Farewell to the good old days: Job security in the American workplace

Photo courtesy of BusinessInsider.com | Many companies are developing cold workplace cultures in which employees are exploited and treated as machines.

Photo courtesy of BusinessInsider.com | Many companies are developing cold workplace cultures in which employees are exploited and treated as machines.

 

Emily Kowalik ’18
Assistant Opinions Editor

In today’s job climate there has been a redrawing of boundaries in terms of job security and the treatment of employees. Traditionally, the workplace has been seen as a home-like environment and a company’s workers are like a family, but there is a new climate creeping into the workplace, which unashamedly touts a new relationship between employer and employee, one in which employees are as disposable and exploitable as machines.

This new take on job security, or the distinct lack thereof, seems to have begun in Silicon Valley and has been spreading east-ward. Some view this harsh employer-employee model as an innovation, ignoring the similarity it draws to old methods of worker exploitation prevalent in workplaces across America before the issue of workers’ rights pushed its way to the forefront of political and activists platforms. Novels, such as “Sister Carrie”, and films, such as “Norma Rae”, demonstrate the forerunners of what New York Times reporter Dan Lyons now calls the “digital sweatshops” all too often found in some of the most “progressive” companies of today.

According to a recent article in the New York Times, many tech companies, among other corporations, are developing and expanding upon a disturbingly cold and callous workplace culture in which employees are pitted against one another in a battle for advancement, with those who don’t make the cut being weeded out.

A New York Times exposé published last year revealed the harsh environment Amazon has created for its white-collar workers. In a letter to shareholders, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, demonstrated his lack of compassion for the absence of job security and excessively grueling environment by supporting this cold approach toward employees. His brazen message to those who do not like the sabotage, stress and burnout that are an integral part of working at Amazon, is that they do not have to work there.

The prevailing view of workers, adopted by many tech start-up companies today, is that workers are machines whose value can be measured with simple metrics. Employees are exploited, burnt out and discarded at the executive’s whim without a thought to the effect their decisions have on their employees’ lives. An Amazon human resources director described the weeding out which Amazon habitually partakes in as a “purposeful Darwinism.” In other words, those who, for whatever reason, don’t appear to fit in with the corporate team model may find themselves edged out of their positions or out of the company altogether. All of these are considered fair by a ruthless business model which obsessively focuses upon quotas and results.

Too often today, we see companies more focused upon building up corporate wealth to capitalize on their stock options for the handful of uber-wealthy people at the top of the corporate pyramid than concern for the welfare of the thousands of employees below struggling to meet the unreasonable demands meted out to them. Such conditions are bound to engender discrimination and mistreatment in the workplace. Lyons expressed the opinion that, in these types of companies, “Bias based on age, race and gender is rampant, as is sexual harassment.”

Technology has always played a role in disruption of the workforce, but today’s tech is less about eliminating jobs than eliminating job security.

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