Paul Butler: Workplace woes

Paul Butler

Workplace woes

“There’s always someone worse off than you.” This is a commonly known phrase that seems commonly forgotten, especially during these strange days of COVID-19. There are indeed, many workplace woes.

We’ve most definitely seen a downturn in our business, due to the virus, but in the big scheme of things — we’re OK. Yes, we’re seeing dates for onsite training being postponed; projects in-progress paused and contracts about to be signed, frozen in state. Organizations are pen-shy and reluctant to assign their dollars to anything other than the essentials right now. But by God’s grace, we’re OK.

All around me, I’m hearing of furloughs — a phrase I’d never heard so much until lately. Furlough means, “leave of absence” — translated as time off without pay. It’s a temporal layoff. What could be worse than being temporarily laid off from work without pay — not knowing for certain when the furlough will end?

I guess what’s worse is to be laid off — period. It seems everywhere I turn — or more aptly, everywhere I click — I hear of a family member, friend or neighbor being furloughed or laid off. Surely it can’t get much worse?

Well, yesterday a close friend told us, he’d been “let go” after 30 years of faithful service to one company. He literally went from boy to man with this company. He got married; had children; raised those children and put them through college while working hard and picking up about 720 paychecks from one employer. Then one day last week it all stopped. He wasn’t furloughed. He wasn’t laid off. He was let go.

What is the working world coming to? How can our economy continue with all of this lost talent being put to the wayside, if only temporarily? If only we could find and fire the virus in corridor 19 — then we could all get back to work.

What could be worse than being “let go” after 30 years of service? How about hearing of families living in their cars because they could no longer make rent when jobs were lost? What do such unfortunate people notate as their “place of residence” on a job application — “my car”?

Yes, there’s always someone worse off than us. I was watching a documentary last night about basketball legend Scottie Pippin and how he was berated for, and regretted, signing a contract for $18 million for seven years. In hindsight, he realized he could have demanded much more. It must be hard to get by on $2.6 million a year. He felt worse off than others.

As I am sure you’ve heard, the government has placed a freeze on publicly traded companies paying executive bonuses during this pandemic. According to an analysis conducted by the Wall Street Journal in May 2019, the average CEO base annual compensation was $12.4 million before bonuses. That’s six times more than Scottie Pippin back in the day, but I guess it must be hard to get by on merely double digits in the millions without your bonus.

The government has also restricted those same companies from conducting stock buy-backs. This is when they use cash reserves to buy their own stock in the market at bargain prices, to then sell it at a much higher price later. The logic being: It seems inappropriate to hold a party paying out big bonuses and dancing the stock buy-back two-step while asking for government bailouts and tax breaks. I get it.

Yes, it does indeed seem there’s always someone worse off. We looked into some grants that were available through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. As mentioned, I believe we’re going to be OK, but I thought to myself — hey, if we can get a free grant for a couple of months to help us meet payroll and office rent more easily, we may as well. The problem was, as soon as I entered “91355” as our office ZIP code, we were considered “ineligible.” I guess the system figured out the people over here in Awesometown are not considered economically disadvantaged enough.

As bad as economic loss is — whether it’s a business slow-down; a furlough; a layoff or a let-go, there are far worse tragedies to befall someone — and that is the loss of life. Let us never forget that at the time of writing there have been 165,939 deaths worldwide due to this horrid pandemic.

There’s always someone worse off.

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