Dear David: How To Celebrate National Boss’s Day

There seems to be a holiday for everything, even when it’s not totally necessary. Take, for instance, National Boss’s Day, which took place on Wednesday. Boss’s Day, inaugurated in 1958, is “a day for employees to thank their bosses for being kind and fair throughout the year.” Kind and fair is good, but what does that really mean? Where is the bar set, and who gets to set it? If your boss is personally very nice to you but neglects to hear you on issues that are important to you or your co-workers—is that good enough? And what if your boss isn’t kind or fair?

There are, of course, great bosses out there—people who truly treat the employees who work for them with respect and fairness, and strive to make the workplace healthy and productive for everyone. But I know from this column that there are plenty of workers out there for whom “National Boss’s Day” just adds insult to injury.

Like this man, whose boss has told him to “improve” his work but hasn’t said what that actually means.

Or this woman, whose boss is condescending to her and insults her with names like “fathead.”

(If you want a quick survey of how bad bosses can really be—check out these stories.)

For workers like these, whose ability to make a living is at the mercy of someone who abuses their power, every day is “Boss’s Day” and not their own.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. You don’t have to cross your fingers and hope for a boss to decide to be kind to you. If you work strategically and act together with your co-workers, you can begin to reset the imbalance in the boss-worker power dynamic that too often leads to bad situations. There’s some effort involved here, for sure, but that’s true about anything that’s worth doing.

Here’s my challenge to anyone dealing with a bad boss right now:

1. Step back and ask yourself some questions. What would you like to see changed at your workplace or in the way your boss treats you? Who else do you know at work who is feeling the same way as you?

2. Take the Working America “Fix My Job” challenge. Give yourself a year to experiment with the tools on fixmyjob.com, and see what you can accomplish by working together with your co-workers.

3. Keep us posted. You can do this through fixmyjob.com, where you can keep notes, ask us questions and share your progress privately. Once you’ve completed some basic first steps, you’ll have an opportunity to request a meeting with an experienced workplace troubleshooter.

I know it can be disheartening if you are dealing with a bad boss right now. Stay strong! Remember to be patient. Meaningful change doesn’t happen on its own, and it doesn’t happen overnight. But you—together with your co-workers—CAN make change happen.

Got a question for David? Submit it here.

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Have A Question About Your Rights at Work? Our Office Is Open

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Today, Working America is kicking off our first #FixMyJob Office Hour. From 3-4pm EST, I’ll be available to answer your questions about your rights at work, how to deal with a bad boss, and everything else you might encounter during the daily grind.

RSVP here or on the event below.

I’ve organized and assisted workers all over the country for more than 15 years, from home care workers to bus drivers, and I’ve noticed a common thread that runs through nearly every problem encountered at the workplace: the solution is strength in numbers.

Getting together and discussing the issue with even just one or two co-workers is the start of every path to a better, more respectful workplace. Afraid of being noticed? Meet at a coffee shop, or use a personal phone, text, or Skype.

All too often, employees don’t think they are all experiencing the same problem, and think they are alone. When you put your heads together, you can strategize on what you can do, what has already been done, and what the next steps are.

I hope you can tune in for my first Office Hour at 3pm EST. If not, feel free to email me at [email protected] or send me a tweet at @Wright2Organize.

Above all, check out FixMyJob.com for information and resources on making your workplace a better place to work.

 

Photo by rym on Flickr

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We Love This Note To An Abusive Boss That’s Going Viral. But There’s One Thing Wrong With It.

We don’t use the term “viral” lightly, but these guys earned it. This note written by Journey’s workers to their boss “Jamie” was posted to Reddit on Saturday, and has zipped across the Internet today. “Niki, Jess, and TJ” can now see their note in The Huffington Post, Gawker, msn.com, and Yahoo! News as well as thousands of posts, tweets, pins, and tumbls.

The note reads:

Dear Jamie,

Since you decided to say “cancer is not an excuse” and think it’s ok to swear at your employees like you to ALL the time…WE QUIT.

THIS is why you can’t keep a store manager longer than a year. YOU ABUSE your roll [sic] and staff. Enjoy the fact that you lost a store manager, co-manager, and key holder in the middle of Back to School. Think next time you treat people the way you do.

We aren’t allowing it ANYMORE.

Niki, Jess, TJ

Can’t lie. We love it. How can you not feel a sense of satisfaction seeing an abusive employer publicly taken to task for things for how he treated his employees and fellow human beings?

But here’s the thing. You shouldn’t have to quit your job in order to address abusive treatment at work.

We started FixMyJob.com to give workers the tools to make positive changes in their workplaces, changes that don’t involve pink slips or public humiliation. We want workers to know that they have certain basic legal rights to safe, healthy and fair conditions at work. We want them to recognize that many employers—perhaps even “Jamie”–violate these fundamental rights on a daily basis.

From scheduling disputes to verbal harassment and everything in between, there are solutions. They can range from you and two of your co-workers approaching a manager to talk all the way to a collective bargaining agreement. But the solutions are there, and we have the tools to reach them.

We wish the best of luck to Niki, Jess, and TJ. But we also believe that you shouldn’t have to quit your job to get respect.

Want to make positive change in your workplace? Get started at FixMyJob.com.

Got questions about the site or your rights at work? Drop a line to Sherry Wright at [email protected]

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Dear David: The Deal Has Been Altered

Question:

I worked as an independent contractor for a medical transcribing company while also contracting for other companies. This transcribing company was bought out by a huge conglomerate company. They then decided to offer all contractors full-time jobs, but at the same amount of money we were making as contractors. The main problem is that I then couldn’t contract with other places, so my income took a huge hit. Are there laws to protect me from this? Shouldn’t they have had to at least hire us at the hourly rate we were being paid as contractors?

— Contracting, Tennessee

 

Answer:

In this economy, with both mergers, contract and temporary work fairly commonplace, it can be hard to keep track of who you even work for—and when the changes come at your expense, as seems to be the case here, it’s especially frustrating. I’ll assume, since you say here that you can’t contract with other places, that there is also some kind of “non-compete” clause in your employment contract which wouldn’t be at all unusual.

Working as an independent contractor can come with some real challenges—including no employer-provided unemployment insurance or worker’s comp, and there can be issues with fair pay and other workplace protections. For some, the trade-off is worth it for the flexibility and independence that it offers—like the opportunity to pick up additional contracts. However, it sounds like your employer wants ALL of the flexibility and control for itself.

Your rights in this situation are going to be determined by the terms of your contract. Absent a contract—individually or as part of a union—your employment is “at will,” and the employer can set whatever terms you’re willing to agree to (as long it complies with minimum wage and overtime laws and doesn’t illegally discriminate. If you had a contract with the former company for a certain term, then, depending on that contract’s terms, you and the new owner might have an obligation to continue abiding by the terms of your contract.

Once the contract expires, however, or if you or the new owner has any grounds for terminating the contract, you are left to whatever terms you are able to negotiate, or that you and your fellow employees are able to bargain for collectively.

Your employer has made a unilateral decision that benefits the company at your expense—an illustration of what is so skewed about the power dynamic between workers and employers in this country. It doesn’t have to be this way. Do you know any of your “new” coworkers? If not, this might be a good time to start talking to each other, gathering information and comparing notes. I’d bet many of them have some of the same questions.

Imagine what could happen if you all got together, decided on your top concerns together, and then built a plan to address them to your employer together. You don’t have to just wish for it—we can help you get there at FixMyJob.com.

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Dear David: Overloaded, Overheated

Question:

I have been working with my company for more than six years. Conditions have become unbearable lately. The workload has increased, but reliable assistance in the form of additional workers hasn’t followed. The money we get is not worth the work put in. Our office is hot all the time despite complaints about it. We’re scheduled to work extra time without our consent. We are all beyond frustrated with our work conditions.

— Had it up to here, Kansas

Answer:

You’re totally right to be upset about the way you’re being treated.

First, it’s important to point out that getting overworked isn’t just an inconvenience—it’s a serious and growing problem. It’s a trend across the economy as companies try to do more with fewer employees. (Read this great Mother Jones article for an in-depth look at the issue.)

Did you know that the average worker today works 181 hours per year more than they would have back in 1979? This escalation is slow but steady, and it’s reached the point where a worker today is working the equivalent of 4.5 additional weeks per year. So where did the reward for all of that extra productivity go? Not into your pocket.

Any one of the complaints you list here would be enough for most people to get frustrated at work. Add them all together and it’s no wonder you have reached a point beyond frustration. But the good news is that it sounds like you already know that you are not alone. So seize the day! You and your co-workers can help each other.

One idea is to survey your co-workers to find out what’s bothering them the most. Asking open-ended questions is more likely to surface what others think and help everyone understand what’s most important. If you are going to do something about it, it’s helpful to know why it matters to each and every one of you. It’s also a good idea to keep a record and not to use your work computer or email.

It should go without saying, but: you are also probably better off not to do any of this around your boss. There will be a time to talk to your boss, but it’s best not to tip your hand too early.

Once you know where everybody stands and have a strong majority all on one page, it will be time to decide what to do next. Here’s my recommendation: check back here. In just a few weeks we’ll be launching some online tools and resources you can use to review options for next steps. You will be able to walk through steps you can take to make your life at work better.

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