Skies Not All Blue for Workers

The following  originally appeared in the NewsTimes on September 4, 2016 and features comments from OperationsInc CEO David Lewis. To view the originally article, please click here

by Alexander Soule

newstimes-newThe sky-blue billboard heading southbound on Interstate 95 over the Norwalk River is an eyecatcher, with the fast-growing information technology company Datto hiring “guardians of the data” in Norwalk and specifying “all superpowers welcome” to those driving by.

If workers heading into Labor Day 2016 are enjoying a seller’s market for their talents in some industries, their ability to leverage those skills for long-term security and compensation growth remains very much in question.

For more than a century, the negotiating fulcrum of labor hinged on the threat of organized strikes. And in the disunity of the 21st century workplace, employees still wield no small stick in the implied threat of taking their talents elsewhere.

But it is an ultimatum that is undercut by simple math — it is a lot easier to find a replacement for one person, even a star rainmaker, than it is to transplant an entire workforce.

Playing politics

Group of happy young  business people in a meeting at officeArriving at a mutually agreeable valuation of a worker’s skills is a process akin to a game of poker, according to David Lewis, CEO of Norwalk-based OperationsInc, which provides a range of human resources consulting, training and recruitment services. And it is a game that must be played on the employee’s part with a subtlety and deftness, and with the understanding that overvaluing one’s hand can backfire.

“Using … leverage is dangerous and very slippery,” Lewis said. “You rarely want to hold your employer hostage or generate upward mobility and added compensation via threats to leave. You have to more subtly ‘politic’ this by making those in power aware of how green the grass is elsewhere.”

“Millennials are a whole other animal, with far more frequent events of job hopping in pursuit of stimulation, recognition and mobility — we just launched consulting and training around this very issue,” Lewis added. “They are far less tactful, and yet when your office is full of them they can raise awareness about competition and compensation levels, benefiting many in the process.”

In early August, LinkedIn published a study that suggested 30 percent of millennials plan to leave their current job within the next 12 months, with money and benefits the top driver.

Union impact

If the loose pressure of millennials is having an impact, the organized stance labor unions can bring to bear has regained a bit of lost ground. In 2014 in Connecticut, 17.4 percent of workers were represented by a union, 277,000 people in all, including those who were not actually members. That was up from 15.7 percent, or 245,000, the year before as tracked by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Nationally, Connecticut had the fifth highest union representation, with New York leading at 26 percent of all workers but seeing a far more meager increase from 25.8 percent in 2013. BLS is expected to provide 2015 union data next January.

A report published Tuesday by the Washington, D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute argued that nonunionized workers benefit from a strong union presence in their communities by the tendency of employers to match union pay increases for nonunion workers to maintain relative pay differentials, also forcing other nonunion workplaces to have to bid higher to secure talent.

EPI researchers estimated that men today who do not belong to unions make $2,700 less annually than they would if union representation was at 1979 levels.

While three of the state’s industries projected to add the most jobs through 2024 — health care, construction and education — have traditionally high union penetration, several others do not, including finance and professional services.

Though an irreplaceable skill set remains the best leverage any non-tenured worker has to force an organization to deliver more-than-fair compensation, other key determinants include a commitment to working hard — and of course, who you know.

“If you want attention, you need to facilitate attention — as such you need to tactfully make those to whom you report know that you are eager to learn and grow. That’s the tactful and productive way to keep you noticed and hopefully appreciated,” Lewis said. “Keeping tabs on what is going on elsewhere at other area employers helps to understand how you are doing where you are; it gives perspective.”