Category Archives: Office

Once again, I have a somewhat sqishy view of the whole thing. But one that will put me mostly outside of my class’s mainstream. This doesn’t include all of my thoughts on the whole thing, but includes a lot of them.

Pro: First, I don’t really blame Google for firing him. When he sent that out on company channels, they became responsible for it. They’re also dealing with some liability and failing to take action on this hurts them.

Anti: The above and Walter Olson make a fair case that this was partially the result of public policy rather than a strictly silent decision. Not unlike how the Obama administration basically pushed private universities across the country to some rather questionable due process policies for sexual misconduct charges. The federal government’s hands are clean, but they’re not, both at the same time.

Pro: All of this would be an issue if the memo weren’t as troublesome as it is. If it had been presented with more delicacy. If it had been some unearthed private blog instead of through company channels.

Anti: It was through company channels but was apparently not, as initially reported, a memo sent out of the blue or something emailed to everybody. Rather, it was in an internal forum dedicated to discussion of precisely these sorts of issues. Google said they wanted a free discussion. This wasn’t some memo sent out of the blue, it was part of a discussion.

Pro: Okay, but what are we, five? On what basis should he have had any faith that this was ever a free and open discussion? On what basis should he have felt free to speak his mind knowing that there were some really controversial views in there? Knowing that it would be disruptive to the workplace? Knowing that women would likely respond in a way that would make his continued empoloyment there difficult? If he didn’t know these things, he should have. Even if we ignore the fact that the left almost never wants the free and open discussion that it says it does, how did he think this would end? Did he think they would look at his statistics and say “Woah, he’s totally right. Women aren’t getting these great jobs because they don’t want them and they’re not capable.”

Anti: That’s not an accurate summary.

Pro: No, but it’s an obvious one. It’s an oversimplified response to a more nuanced argument… and if something can be summaried that way, it probably will be by someone. And if nobody wants to put nuance back in there, that’s going to be the official interpretation. Then you run into a situation where people can sit back and say “It doesn’t matter how accurate your words are. It doesn’t matter if your argument was too nuanced. People won’t work with you. You’ve got to go. QED.” And they’ll say this and they won’t be wrong.

Anti: That’s really not fair, though. It sets up a “discussion” wherein the first person says it’s all about discrimination and anybopdy responding to that is walking through a minefield. It is almost impossible to imagine a 10-page memo claiming that it’s 100% discrimination and harassment getting this kind of response.

Pro: Yes. This is a common tactic in these discussions – to win arguments by default by declaring illegitimate counterarguments (sexist, racist, etc) and counterarguers (whatever your marker of privilege is removes you from the discussion). And in this case, it works. And it works in large part because the other side blew it by actually being sexist and saying sexist things. Enough connections can be drawn between this memo and things written by people that have said some truly awful things that you’re stuck.

Anti: That’s not fair.

Pro: Maybe, but life seldom is. But it’s also not fair to tell female employees that they have to work with and under the guy and that they’re comfortable with his attitude. If they’re not, that’s a problem for them and that’s a problem for the company. A lot of people are mad at the women that no-showed, but getting employees to band together is difficult and that probably indicates existing problems.

Anti: How responsible is Memo Guy for these problems Why should be pay for Google’s sins?

Pro: He made himself a target when he introduced himself into the discussion.

Anti: The free discussion Google said it wanted.

Pro: He shouldn’t have believed that the discussion needed to include deeply unpopular points of view. His bad. He put himself in front of the Mack Truck.

Anti: But look, what he had to say hasn’t been discredited and the science is on his side.

Pro: At least some of it is. There seem to be some feedback loops going on that we have some control over above and beyond the things pointed out in the memo. Computer science has become more male over time rather than less. Their genes didn’t change, and it’s unlikely their priorities have. So culture has an effect.

Anti: Okay, even if it does, it’s not clear they’re accepting anything other than sexism as an explanation. We are, as Jesse Singal says, making Blank Slate-ism a litmus test.

Pro: Which is unfortunate. But we’d have a better way to gauge where everybody is coming from if the original piece hadn’t been as sweeping in the other direction.

Anti: What if the solution are those things you condemn, like stripping computer science of its cultural markers (Star Trek posters in the workplace, etc) and taking the freak flag down?

Pro: Well, screw that. But just because some people are too cavalier about what we can do doesn’t mean we can’t do anything.

Anti: That seems kind of weak.

Pro: Yeah, it kind of is, but no less weak than “This is just the way there is and there’s nothing we can do.”

Anti: So we’re okay with him being fired?

Pro: Yeah, I think so. He doesn’t belong on any blacklists and the list of people who should also be fired should have zero or few names on it, but it’s hard to see any other conclusion, even if it reveals some unflatting things about the conversation we’re supposed to be having.


Category: Office

The inflection point occurred a couple months ago.

First, just a bit of background. My wife works at two hospitals, Stone County Hospital and Mills County Medical Center. She was hired primarily to work at Mills, but because there were three people doing a job that could (theoretically) be done by two, that meant that she had some hours to make up working at Stone. Also, when I refer to “hours” that’s not “hours worked” but rather “coverage hours” which means hours that the service is taking in patients. So if she is working 16 hours for patients that come in within a 12 hour span, she gets 12 hours. Also, she is expected to take phone consultation call on the evenings of the days that she works, so if she’s working 12 hours, she also has another 12 of phone consultation (or 14 if the shift is 10).

One of the three doctors at Mills County Medical Center resigned, which left Clancy and one colleague having to do the entire job. This is possible, but it also leaves no room for somebody getting sick or going on vacation. The problem for Clancy was that in addition to her duties at Mills, they were still giving her hours at Stone. This was in addition to the above-mentioned phone consultation and one night a week of full call (where she is expected to go in). So Clancy asked the person responsible for scheduling if she really needed to be working those hours at Stone.

In response, she got a really terse, somewhat condescending letter from a higher up outlining what he thought the hours were. She was expected to work 144 hours per four-week period (that’s 36 hours a week, the remaining four being sick/vacation/holiday), and she had 12 shifts of 8 hours at Mills and so needed to work three shifts of 12 hours at Stone to make 144. He went on to explain about how people who want their job have to work a minimum number of hours yadda yadda.

The problem was that his math was wrong. The shifts at Mills were 10 hours instead of 8 and there were 14 of them instead of 12. And on top of that, they were giving her four days at Stone rather than three. The result was 140 hours at Mills, plus another 48 at Stone, for a total of 188 hours that wasn’t including phone consultation or on-call. The latter of which being a particular sticking point because most doctors don’t have to do it because they can’t deliver babies. They did a whole thing of “Do you really want to be the kind of employee who is sitting there counting hours?” but at the end of the day her argument was pretty bulletproof.

So they stopped scheduling her at Stone. However, to “make up for it” they expanded the coverage hours at Mills from 10 to 12. That meant that she was back at 168 hours, plus phone consultation plus obstetrical call with no vacation, sick time, or holidays. Clancy agreed to it because she mostly just wanted to (a) stop working at Stone and (b) stop having 10 day work stretches.

Unfortunately, it simply proved to be too much for her. She got several consecutive weeks of above-average patient loads. On top of all that, her employer worked out something with another service that Clancy and her colleague would start taking some of their patients, too. Clancy has never been the fastest worker, and she just got overwhelmed with it. Last month we racked up $850 a month in hotel expenses because she would work until she was too tired to drive. Attempts on her part to streamline her efficiency were thwarted by the constant level of reaction that she was in. Being away from her daughter and living in hotels ate away at her, and she was still getting yelled at by her superiors for not having her paperwork done in a timely manner.

So this week, she submitted her resignation. Her contract is up for renewal in June and she will stay on until then. We’re not sure what comes after this. We probably won’t be relocating for a new job immediately. She will likely do some temp work to keep us afloat and work on trying to become more efficient at her next job, to work smarter instead of so long and so hard. And beyond that, to take the time to find the right job, instead of doing what we’ve been doing, which is kind of falling into the jobs she’s taken.

It is unlikely we will be staying in the area for more than a year or two. I’m going to miss some of the conveniences of living so close to the city, and I’m really going to miss this house. But fortunately we won’t have to uproot in the immediate future.


Category: Office

verizonscabMy friend is going to be in town pretty soon on a business trip. He lives out on the west coast, but will be coming east to destroy the working man fill in some gaps caused by a regional strike by employees of his company. He’ll only be around here for a couple of weeks, but will be on the east coast for a few months. This, of course, has me very proud of him, for a variety of reasons:

  1. He is crossing the country, spending time away from his lovely wife, for the sake of work. Such things are often tough, and sacrificing pleasure for work is one of capitalism’s highest honors.
  2. He is doing it largely for money so that he can pay back some debts. We haven’t discussed which debts, but paying back debts is not as gratifying as doing something just to get stuff.
  3. He is doing his part to destroy the striking and the strikers by providing alternative labor, thereby strengthening the hand of big business against the ungrateful peons.

But seriously, the strike must be having some significant effect if they’re flying him all the way across the country to do it. Not only that, but they’re paying him really well. Something like overtime pay for the first forty hours and then double-pay after that. He’ll be working something like seventy hours a week. If they’re doing this, they must be really hurting for people.


Category: Office

In related news, California will raise its minimum wage to $15/hr.


Category: Office

A new study suggests that laws banning drug tests and credit checks may hurt black applicants:

Why were African-Americans put at a disadvantage when states banned employer credit checks? It could be that black job-seekers found it harder to meet the increased education and experience requirements that employers started to impose. Or it could be that employers simply started to become tougher on black applicants because they couldn’t verify their credit histories and assumed the worst.

A powerful study published last year in the Review of Economics and Statistics shows something of the opposite happening: When employers began to require drug tests for job applicants, they started hiring more African-Americans.

“The likely explanation for these findings is that prior to drug testing, employers overestimated African-Americans’ drug use relative to whites,” the study’s author explained in an op-ed. Drug tests allowed black job applicants to disprove the incorrect perception that they were addicts.

This corresponds with a thought that I’ve been having for a while now on a related issue: IQ tests. While IQ tests are not universally banned in hiring, they do leave companies with hoops to be willing to jump through if they’re challenged, and so a lot of companies that might utilize them don’t.

Which, as the article points out, can lead to an increase in requiring credentials that aren’t challenged. I’ve been wondering if we could poach the higher ed bubble (if there is one) by simply applying disparate impact to that as a job requirement, leaving it to employers to demonstrate that the job really requires a degree. But in addition to potentially contributing a bit to credential inflation, the thought had occurred to me that it could actually hurt high IQ black applicants. Potentially by requiring a college degree that they don’t have, or by leaving it to (possibly unconscious) racist hiring manager judgment.

Which is to say, if allowed to take a test, David Alexander can demonstrate his intelligence. So a hiring manager that subconsciously looks at a black man and thinks “probably dumb” can have his concerns in that area satisfied. If the manager is systematically underestimating black IQ’s, this can act as a corrective! At least in individual cases. Now, you don’t even have to believe in the validity of the IQ test, so long as he does. If you don’t, you can try to disabuse him of that notion, but it might be better for David (or any other individually intelligent black person) to simply be able to produce a good score.

Instead of using an IQ test, you could use “successful at Super Mario Bros 2.” If some employer believes that’s a worthwhile metric, then that gives minority applicants, poor applicants, and whatever else something to strive towards. Only if they can get ahold of the game, though, which is a concern. Also a concern is that if this became widespread, you’d start to see training classes and it might become a part of the curriculum in well-heeled suburban schools. Asian-Americans might become unusually good at it. Then you might run into a Disparate Impact problem as black and Hispanic kids are disproportionately be unable to buy the game, unable to afford SMB2 tutors, and won’t have playing that game ingrained in their culture. But even then, at least it would provide an opportunity to answer the important-to-the-employer “Can play Super Mario Bros 2” metric. And it would be vastly less expensive than the alternative, which might be “Has a Bachelor’s Degree.”

Of course, that’s not what we want employers to do. Because as we know, SMB2 performance bears no resemblence to the ability to do all but a few jobs. And we want to be fair. In a perfect free market economy, we might say “Employers that make their hiring decisions based on a lackluster video game will be at a competitive advantage and so they’ll weed themselves out.” But that’s probably not what would happen. What we would be left with is a hiring qualification with the only three advantages being (a) less susceptible to stereotypical impressions than subjectiving interviewing, (b) not as reliant on networking as recommendation hiring, and (c) less expensive than college.

Which, come to think of it, isn’t the worst list of advantages I’ve ever heard. But it’s transparently dumb. Less transparently dumb is the subject of the Washington Post article, credit checks. You can at least see the rationale for using that as a criterion. But by its very nature it’s discriminatory towards those we as a society don’t want discrimination against: Poor people, those down on their luck, people who have gotten sick, and so on. Like companies refusing to hire people that are unemployed, it may make sense for any given company (whether the metric itself has empirical foundation or not) but is not good for society as a whole.

In this sense, the laws against credit discrimination continute to make sense. They are still too unfairly discriminatory. That they are not as discriminatory towards black folks in particular as the next most likely alternative may be unfortunate, but stands in suggestion that maybe bad, discriminatory policies don’t have to disproportionately affect non-Asian minorities in order to be bad policy.


Category: Office

As noted recently by Oscar, the unions don’t want the rules to apply to them:

In May, the Los Angeles City Council voted to lift the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020. As the council reconvenes this week after a summer recess, the group is expected to take action on a union-backed clause in the wage bill that would exempt unionized workers.

Union officials argue the exception would allow them to negotiate better overall contracts, while some critics say the exemption would create an uneven playing field for mandated wages.

“The argument for a union exemption for minimum wage is that workers represented by unions have the ability to bargain for a combination of wages, benefits and working conditions that works best for them,” says Chris Tilly, an urban planning professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.

I’m not big on unions, but I find this position to actually be at least somewhat defensible. Some who criticize it say that it’s an effort on the part of unions to convince employers to unionize so that they can pay sub-minimum wages. Maybe? My guess, though, is that unions are going to have a hard time attracting workers at sub-minimum unless, as they say, they make up for it through other benefits and the like.

A double-standard? Sure. And I oppose them on this. However, from their point of view, it’s entirely logical.

There are some arrangements that are not always bad for the employees, but as a norm and/or without protections are ripe for abuse. An extreme example of that is allowing sex requirements for job. For example, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with saying “You must be willing to have sex as a part of your job here.” We allow it for pornography actors and prostitutes. However, if we didn’t have a general prohibition against it, there is at least the concern that it would be tacked on to job requirements for secretaries and the like. Maybe this fear is baseless, or there is a better way of going about it, but I’m kind of glad that’s prohibited.

You can deal with this sort of thing at least a couple of ways. You can use strict regulation. You can delineate it by way of job classification. Yes, you can require porn actors to have sex but no you cannot require the assistant associate producer to as a part of her job. But another way is to have a mechanism that assures that if something… different… is a part of the job that the workers are genuinely on board with it. If you believe that unions are a key check against management power, it’s reasonable to say “Okay, management has more latitude in this area because we know the worker interests are being looked after here.

And so it is with low wages. It may well be that in Los Angeles, it is generally not acceptable to pay people $15-an-hour in most cases because if you allow it then employers will regularly pay less than that even when they could pay more. However, there are some circumstances in which you want to allow that. If their jobs allow for tips. If it’s really an employee-in-training position that pays. If it’s an internship. Well, how do you differentiate? You can (and do) differentiate through law. But you can also differentiate by whether or not the workers’ interests are being protected.

This does presuppose that unions are indeed protecting workers’ interests. It also presupposes that without unions, employees are incapable of protecting their own interests. These ideas are certainly less likely to carry weight at Marginal Revolution than at Over There or at Lawyers, Guns, and Money. But we can at least agree that the unions themselves likely believe it. And if one believes that the unions are there to protect worker interests, it’s entirely reasonable to believe that the law should take a lighter hand in those instances.


Category: Office

The Washington Post had a tool where you can look up the political donations of a large number of professions. I decided to kind of go wild with it. Below is what I discovered. They’re listed from percentage to Democrats at the top to percentage of Republicans at the bottom. My main criteria for inclusion was that if I looked it up I would include it if there was over 100. There are some with under 100 because I found them particularly interesting. The number of total donors is in parenthesis.

Medical Profession:

Psychologist: 88.7% Democrat (4.3k)
Psychiatrist: 82.5% Democrat (1.4k)
Family Physician: 81.6% Democrat (280)
Pediatrician 81.1% Democrat (1.1k)
Nurse Practitioner: 76.8% Democrat (780)
Physician Assistant: 64.8% Democrat (400)
Registered Nurse: 60% Democrat (2.1k)
Nurse: 57.5% Democrat (2k)
Pediatric Dentist: 51.7% Democrat (260)
Physician: 51.2% Democrat (89k)
Doctor: 50.9% Republican (5k)
Plastic Surgeon: 55.6% Republican (310)
General Surgeon: 62.9% Republican (140)
Optometrist: 63% Republican (1.8k)
Opthamologist: 64% Republican (170)
Radiologist: 67.1% Republican (1.5k)
Surgeon: 67.6% Republican (3.3k)
Dermatologist: 69.3% Republican (370)
Dentist: 69.7% Republican (10.3k)
Neurosurgeon: 71.3% Republican (530)
Oral Surgeon: 81.6% Republican (550)

Technology:
Computer Scientist: 87.9% Democrat (410)
Chief Technology Officer: 71.2% Democrat (180)
Computer Analyst: 71.1% Democrat (120)
Software Engineer: 70% Democrat (5k)
Computer Programmer: 65.2% Democrat (1.3k)
Software Developer: 61.3% Democrat (1.8k)
Computer Consultant: 61.2% Democrat (390)
Information Technology: 58.5% Democrat (430)
Database Administrator: 56.3% Democrat (160)
Computer Engineer 54.9% Republican (220)
Network Engineer: 59.4% Republican (270)

Engineering:

Petroleum Engineer: 95.4% Republican (720)
Mining Engineer: 93.1% Republican (230)
Chemical Engineer: 64.3% Republican (390)
Mechanical Engineer: 61.4% Republican (430)
Aerospace Engineer: 60.5% Republican (120)
Civil Engineer: 58.7% Republican (1.8k)
System Engineer: 57.5% Republican (110)
Engineer: 53.6% Republican (24k)
Electrical Engineer: 53.2% Republican (990)
Environmental Engineer: 70.8% Democrat (140)

Science:
Mathematician: 91.5% Democrat (320)
Researcher: 85% Democrat (1.5k)
Physicist: 83% Democrat (1.7k)
Chemist: 61% Democrat (710)
Accountant: 59% Republican (7.2k)
Geologist: 74% Republican (1.9k)

Religion:

Episcopal Priest: 92% Democrat (110)
Rabbi: 84.5% Democrat (320)
Priest: 71.7% Democrat (220)
Minister: 63.1% Democrat (720)
Pastor: 55.8% Democrat (840)
Catholic Priest: 66.2% Republican (130)

Elites:
Professor: 90.3% Democrat (29k)
Editor: 87.7% Democrat (1.4k)
Journalist: 79.5% Democrat (520)
Lawyer: 77.3% Democrat (25k)
CEO: 56% Republican (54k)
Investment Banker: 58.9% Republican (3.3k)
Banker: 71.3% Republican (11k)
Bank President: 84.7% Republican (110)

Artists:

Actor: 91% Democrat (1.1k)
Writer: 88.2% Democrat (9.9k)
Artist: 84.8% Democrat (6.2k)
Musician: 80.6% Democrat (1.5k)
Architect: 75.7% Democrat (5.9k)

Curiosities:
Yoga Teacher: 93.8% Democrat (145)
Architects: 75.7% Democrat (5.9k)
Morticians: 63.6% Republican (55)
Auto Sales: 83.6% Republican (200)
Auto Dealer: 87% Republican (2.8k)

Trades:
Pipefitter: 68.5% Democrat (54)
Welder: 55.1% Republican (120)
Plumber: 58.1% Republican (290)
Landscaper: 59.8% Republican (180)
Electrician: 64.8% Republican (820)
Truck Driver: 73.7% Republican (600)
Machinist: 77.1% Republican (240) 
 
 
 

Sales:
Advertising Sales: 78.4% Democrat (50)
Sales Director: 51.8% Republican (220)
Real Estate Sales: 54.8% Republican (530)
Sales Consultant: 54.8% Republican (130)
Life Insurance Sales: 71.1% Republican (90)
Investment Sales: 72% Republican (50)
Regional Sales Manager: 72.5% Republican (110)
Retail Sales: 64.7% Republican (220)
Sales Associate: 66.5% Republican (190)
Sales & Marketing: 67.5% Republican (120)
Sales: 72.8% Republican (13.6k)
Medical Sales: 76.5% Republican (170)
Sales Engineer: 78.8% Republican (360)
Financial Sales: 80.8% Republican (50)
Insurance Sales: 85% Republican (1.1k)
Energy Sales: 91.2% Republican (60)

Public Servants:
Social Worker: 91.4% Democrat (2.3k)
Teacher: 74.5% Democrat (11.4k)
Firefighter: 70.2% Democrat (310)
Police Officer: 51.4% Republican (410)
Army Officer: 56.5% Republican (70)
Detective: 63.5% Republican (50)
Soldier: 77.9% Republican (330)

Not a whole lot of super duper surprises. I would have expected Civil Engineers to go the other way, and while I didn’t expect uniform Republican I was surprised that just about every category of religious leader I could look up leaned Democratic.

Relatedly, here’s a list of the political leanings of executives and employees at various companies. I’m surprised at the conservatism at UPS, a unionized outfit. Less surprised about the energy sector.

Addendum: Post has been updated to add “Sales” section.


Category: Office

A couple weeks ago, Gabriel wrote over there about Right To Work (or Open Shop) laws Over There. In the comments, a conversation opened up about the eight hour workday. Specifically, the law in California that obligates to pay an employee overtime unless it falls in an area of exception. I was aware that this was something that has been advocated by some people, but I didn’t know any state had passed it.

It’s madness.

Well, not quite madness. But my impression of the law is that it would have really screwed me over. The exceptions may have helped a little bit, but not much. The various scenarios that come up are:

  1. What about 4/10 or 9/9?
  2. 2) What if I want to leave early on a Friday to beat traffic for a weekend trip?
  3. 3) What if I have a dentist appointment on Tuesday morning? Can I not make up the time by working extra the rest of the week?

Exceptions actually do cover #1 and #3. I case of the former, I’m glad that the exception is there and all, but if working a 10-hour shift isn’t such a big deal, what necessitates this law to begin with? I mean, if we are not supposed to be able to consent to work 10 hours on a particular day, then why should we be allowed to do so on an ongoing basis? Since regular overtime laws apply, it can’t be that they would be working you too many hours in the overall. I’m definitely glad that the exception for #3 (allows employees (with employer consent) to work more than eight hours one day to make up for missed time on another day) is in place) and that did lower my blood pressure a bit.

What I don’t fully understand is what problem this is really solving, other than an attempt to try to micromanage what a workweek kinda sorta should look like? I have never lived in a state that has had this regulation, and I have never found there to be a problem. So it’s not one of those cases where hypotheticals should be presented as to what employers would do but for regulations like these.

Meanwhile, nearly everywhere I could and every time I could, I have tried to take vacation days in half-day increments with extra hours worked to make up for it. Sometimes employers go for it, sometimes they don’t. But I would fear that any potential liability on their part would have put the kibosh on this. Employers often look for reasons to be inflexible with scheduling, and this provides them a big one.

I can sort of imagine scenarios where employers imposition their employees with schedules with some long days, maybe. It could be said “It’s great that you had that option, Will, but a lot of employees don’t and those are the ones that we need to look out for (employees like you will be fine because you have leverage). Well… okay, that sort of gets me thinking that maybe we could come up with a compromise not unlike Nevada’s, which imposes an 8-hour workday when the hourly wage is under 150% of the minimum wage. That seems reasonable, but mostly in a FYIGM way where I guess I mostly just don’t care because I would have been earning above that. It would have the perverse effect of making me hostile to raising the minimum wage.

This goes deeper to me than a freedom of contract. I am sympathetic to all sorts of limitations that take into account the lack of leverage employees often have compared to employers. While I might nip and tuck it a bit, I support the 40-hour workweek. I don’t know what I would do about it, but I am open to doing something to tackle the problem of employers claiming too much employees time while not actually having them work most of it. I think jobs are too frequently declared overtime-exempt when they shouldn’t be.

This, on the other hand, just reeks of “This is what we think the workweek should look like and employees who would consent to something else are probably being forced to.”

(And don’t get me started on the lack of flextime…)


Category: Office

Here is an article about how people don’t fully account for the costs of commuting when they buy a house:

To put things back on par, let’s whip up a couple of quick commuting equations. Let’s assume the average person’s marginal driving cost is halfway between the Ultra-Mustachian driver figure of 17 cents per mile, and Uncle Sam’s generous 51 cent allowance. So, 34 cents. Let’s also assume the value of a person’s time is $25 per hour, since this is close to a median wage for a suburban commuter. (If you don’t think you’d use your newfound leisure time that productively, you need to think more like an Early Retiree. I used mine for plenty of learning and domestic insourcing).

For each mile you drive across two times on your round trip to work daily, it multiplies to 500 miles per year, or a $170 annual fee
For each of these miles, you waste about 6 minutes in the round trip, adding to 25 hours per year ($625 of your time).

So each mile you live from work steals $795 per year from you in commuting costs.

$795 per year will pay the interest on $15,900 of house borrowed at a 5% interest rate.

In other words, a logical person should be willing to pay about $15,900 more for a house that is one mile closer to work, and $477,000 more for a house that is 30 miles closer to work. For a double-commuting couple, these numbers are $31,800 and $954,000.

Adapting the numbers for a $7.50 minimum wage earner, each mile of car commuting cuts $1.43 from your workday. If you drive 10 miles to go work a 5-hour shift at the Outback Steakhouse, your effective hourly wage is more like $5 per hour after subtracting car costs and adding drive time.

My own response to this was that it overestimates wage elasticity. Which is to say that you can say that your time is worth X-amount per hour, but your ability to actually claim that money is somewhat limited by employer schedules, overtime laws, and so on. But even if we ignore that…

Some of you old-timers may remember Larry from the now-defunct Bastidge blog, who used to comment here and similarly situated sites. He actually had a great battery of responses to this, which he granted permission for me to reboot. (They were typed on his phone, and with minimal editing, so take that into account):

Or take $15,900 less for a job closer to home. There are two ways to increase wealth. Increase productivity or decrease costs.

I live on the Washington side of the Columbia River. Not only do I explicitly calculate Oregon’s income tax effect on my take-home, I also factor commute time. Taxes are not insignificant but also an average of two hours per day of commute time to downtown Portland increases my work-day (otherwise personally-unproductive time) by 25%. If I recalculate my pay rate for the extra 10 hours/week drops my effective pay rate by 20% + 9% in taxes vs a job with a ten minute commute and no income tax, it makes it clear I should be willing to take significantly less money to work here in Vancouver and skip the hassle involved in the Portland job market.

But many people just say “I can’t find a job on this side with an equal pay rate” and leave it at that.

The huge problem with the article though, is that jobs are much more elastic than mortgages.

If I pay more for a home close to work and then lose the job, I’m far worse off than taking a job for less money in close proximity to cheaper

Even bigger problem: not all types of work and all types of housing correlate. If you’re a farmer, you won’t find a farm house with acres in the city. If you’re an urban planner, you won’t find employment in rural Montana. If you’re an office worker, the distance trade-off of having a home within range of your financing options and maximizing your earning potential may conflict. In many cases, the only places your skill set matters may be beyond your means to live. You either need to take a suboptimal commute, suboptimal lifestyle choices, or change careers. It’s tough to get people to voluntarily and proactively change careers because they invest identity into what they do. When people ask me what I do for a living, I say I work in IT. Many would answer “I’m an IT guy.”

Most people have to forced by circumstance to adapt for different work and very few ever plan transitions.

My first thought is that given how Oregon charges you coming and going when it comes to the state income tax (you’re charged if you live in Washington and commute to Oregon or vice-versa), I’m honestly a bit surprised that there hasn’t been more development in Vancouver for people to stay on that side of the line and then go to Portland when they want to take advantage of urban amenities. Maybe I’m underestimating the existing growth.

The second thought is that Larry is absolutely right, and it doesn’t just provide an incentive for people to get jobs downtown – or just for them to take jobs nearer to them – but also for employers to meet them out where housing is less expensive. Not only will they save money on their own facilities, but they will be able to pay employees less. Or rather, they will be able to if we assume rationality on the part of employers. Which we often cannot do. But even if they can’t reduce pay by the full amount, they can reduce it somewhat.

All-star employers are more likely to stay in the city, or at least keep their headquarters there. Among other things, that’s going to be where the executives want to be. And there are definite strategic advantages. As downtown costs skyrocket, though, they are going to have to consider other options. Those options may include setting up a satellite office in Austin or Kansas City, or an increasing number of edge cities (which are, pretty much, a formulation of employers meeting employees outside the core.


Category: Office

The New York Times writes about the increasing importance work metrics. It tells the story of Jim Sullivan, a waiter in Dallas whose really good numbers got him a management position. That’s what we think about when we think about work metrics. That and the whip. This was the part area of the article that I found interesting, though:

Through these new means, companies have found, for example, that workers are more productive if they have more social interaction. So a bank’s call center introduced a shared 15-minute coffee break, and a pharmaceutical company replaced coffee makers used by a few marketing workers with a larger cafe area. The result? Increased sales and less turnover. {…}

For example, the company studied workers in Bank of America call centers and observed that those in tightknit communications groups were more productive and less likely to quit. To increase social communication, the shared 15-minute coffee break was introduced to the daily routine. Afterward, call-handling productivity increased more than 10 percent, and turnover declined nearly 70 percent, Mr. Waber said.

This reminds me of Falstaff, where I worked in Deseret when I started this site. We got a new HR person who basically thought his job was squeeze us for increased performance and professionality. Among the first things he did was look at us all hanging out in the breakroom during our break time. He said that he was utterly embarrassed to walk down into the break room and see the entire programming staff down there chatting away and having a good old time. Was it between 10 and 10:15 and/or 3-3:15? Well, then, our boss explained, that’s our company-mandated break time.

So we got two new rules. First, we needed to spread our breaks out. No more collective beak time. This was a mixed bag. On the one hand, it was a good time for socialization. On the other, it meant that when you were on break you had immediate access to the soda fountain and such. We didn’t complain about that part. What we complained about was that we were banned from taking our break in the break room. We needed to stay at our desk.

The next complaint was that when the HR guy would walk by our stations, he would see us quite blatantly surfing the Internet. since we didn’t have a specific time for our collective break anymore, all our boss could say when he was confronted about it was that maybe we were on break. So, no more surfing the Internet while on break. One guy brought a book. You can guess how well that went over. Finally our boss went to the HR guy and asked what, precisely, we were supposed to do on our break. His answer was, I kid you not, “try to look busy.”

At that point, I checked out of the whole discussion. I already had my answer. I had, up to that point, declined to smoke on company property or around coworkers. I knew it was a Mormon employer and my coworkers were Mormon and I figured the fewer of them who knew I smoked the better. By then, though, I didn’t care. There was another company downstairs and they had a smoking area. So I would go, hang out with them, and smoke.

The HR guy didn’t last long.

The funny thing about the whole thing was that the social aspect of the job was one of the things that kept us engaged. Whenever I considered leaving, it was leaving behind the friendships that gave me pause. Despite the fact it’s been a long time, I keep in closer touch with the people who worked there than anywhere else. And that was what they had tried to kill.


Category: Office

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Greetings from Stonebridge a fictitious city in a fictitious state located in a tri-state area in the interior Mid-Atlantic region. We're in western Queenland, which is really a state unto itself, and not to be confused with Queensland in Australia.

Nothing written on this site should be taken as strictly true, though if the author were making it all up rest assured the main character and his life would be a lot less unremarkable.


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