Electronic Leashes And Employee Unhappiness

How many employers are keeping employees on electronic leashes?
How many employers are keeping employees on electronic leashes?
Original Photo Source: iclipart.com

Are you on an “electronic leash at work?”  How does that affect your relationship with your employer? How does that affect your motivation? How does that affect your performance and productivity?

There’s a lot written about employee abuse of company-issued cell phones, tablets and laptops.  And with good reason.

But this article is about the flip-side of that abuse: all those devices can — and often do — become what’s now called “electronic leashes” or “digital leashes.”

What’s an electronic leash?

There is considerable dismay growing among employees who have found that they are now expected to be “on call” to their employers 24/7.  Many employers are requiring their employees — at least the exempt ones — to answer their cell phones and be ready to work almost any time of day or night.

Whether it’s a day off.  Or a weekend.  Or while on vacation.

The employees are required to answer or to return the call if they cannot answer immediately.  In order to ensure that they will answer, they are required to carry the phone with them at all times.

Moreover, they are required to respond to text messages and emails.  Within close time limits.  Otherwise, they’d better have a good reason why they didn’t.  And, “the dog ate my phone” won’t work.

They’re on an electronic leash.

Worse, the invasion of work into private life doesn’t stop there.

It is quite usual for employers to put GPS trackers on the devices they issue, so they know where you are at all times.  To use keystroke loggers.  And to inspect cell phones for being used for personal reasons such as having pictures of the employee’s kids.

Of course they monitor all calls made on their cell phones.  So, they know if the employee makes calls to spouse, friends, kids or the pizza place down the street.

Yes, if you haven’t figured it out already, they can fire the employee for failing to answer the phone or respond to emails and text messages.  They can fire the employee for making unauthorized phone calls, even in the case of an emergency.  They can fire the employee for having pics of the kids on the company cell phone.  Or the company-issued tablet or laptop.

And even more.

Yes, there is more: employers can require an employee to use his own cell phones to keep in touch in the same way.  They can even require him to let them track his phone.

Many employers monitor their employees Facebook and Twitter accounts.  Even though the employees don’t connect to those accounts on company devices.

If an employee does use company issued devices to connect to accounts on the internet, the employer can retrieve that employee’s passwords and contact lists.  The company owns the device and everything on it.

What can you do?

Many employees are carrying two phones.  One for work.  One for personal life.  That helps solve some of the privacy issues.  Also be sure not to use your company’s internet connection or internal network with your own devices.

Do not use any of the company-issued devices for personal business.  Keep your own computer and/or tablet for personal use.  And do not use your own personal devices for any company business.

If the company requires you to use your own devices for company business, get a second set of the cheapest possible devices for the purpose and only use those devices for company business.

However, there’s nothing you can do about your employer’s requirement to answer and respond 24/7.  The employer make the rules of employment.  Employment is “at will.”  You can quit if you can’t negotiate better circumstances.  Or you can have a written contract of employment that guarantees particular privacy terms.

Remember, I said at the beginning that I was talking about exempt employees.  Most employers don’t try this stuff with non-exempt employees.  That’s because non-exempt employees have to be paid overtime after eight hours of work per day or forty hours per week.  So keeping track of overtime hours spent on digital devices could be a nightmare.  Not to mention that the skills and knowledge of the non-exempts are not usually regarded as something management wants to tap at a moment’s notice.

If you are a non-exempt employee and your employer requires you to be available for work 24/7, keep track of your overtime entitlement.

Anything else?

I am not an attorney.  Nor do I play one on TV.  I’ve told you the precautions that I know about, but there may be more.

There are good reasons to consult an attorney if you are in a position of having electronic leashes from your employer.  First, he/she could tell you more precautions to take against having your privacy invaded or your personal devices searched without a warrant.  Second, if your employer does violate your rights, you’ll have a better idea of what they are and an attorney to represent you.  In today’s workplaces, you can’t be too careful.

Meanwhile, if you are on an electronic leash, I’m sorry to hear it. Be a “good dog” until you can find a better place to work.

The “Jobless Trap” Can Be Lethal

newspaper recessionIn my prior article, I commented on Paul Krugman’s “The Jobless Trap.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/22/opinion/krugman-the-jobless-trap.html?_r=0)  His article covered why résumés showing unemployment for six months or more generally get tossed in the trash.

My article covered how to address the “employment gaps” with a résumé that honestly shows employment during times you’ve been without a j-o-b.  In my article today, I’m considering an additional problem with résumés that show another element that additionally causes HR or the hiring manager to trash them: your age.

The Part of Joblessness Too Many Are Ignoring

One of the worst parts of today’s joblessness is the ageism problem.  Entire sections of the economy collapsed as a result of the banking/Wall Street/mortgage/insurance crisis.  Many companies went out of business or were bought out and stripped of assets.  Many jobs are never coming back.  And a great number of those jobs were held by employees over 40 years of age.  Indeed, many employees who were ousted were over 50 years of age.  It is difficult for people 40+ to get jobs and extremely difficult — often impossible — for those over 50.

One of the reasons it’s so difficult is that people over 40 are in their higher earning years.  They’ve usually amassed the skills and experience for their jobs that makes them more valuable.  They’ve usually had numerous promotions and have risen in rank to positions that, in better economic times, give them a kind of “tenure.”  They may have some political pull.  And, if they want to change employers, as long as they are already employed and are looking to move up, they are still considered assets.

However, in hard economic times, such employees are often the first purged because the employer, or the organization that has bought out the old employer, saves money by “making do” with cheaper, younger, less experienced employees.  The older, more experienced employees that do keep their jobs also may loose rank and be required to take on the work that used to be done by two or more employees.  Under those conditions, they may lose their positions because they simply can’t keep up with the impossible demands.

So, now we have millions of unemployed who may never work again, simply because of an economic downturn.  They didn’t do anything wrong.  They weren’t fired.  It’s not their fault.

Now, there are gaps in their résumés (or work histories, for those who don’t use résumés) that make it almost impossible to get jobs again.

Yet, those millions still have families to support and bills to pay.  They’re too young to retire.  Even if they had retirement benefits available. They still need to contribute value to society.  They still want to work.  They still want to be of value.  And they’re giving up.

How Joblessness Kills

About a week after Krugman’s article, Mike Stobbe, a medical journalist who covers the CDC for Associated Press, wrote about the sharp increase in middle-age suicide and its connection to the ups and downs of the economy.  You can read it at http://bigstory.ap.org/article/us-suicide-rate-rose-sharply-among-middle-aged.

So, this is a time when a growing number of adult children are living — often with their spouses and children — in their parents’ homes.  Because they can’t get decent enough jobs to support themselves or families.  And at the other end of the scale, parents and grandparents are killing themselves because they, too, can no longer support themselves or families.

Now, consider that only about three days after the Stobbe article on suicides came out, the Department of Labor announced that the economy added 165,000 jobs, when only 88,000 were predicted.  And the previous month’s figures were revised to show a higher number than originally estimated.  The jobless rate fell to 7.5%.  What happened as a result?  The stock market soared higher on the false optimism that created.

Yet, if you actually do the math, you’ll notice that pay for workers is not even keeping even with inflation, so most folks’ salaries are worth less.  Not to mention that 165,000 jobs are a pittance if you consider that 12 million people are actively looking for work and millions more have simply given it up as an impossible task.  Read the article Paul Davidson and John Waggoner wrote at USA Today, to get more insight on this: http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/05/05/wages-job-growth/2134207/.

I could write until my fingers fall off about what we can do as individuals to spiff up our résumés to account for employment gaps and create better possibilities for getting jobs.  I could write about how some older workers turn around their unemployment and overcome obstacles.  It might help some individuals.  But national economic policy is way beyond what even the highest-performing individuals can do.  And it determines how much of an impact each individual can make in the job market.

Our national economic policies are killing us.  Killing some of our proven productive workers. And killing our economy.  If we ran our businesses the way we’re allowing the politicians to run our economy, we’d get exactly the same poor performance and lackluster growth.  And we’d lose the business.

What to Do Now If You’re Affected By Ageism

This isn’t something you can fight with a simple résumé fix.  No matter how many ways you can demonstrate that your skills and knowledge are up to date, that your wealth of experience makes you a better hire than younger folks, or any of the other arguments you might make, most employers just won’t hire you if you’re over 50.  For any job. (Unless, perhaps you’d like to be a Walmart greeter?)

Here are some things you can do.  The first two are the same as two in my last article, but as applied to the employees over 50 years of age.

1.  Employ Yourself: Your best bet in the short term may be to go into business for yourself or join a friend or relative in a business venture.  Not merely to have something on your résumé to explain the employment gap, but to actually learn a living.

There are thousands and thousands of books, courses, videos, etc. that can help you get started, but the book series published by Entrepreneur Magazine are reliable and the publisher has been putting out the series since about the early 1980’s through it’s Entrepreneur Press publishing business.  Furthermore, you can get lots of free information and advice, as well as the magazine and its books at the website: http://www.entrepreneur.com/.

2.  Be An Independent Contractor: If you have no way of starting your own business, or no desire to, then get work through an agency by contract or as a temp.  Lots of folks prefer full-time temping or contracting to a regular job.  It has its drawbacks, but the independence and flexibility allows you to earn money while you catch your breath and have time to make other plans.  If it turns out that you like it, you can do it all your life without worrying about your age.  (When I did temping, my worst problem was that I kept getting permanent job offers from great places to work — but couldn’t take them because I was finishing my first degree and moving across the country.  However, I was young.  You might not get offers if you’re over 50.  Then again, you might.)

Remember that these days the agencies that provide temps and contract workers often offer benefits like health insurance and retirement plans.  In addition, working through agencies rather than being a permanent employee can be more stable than regular employment.  Old, well-know agencies are lasting longer than large employers.  Think of all the unemployment that’s occurring as a result of buy-outs, mergers and other forms of acquisition.  Not only can you avoid some of the age problem in getting hired, you can avoid losing your job as a result of your employer disappearing after you do get hired.

3. Become An Agent of Social Change: Regardless of what you do in the short term,  in the long term, you need to get socially and politically active.  Ageism is not going away.  You have to fight it.  You have to help change our society’s ignorance about and indifference to the plight of the middle aged and elders. To fight it you need large groups with political whack.

At the very least, if you’re not already a member, join AARP.  Read their publications.  Get involved at a local level — see if there are meetings or groups you can attend.

Study and learn more about what’s being done nationally and locally to fight ageism in employment.  The more you know, the better you’ll be able to figure out how to fight.

Fixing The Résumé Gaps

You're HiredRecently, the well-know economist and columnist for the New York Times, Paul Krugman wrote an article, “The Jobless Trap.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/22/opinion/krugman-the-jobless-trap.html?_r=0)  In it he explained that we are creating a class of permanently unemployed and unemployable Americans.

He mentioned studies which demonstrate that those whose résumés show they’ve been unemployed for six months or more are seldom considered to fill available positions, no matter how great their qualifications.

Actually, that’s been pretty well-known to employment specialists for a long time.  But it’s always nice to have studies to back up observations in the field.  Just think about it, though.  If an employer looks at a work history and sees a big recent gap, he’s going to be suspicious that there’s something wrong with an employee that others keep rejecting.  Not to mention how out-of-date his experience and skills must be.  Regardless of his own experience with the candidate.  Regardless of his awareness of current economic conditions that make it extremely difficult to get jobs.

Krugman’s article was on the point of how joblessness, rather than national debt, is the greatest danger to our economy.  Please read his article, it’s a critical part of the social and economic picture we all need to think about.  However, what I want to talk about is some of the techniques that folks have used successfully to plug up those holes in the résumés that he talked about.

Think about it this way: there are millions of people who are “jobless” but still working.  And their work will show up on their résumés (or whatever work history they use, if they don’t use a resume.)

They call themselves self-employed, freelancers, consultants.  Or perhaps they call themselves students.  Maybe they call their time away from the job a sabbatical.  Or they might take temporary or contract work while “training for a new line of work” or “updating their skill-set.”

Here’s how that method works:

1. Education/Training/Skills Development

Time-out for learning new skills and professional techniques is historically honored as much as — sometimes more than — having a job to get the experience.  Find a way to show on your résumé that you purposely chose to spend your between jobs time studying to become better in your field or to qualify for a different field.

Of course, make sure that you have actually acquired the new knowledge or skills and can prove it. If you’re developing technical skills, you can learn quickly at lynda.com or udemy.com.  And don’t forget there are great classes available for free through iTunes University.

This is an especially good technique for the “older” unemployed.  Even if your technical skills were just fine before you became unemployed, it always looks great on a resume to be able to say you have some new expertise in the latest fads.  If you’re looking for management work, it’s helpful to say you’ve just acquired a certification in whatever big technique is being pushed by the “expert” consultants to corporations currently.

2. Self-employment/Consulting/Freelancing

People often opt to try self-employment as an alternative to finding a new job.  Many succeed and do better than they would if employed by others.  You many not have started it until six months after you were laid off,  but that doesn’t make your business, consulting practice or freelance portfolio any less real than the guys who decided to do it right away.  Everything you did up until that time was preparing you for it as surely as if you intended to do it immediately.  So, it’s perfectly legitimate to date your self-employment from the beginning — or near the beginning — of your unemployment..

These days, it’s simple.  Just design some business cards on your computer.  Make a blog.  Perhaps a newsletter.  Arbitrarily set the time of the start of your business for the purposes of your résumé as about two weeks after you left your last job.  That’s about the time most folks start seriously thinking about what they’ll do if they can’t find a job.

If the work you’ve decided to list as your self-employment requires licenses or permits, get them. In most places, you don’t have to publish a DBA if you simply use your own name as your business name.  But check to be sure.  There are so many books and articles online that tell you how to structure and start a business while complying with local regulations that I can’t begin to list them here.

It’s just so much more acceptable to say you’re looking for a job after being self-employed as a consultant or freelancer than saying you’ve been unemployed for six months or a year … or more.  But you can’t just say it.  You have to make it true.

And don’t forget that you might actually make an income as a self-employed person while still looking for a job.

3. Sabbaticals.

As an alternative to self-employment, consulting or freelancing, you may have used the time as a sabbatical to research and write a book.  Be sure to finish writing that book.  Just research how to publish on Kindle and CreateSpace and get that book out there.  You might make some money at it as well.  Even if your book is a flop, however, you’ve filled in that gap on your résumé where you might otherwise have been considered unemployed.

And, don’t forget that it doesn’t have to be a book.  It could be painting.  Or historical research.  Or travel for research.  Just make sure you have visible results to show for your time.

4. Temp agencies/Contract Employment

If you’ve been unemployed for three months, it’s time to make sure the gap doesn’t get larger.  Temporary agencies and contract employment are a quick fix for getting some money and some provable work time on your résumé.  Furthermore, working temp or contract gives you exposure to and time to make contacts in various companies that might hire you full time.

This is also a great way to combine with the other techniques above to say that you would have liked to work only on your own business or project during that time, but you needed extra income to fully support your start-up or your project.

There are a number of other possibilities, but the above are the more well-known and acceptable.