, provided I "worked" at home.

We live very frugally and I work my butt off as the financial manager, tax adviser, personal shopper, gourmet chef, landscaper, home remodeler, housekeeper, and cheerleader of the home. Do I love my job? Not always. Do I love not having to work for an a$$hole? Well, sometimes I do (myself). Ha. I do occasional temp jobs when available to help with bills, but I can save so much money by staying home that it's often not worth it.

He does have to work a job he often dislikes, though, for income. Much less for insurance because we've taken our health into our own hands and actively work to avoid the medical industry as much as possible. In the 4 years at his current job, he's never even met our doctor and I've only one in once to meet him.

But, yeah, he hates being a wage slave. Here's hoping for a future where bartering skills and homemade items will be a viable option, not a pipedream.

Jennifer said...

I agree with you completely.

You know, I knew I was being groomed for quasi-slavery when I was in college, but I didn't really get it until recently. They had me as soon as I signed up, since my family is not rich and could not afford to send me to college without the help of loans (not as many as I could have had, I got grants and scholarships), but I felt, as I was walking across the stage at graduation 'they've got my ass', since I am in debt.

And I agree, I think it is sad that people have to stay in jobs they dislike for a service that is shoddy most of the time anyway (insurance) or at a job where they are insecure about their future.

We are hoping that one day, with preparation, that we could survive with one income so I could devote more time to upkeeping the house, gardening, cooking, food preservation, etc. That will be, however, after I can break my debt chains.

arduous said...

Interesting, we seem to be on the same page today regarding work....

I know several people who have stayed in jobs for the health insurance. It sucks. It also sucks for the companies such as GM because they aren't able to be competitive on a world market when they have to pay the insane health care costs. That's why, personally I believe the government should offer health care.

Heather @ SGF said...

beany - it really is scary. At some point in your 30's we seem to figure out we're not invincible. But it was so worth it to go to part time. I also enjoy a lot of flexibility in my job (I work 20 hours, but 10 of them are routinely from home). The problem is I really dont' enjoy what I do, so I'm keeping my eye out for what comes next. What I try to remember, is all the really cool stuff happens to us when we're scared, but we go for it anyway. Amazing things can happen, but only if we try. Good luck. I'm serious about the part time stuff - it's awesome.

eco 'burban mom - I agree. I don't think I could go back to the 8-5 even if I didn't have health issues. I've been really lucky as I also am able to work from home 2 days a week. It's wonderful to be able to get laundry done or even take a quick break to mow the lawn. So much more gets done, and I honestly believe I get more of my office work done at home. Unfortunately, I'm one of the rare few staff at the office that has this luxury. I'm wondering if I'm able to do because the "right" people just don't know - maybe somehow,I'm flying under the radar. And I feel guilty. While I'm enjoying all this flexibility, I see what is happening to my friends and it makes me sick. I don't want to work for an organization that does this to other people - people who work hard and are just trying to live their lives and be happy. It's just not right. I don't get it.

chile - that's awesome that you can work entirely out of the house (no/very little paid employment, anyway - if I'm understanding you right). I've thought about it - with my health being so crummy and we technically don't need my income. But at the same time I feel really fortunate for the flexibility and pay I have now and I'm trying to stick it out until some of those benefits aren't there. But honestly, what I'd love to do is not work at all and help my family more, get a garden going, volunteer, etc. I guess I'm just waiting for the right opportunity to come along. I sure hope its' coming...

jennifer - keep working towards that goal. It is totally do-able! I was able to move to part time when I was 29. It was hard work and I did a lot of "fluff-removal" (weeding out the things I considered unnecessary to being happy) and I made it. Good luck!

arduous - I noticed that too. Great minds think alike! I'm all for universal health care. I know another someone who can't get a doctor to help her (she thinks) because she doesn't have health insurance. But she's older and she farms her own land. It's all she has. Frankly, she just can't afford insurance. It breaks my heart that she can't get the help she needs. You know my hubby mentioned the other night - you hear all about these people who rally together when a co-worker's or community person is ill. They have a big fundraiser to help may for medical treatment. That's great, but why do we only do that when it's someone we know. Why can't we all pull together for the common man so the EVERYONE can be covered?

Katy said...

I see two sides of this coin. For one, I work with Employment lawyers so I have seen the mess Companies get themselves into when they try to be nice to their employees and a handful of them cross the line and start cheating and taking advantage of the company's linancey. It sucks because it makes it easy for these people to sue the company when they get fired and the HR people get reamed by lawyers for not sticking to a black and white interpratation of the policy. HR people don't like to be reamed by lawyers and Companies don't like to get sued. That's why they are reluctant to let things slide for one person. Because if they let it slide for one person once. They REALLY DO have to let it slide for everyone all the time. Don't yell at your HR department, thank your fellow workers that came before you and let your managers see how letting people slide can cost them hudreds of thousands of dollars in letigation.

On the flip side of that. Working in Employment law for a big law firm is not my dream job. I don't have my dream scheduale. Why do I stay here? Heath insurance. Becaue I'm 26 and I've had cancer 3 times so even if I wanted to fork out the extra cash to get my own insurance no one would insure me. Not to mention that I still have on going medical expensises that I would not be able to afford on my own. And, oh, yeah, I have a daughter who needs to go to a good school and have a roof over her head.

Do I feel like a slave instead of a worker? Yes. I'm a slave to the economic system that we have set up for ourselves. I don't blame the company I work for. Its capitalism. Its what happens when socialism is treated as a four letter word. When our politians are out there telling everyone that universal health care would mean that we would spend months on a waiting list just to see a doctor about a cold. One where no one can afford their homes because of how much they would have to tax us.

Does our system suck? Yes. But I think we are being to nice to our government when we let them pass the buck of social welfare off their door step and onto that of companies. Companies were created by people to serve a certain function. Weather it was to give people legal advice or educate kids, or sell pet supplies, the company wasn't formed to give people health care. It wasn't formed to make sure you have money when you retire. Why are we not standing up and telling the government that enough is enough. They need to start doing their jobs.

Sorry for the long post (please excuess all my spelling).

maryann said...

Try working for mega health insurance company and having your benefits suck worse than any I've ever had. Thank goodness I left and have decent health insurance now, especially since I'm pregnant and will have to return to work full time for the health insurance. See hubby is still working for mega health insurance company with shitty benefits. All so they can pay the upper management out lifetime rewards, oh don't get me started... if anyone actually understood the amount of money the friggin company wasted on stupid shit, it really is disgusting, people can't get treatment but the ceo's can make an extra few million a year. My thoughts for what they are worth is that health insurance should NOT be a for profit industry.

Anonymous said...

last year i left a job i loved due to politics and general bullcrap. i was stuck in the "you can't do that cos you don't have the right credentials" (never mind i was performing at an exceptional level for 1/2 the money my credentialed co-workers were receiving for the identical job). when i decided to return to school and get the credentials, i was told that it would be 'impossible' to adjust my work schedule around classes and that couldn't i just take 1 class a semester. oh sure... one class for the rest of my ever loving life! so i left for an uncertain future working for a staffing agency. what i discovered was, eventhough i'd lost my insurance, i'd gained freedom. no more worrying about losing my jobs because a child was sick, no stress choosing between my dying father and paying the bills. i work when i want, where i want for the hours i want. sure there are times when i may be short hours in a week, but there's always next week. as a family we've downsized and simplified. the kids have learned that cable tv is not essential to quality living, vegetables can and do grown in their own backyard and books borrowed from the library are just as good as the ones fresh off the barnes and noble shelves. the trade off has been well worth it and now i look back on my 80 hour work weeks with a sense of "what was i thinking?!" i'm grateful for the opportunities that have presented themselves.

Kathryn B. said...

I hear you about health care. I think it's a unanimous opinion that our current system sucks.

Have you read the book Work to Live? It's a good sort of read when you start feeling the way you do about work.

Heather @ SGF said...

katy - no worries about spelling errors - I do it all the time :) Thanks for bringing up the other side of things. I totally understand that companies feel like if they give one person the option then they have to give everyone the option, but isn't this just a way for them to simply not deal with it at all? I mean if they just say no, they don't have to take the time to deal with each individual situation. Now, where I work, it turns out the policy says you CAN work from home. For my friend (who works where I do), her application to work from home was approved at 3 different levels inside our organization, but when it went to the parent organization (who are supposed to be facilitators, not dictators), it was denied. Why is it their business? If this person's boss says it's ok and our business office says its ok, and even our head administrator says it's ok, it should be ok.

But don't get me wrong, I understand that people take advantage, and the privilege should be taken away from those people if they abuse it. But to not allow anyone any flexibility because "someone" might abuse it, isn't fair. And I won't list them here, but the reasons they gave were 1) completely bogus, and 2) one of the most ridiculous things I've ever heard in my life. And your totally right, if government would step in and take care of business, some of the things I mentioned wouldn't be issues at all. Let's hope the next administration has more sense.

Oh, one more thing. Give your daughter a big hug from me for having a Mom who's an amazing survivor. I hope they finally managed to get the cancer. All my good vibes going your way...

maryann - I totally agree. We keep hearing horror stories about the things insurance companies deny because they're in the business to save money, not lives. Right now, we're part of a not-for-profit HMO and really like it. It's won all kinds of awards, but even they are feeling the pressure to make ends meet - doctors feel rushed to see more patients, etc. It's a crummy business to be in. Someone's making money off it and you can be sure it's not the average employee. BTW - Congrats on your pregnancy! I hope you are able to find a job you really like. There are great jobs out there, for sure! We just have to find them.

bloneoverboard - that's awesome! Good for you for taking that leap! I've thought about doing the whole temp thing too. It does seem like a very freeing thing - picking and choosing which jobs you'd like to take and if you want to go on vacation, you just don't do any jobs that week. 80 hrs in your old job? When did you sleep? You'd have to wipe me off the floor!

kathryn - never heard of it, but thanks for the recommendation. Sounds like a great read. I'll see if I can order it via Interlibrary Loan from our library. Thanks!

Going Crunchy said...

Oh YES do I hear you. We can't afford insurance for my husband, just for the kids. My work pays for mine.

I'm brainstorming my own side business and trying to figure out how to do benefits if it ever launched.


I used to never worry about insurance in my 20's, but now it is a major concern as we are older and have kids.

Theresa said...

All this health insurance talk makes me glad I'm Canadian, although privatization is creeping in up here as well. And coincidentally, today two colleagues and I had a meeting with our deputy minister essentially pointing out why it would be good to keep us in their employ rather than transferring to another ministry. It is pretty disheartening when you bust your butt at work and be ignored at best, ridiculed at worst, and then have to fight for the chance to stay for more of the same treatment. Bah. Frustrating. I love my work, but there are a lot of days I hate my workplace.

Heather @ SGF said...

going crunchy - sweet! I'd love to have my own business. My dad has one but it seems like there's so much extra work and red tape because of laws and taxes and all. I'd love to have a small deli or a bakery or ice cream shop - something fun.

theresa - oh good heavens I hope it doesn't get privatized. I always thought the Canadian system was so cool. So how does it work with the private one plus privatized on top of it? People just pay extra for extra special benefits?

CFM said...

It is amazing how things change! Ok, I am in my 40's (but don't feel like I'm that old)...when I started working (in my teens) you worked hard and got paid. But, I quickly learned that there were lots of people out in the world that made a living on the backs of others. I told myself then I would not support those people!!

That trend has gotten MUCH worse if you ask me!! HR departments of the perfect example. What do these people do that is worth paying for.... Don't get me started! Insurance companies are another!!! Again, don't get me started.

I worked in the stressful corp world for 10 years. That was enough for me. I was not happy at all supporting people who didn't have the same work ethic. Not to mention that I was pretty DARN tired of making money for other people!!!

So, I simplified my life....joined the family business. Took a major cut in pay and SHAZAM!!! I was happy. I had free time to do what made me happy, less stress, etc. Sure I still work. I work hard! I am writing this post from a cold (unheated office) in Argentina. But, I get to decide when, where and how I work.

What did I give up? Well for starters a BIG salary and BIG lifestyle. I never wanted the lifestyle and never knew a BIG salary brought those headaches.

Believe me the trade off was FULLY worth it (at least for me)!!! Now I get to work with my family and I have to time work with my wife to build our CSA. Oh, I didn't say that I really enjoy gardening and didn’t have time when I was in the corp world. I know I am lucky to have a family with it’s own business. But, it is something most families could do if they really wanted.

Sure, you have to work to live (unless you are independently wealthy) but none of us should be forced to live for work!!!

Sorry for the long post....being one of my first...but this is a subject that is very personal for me.

Heather @ SGF said...

CFM - don't be sorry. People are very passionate about this issue and I'm glad you shared! You took a real chance in downsizing your life and it's turned out to be a beautiful thing. You have a wonderful family and every time I talk to you, you seem genuinely happy. It's so inspiring!

Hope you're having at least a little fun in Argentina!

TIMEUS said...

I agree that the current healthcare system sucks (it doesn't for me, but it does overall), however I disagree with the complaints about work. It's never been easier to make money (and lots of it), educate oneself, and live a long and fulfilling life.

Heather @ SGF said...

TIMEUS - but part of the issue is that a lot of people aren't interested in making loads of money. They want to be able to pay for a few modest expenses and spend time with family, or work in a garden, or enjoy a nice walk in the afternoon. For so many people, money is irrelevant to happiness; for many freedom (or free time) is happiness.

TIMEUS said...

Exactly my point. Now you have the option to earn a lot of money if you want to, or do something else if that doesn't make you happy. The opportunities are limitless.

You didn't used to have that option.

TIMEUS said...

There wasn't an "Edit" option, so sorry for the double post, but I just wanted to expound on my point. Fifty years ago, a man graduated from high school, went to work for the local steel mill, had no knowledge of diet and exercise, and was lucky to live to see 70. He had options if he was either a stellar athlete or his parents had money. Women would graduate and marry a steel worker and spend their life in the home. Both had their lives fairly planned out for them, and little to no options unless they came from money. If your dad was a farmer, you grew up and became a farmer. 100 years ago the entire family worked in a dreadful environment like a meat packing plant (read: The Jungle).

Point being, people now have so many options, yet still complain. I just don't get it. Fifty years ago, women would've killed for the option to have a career. Now women have that, but still complain that they have to work because everything is so expensive. That simply isn't the case. People seem to think they "need" cable tv, cell phones, a new car every 4 years, a gym membership, two and sometimes three vehicles, a 2500 square foot house, putting Junior in expensive non-school sponsored spots, etc., etc., etc. It's very simple economics. If you want to not work, you're probably going to have to give some or all of those things up. Those are the things families didn't have fifty years ago, and that's how they afforded it.

Furthermore, "retirement" in someone's thirties or forties? "Retirement" wasn't even a feasable option until FDR and the Social Security Act of 1935. People worked until they died, and now people don't even want to work half of their lives?

So it's very simple. If someone wants all the fancy new things so they can keep up with the Joneses, then that person is probably going to have to work. THAT'S LIFE. You don't get stuff for free.

The option is still there. We all can do what we want. Each person has to weigh what is more important for them in their life.

Lastly, I agree that money doesn't = happiness. However, money does = freedom, and freedom = happiness. I don't think anyone would disagree with that. Buy your lottery tickets!!! ;)