Monday, November 28, 2011

Thinking Back

Recently in a conversation with a friend, I began to reminisce about life in the workplace during the "good ol' days." We both realized just how fortunate we had been to be working then and how today's workers could never imagine the way we -- along with most of our co-workers -- were treated.

This discussion involved employment during the mid-1970s, when things were good in the U.S. The Vietnam War was over and many products were still manufactured in the U.S. at large plants scattered around the country.

At nearly every job, the minute you became an employee, you received a significant salary, full medical coverage (usually at no cost), life insurance, defined benefit pension plan and/or profit sharing. You accepted the job with the understanding that you would work hard and be well treated.

Today homeowners who purchase a house and aren't afraid to put forth some work to improve that property are said to invest "sweat equity," meaning that they will eventually reap the efforts they make. That is the way employers and employees used to relate. Employers were not afraid to pay extremely good wages to good employees. Hard work was shared and everyone prospered.

My friend and I each had careers in professions where what we did was important and valued. The feelings of importance and value were perceived by both the employer and the employee. This instilled a sense of pride in what we did and, as a result, we did a better job.

Many employers paid "bonuses" during this era. Bonuses varied from one time to the next, usually reflective of how well the company did during that calendar year. Many bonuses were paid at the fiscal year end and often amounted to several thousand dollars. It allowed some employees to take an expensive vacation, pay off bills or invest for the future. This "found" money was enough to tantalize the employees and even helped discourage workers from leaving a job on a whim.

Most employers paid some type of Christmas bonus, usually significant checks designed to help employees and their families celebrate Christmas. In my personal experience, the Christmas bonus, while still considerable, usually was smaller than the FYE bonus. However, it was an impetus to stick around and ride out possible downturns or rough spots.

During this era, most people looked forward to going to work. We were part of a team and helped each other achieve designated tasks. We shared laughs in the coffee room and even socialized on occasion. If we knew that one among us was having personal problems, we wanted to cheer that person, rather than spreading gossip or making the matter worse. After all, we were part of a team.

If this all sounds hard to believe, you likely were not working during the 1970s. I assure you these descriptions are accurate. It's almost impossible to try and describe the situation to someone who wasn't there.

The majority of employers today could care less whether workers like their job. There are plenty of other people lined up as replacements. Defined benefit pension plans? Fully paid insurance? These frills appear to be gone forever and now amount to urban legends, along with job satisfaction.

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