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Does Your Job Make You Miserable?

Perhaps you’ve heard: A lot of people are epically unhappy at work. Reasons cited include low raises, no training, and poor management. All of these seem to overlook a much more basic workplace issue: a lot of jobs suck. A paltry raise, no chance to gain new skills, and a bad boss just make a fundamentally bad job worse.

It’s no great feat to understand why people with low wages and terrible bosses are unhappy. It’s more difficult to explain why so many people with a good salary and a nice manager are unhappy too. Research from Jean M Twenge Ph.D., social scientist and author of Generation Me, says there are three possible reasons:

  1. Our relationships and community ties are weaker.
  2. We’re more focused on goals such as money, fame, and image, which is correlated with anxiety and depression.
  3. Our expectations are too high, probably because of the emphasis on “you can be anything you want to be” and highly positive self-views.

These reasons ring true to me, but there's more. To understand our chronic unhappiness at work, we have to look closer at the nature of that work. I believe our chronic unhappiness...

Pay and Performance Must Be Credibly Managed

Effective compensation management is not based on a “schedule.” It needs to be responsive to changing circumstances.

In 1990, when Connie Newman, then the director of the Office of Personnel Management, initiated the project that led to the Federal Employee Pay Comparability Act, she formed a group of influential people that met several times to discuss the findings and policy issues. Her strategy was important to building support. 

The National Academy of Public Administration followed that in 1991 with the first of several reports recommending a salary program model to replace the GS system. Each report recommended defining separate salary systems around occupational career ladders. The 1991 report identified 10 groups based on similarities in career progression, basic skills, recruitment, training and performance management. The federal workforce has changed a great deal since then so the groups need to be reviewed. The idea is simple and supports talent management. 

It’s not often discussed but government already has a number of separate pay systems: Senior Executive Service, Federal Wage System, Foreign Service, physicians and dentists paid under Title 38, Law Enforcement Officers, the list goes on. A separate salary system for the STEM occupations (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) would...

Law Enforcement and the Crisis of Public Confidence

"If You See Something, Say Something" is the most memorable public safety campaign I can think of. It began as a Homeland Security Department initiative but quickly branched out into a nationwide initiative at the federal, state and local levels and you can see the motto everywhere, particularly at public transportation hubs.

Here's a fun fact: the motto was originally rejected. As Mike Riggs reported several years ago in Reason.com (citing an Adweek article from 2002), Korey Kay & Partners tried to get the federal government to adopt it after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Nobody was interested -- not DHS, not the Justice and State departments.

But eventually DHS did adopt it, and according to Riggs, in 2008 the line "went viral." (The article offers an excellent timeline showing key moments in its adoption.) The question for students of law enforcement communication, and social media marketing, is whether the campaign has actually worked. The consensus is that it hasn't:

  • New York magazine writer Dwyer Gunn, citing the work of NYU sociologist Harvey Molotch, points to the detrimental effect of many "leads that are likely to amount to nothing." For one thing, they make each individual lead...

The Results Are In: Nobody Trusts Anyone Anymore

For nearly 20 years, communications group Edelman has been gauging the public’s trust in key institutions like business, government, and the media. You don’t need a survey of more than 33,000 people in 28 countries to know that there is an anti-establishment mood sweeping the globe, but the numbers are even more stark.

In short, there has been a “global implosion” in trust, Edelman says. This year’s survey recorded the largest-ever drop of trust in business, government, the media, and NGOs. A majority of people in two-thirds of countries surveyed now distrust these institutions, with all-time low levels of trust recorded in a number of places.

The report is timed to coincide with the start of the World Economic Forum in Davos. The world leaders, corporate chieftains, and media moguls who gather at the exclusive Alpine jamboree won’t find much solace in its findings.

The credibility of corporate CEOs, the most common Davos delegate, fell off a cliff, with only 37% of people saying they trust them, a 12-point drop from the previous year. CEO credibility fell in every country surveyed—an impressive feat. Still, they remain more trusted than government leaders (29%), so that...

Sure, Some Feds Are Overpaid

The critics are right; the General Schedule system is broken and needs to be replaced. It no longer meets the needs of government. The introduction of locality pay 26 years ago is the only change in more than half a century. It may be the oldest pay system in the world. Starting salaries at all levels are not competitive. The annual analysis of pay survey data has no credibility. Grade inflation is a problem. The experienced specialists who maintained the system have retired. The best that can be said is that employees are paid on time. 

A new system—or maybe systems—should be based on the proven principles adopted by successful large organizations. The planning should begin by defining the goals. Presumably attracting qualified talent is one goal. Another should be managing pay increases as an incentive to reward performance. Many of the proposals floated by lawmakers and discussed in media reports would be contrary to both goals.  

A third goal is controlling costs, but that needs to be balanced with the first two goals. Historically, employees were managed as a cost to be minimized, but progressive employers today manage them as assets. Investing in employees can pay off...

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