Norma Walton, Not Your Parents’ Workforce

One of our businesses was growing and we were looking for someone to work 16 hours every weekend. I had been doing the work myself while growing the business, but the business had become busy enough that it could afford to pay someone to do that work.

First I chatted with my friend’s husband. He works during the week and is saving up for an apartment for his young family so was keen on weekend work to supplement what he earned from his regular job. He is 27 years old. He did an excellent job for me for a few weekends then told me that he had decided he could no longer work after 5 pm…ever.

Next, I chatted with a hard working woman with whom I work from time to time and I mentioned that we had this position available. She told me her son Mitch was desperate to make money and that she was sure he would love to do it. Mitch is a nice single 35-year old guy whom I knew and liked. I immediately offered the work to him. He thanked me for thinking of him but explained that he never worked on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.

The third was a 32-year old Uber driver named Nur whom I met when he drove me home. A former fighter pilot, he had emigrated from Afghanistan via America. He told me he needed to make money. He did the work one weekend, collected his money, then he just didn’t show up for work the next weekend. It was obviously beneath him. I haven’t heard from him since.

Fourth time lucky. The fellow who now works with me on the weekends is from Barbados. He emigrated to Canada a year ago because it was impossible to make a good life in Barbados unless you were a member of the police or the military and he didn’t qualify for either. He loves Canada because if you work hard, you can create a decent life for yourself. He came here a year ago. He has found opportunities through keenness. He obtained his forklift truck driver’s license. He then started working for an agency each week while working to upgrade his license. He works with me on the weekend and is saving up to secure his own studio apartment near York University and then to afford a car. He is 27 and so far very reliable.

Back when I was a teenager into my early 20s, I was always interested in making money if I could fit it into my school and sports schedule. I began working when I was 13 years old and secured my license the day I turned 16. I was not unusual among my peer group. We all wanted to make money, play sports, drive cars and get our own place. Leisure time was what you grabbed late at night or over a couple of hours on the weekend, if you were lucky and had finished all your chores at home.

In my (now dinosaur-like) experience, if you wanted to make extra money, you needed to work evenings, weekends, nights, mornings, afternoons – basically, anytime anyone would pay you. You needed to show up for work when you were required. Keenness was critical. Asking for more work was important. Basically, everything else in your life took a back seat to making that extra money you wanted so you could accomplish whatever objective you had at that time.

The type of work was not as relevant as how much you were being paid per hour and how many hours you could secure. Being fulfilled at work was not even a consideration. I remember working three summers in a row on the line at Ford putting hood covers on because 27 years ago they paid $25 an hour. I can still do that specific job in my sleep because I put 60 hood covers on every hour for 48 hours a week for three summers in a row…138,240 hood covers. The job was mind-numbing but that money helped put me through school and paid for my car expenses. Needless to say, I had very little leisure time those summers.

My values are no longer prevalent. In seeking to fill this weekend position, it became apparent to me that the workforce has changed since I was a girl. Work-life balance in your 20s and 30s is now valued far more than money. People say they want to make extra money, but they mean only if it does not inconvenience them in living their best life. Hence a lot of people in their 20s and 30s are living with their parents, with siblings or with roommates. They don’t drive. They value leisure time more than making money.

For better or worse, while trying to hire someone for weekend work, I realized that this is not my or my parents’ workforce.

Is there such a concept as “corporate ethics”?

Much has been written and said recently about an apparent lack of ethics in many segments of our society – in particular our politicians, political appointees and corporate executives. As the political side of this issue is well discussed in the forthcoming issue of Money Magazine, I am going to visit corporate ethics here.

I think the first issue is to answer the question – is there such a concept as “corporate ethics”? I have thought about this a great deal and have come to the conclusion that no – there is no such thing. Corporations don’t think as entities – they merely reflect the ethical values and personal principles of the decision-makers – whether that is a single person in a small company or an entire Board of Directors or members of the so-called “C-suite” for larger national and international businesses.

I find the notion of corporate ethics and responsibility inextricably linked back to those same issues on a personal level for the individuals involved. A corporation doesn’t decide to do anything – the people that control the corporation make the decisions and they should be the ones that pay the price.

Public censure, fines and other forms of discipline assessed against companies only penalise consumers, employees, and in some cases, shareholders. These approaches are punitive and don’t change the fundamental behaviours, beliefs and attitudes of the decision-makers that are involved.

As a result of some financial imprudence (you can provide your own personal interpretation of that statement) in the mid-to late 2000s, some companies were labelled as “too big to fail” and the executives who caused the problems labelled as “too big to jail”. What nonsense – particularly the second part about jailing those responsible for the most egregious acts.

The negotiated settlements see some people parting with, what appears to be large amounts of money – the reality is something very different, unfortunately. Yes they part with some millions but those millions pale into ignominity in consideration of the deliterious effcts of the actions on businesses, consumers, employees and unsuspecting investors. These people deserve nothing less than being stripped of 100% of their ill-gotten gains (both cash and assets), jailed for terms involving double-digits (with no early parole and no “Club Fed”-style prisons) and a permanent world-wide ban on further business activities other than as a consumer.

Harsh? YES. Too harsh? You can judge. What I do know is these people with their suspended or nominal sentences are not being dealt with in an appropriate manner and the “punishment” is certainly not a deterrant.