Last Friday, The Rockefeller Foundation, together with our grantee Purpose, launched a campaign called “Workshift,” with the goal of changing the way we think about, define, and build good jobs for all Americans. Over the weekend, The New York Times published its exposé on what it’s like to work at retail giant Amazon, unleashing an online mega storm of discussion and debate.
While we had no insight into the editorial calendar at the Times, this story offers an excellent opportunity to reignite a long-overdue good jobs conversation across the country. Three themes that have emerged from the Amazon discussion feel particularly important as we work toward building good jobs for all workers.
“Jobs are incredibly personal… employers must understand their employees’ values and create a working environment that gives them what they need to be successful, so the company can be successful as well.”
The first is that jobs are incredibly personal. The stories in the article—and those that have emerged since—show that the very same job can be viewed as both good and bad, depending on the job holder. While one engineer might consider the long hours worthwhile for career advancement—and thus define this as a good job—another engineer in the same position might find the lack of work-life balance unsatisfying. This speaks to a deeper need for employers to understand their employees’ values and create a working environment that gives them what they need to be successful, so the company can be successful as well.
A second theme that’s emerged is the disconnect that often happens between employer and employee. Rare are the cases where an employee on the lower rungs of a company can or will walk up to the CEO with complaints about their job. Particularly in larger companies, CEOs are often too removed from the day-to-day experiences of employees below the executive level to understand whether or not the jobs that the company provides meet the needs of their workers. As Jeff Bezos said, he didn’t recognize the Amazon portrayed in the Times’ article. But many of his employees did.
The final theme is this: there will always be those who don’t think a “good job” is necessary, or that it’s not the responsibility of the employer. A lot of the employees who came out in defense of Amazon’s culture said that while their jobs were tough and stressful, it’s what they signed up for—and those who didn’t sign up for that work style can always quit. Management doesn’t seem to mind the turnover, even going so far as to think it intrinsic to the company’s success, which raises the question: Can we build good jobs for all Americans, regardless of the position they hold or the sector in which they work, if more corporate leaders are not part of the discussion?
“Can we build good jobs for all Americans, regardless of the position they hold or the sector in which they work, if more corporate leaders are not part of the discussion?”
As we look to have a meaningful dialogue about jobs in America, we must be asking, “What defines a good job?” But we also need to answer the question, “Why should good jobs matter to both employees and their employers?”
These varying perceptions of job quality are not unique to Amazon, or even simply to white-collar workers. The challenge of finding a job that qualifies as a good job is something that affects people from all walks of life.
Over the past several months, we’ve talked to workers across the country who hold all types of jobs. And what we heard is that four values are key in defining a good job in America:
- Stability to know when you’re working, that bills are paid, and your livelihood is secure;
- Opportunity to develop your skills, advance your career, and build toward a brighter future;
- Flexibility to take care of your loved ones, address personal needs, and tackle the unexpected;
- And Pride to be respected for your work and contribute to something greater.
But we don’t believe people should have to choose just one value. From employees at large companies to small businesses, all Americans have the right to experience and expect all four values from their jobs.
So what’s your story? Do you and your employer have the same definition of a good job? How do we make sure all workers have good jobs? Join the conversation online with the hashtag #GoodJobsForAll, and together, we hope to create jobs filled with stability, opportunity, flexibility, and pride for all Americans.
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