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An Ode to the Worker Bee

In tribute to employees on Labor Day

Source: PublicDomainPictures

Labor Day honors workers. And with good reason, indeed for more reasons that many people consider:

Ever more is expected of the worker bee. Often with the Damoclean sword above their heads, they’re asked to get technical and once there, to stay current. You know version 6.0? Well, 7.0 has just come out. While government statistics don’t report an increase in productivity, that belies my experience with clients that make me wonder whether those statistics are missing important productivity improvements. Well, as least on Labor Day, I choose to think that way. Here’s to the worker bee.

I’m amazed at how compliant most workers are. Even when the work is repetitive or, conversely, they receive ever changing orders reflecting the magic pill du jour, most workers simply grin and bear it. Some even change. Here’s to the worker bee.

For a long time now, pay for most employees has remained below the inflation rate . In 39 states, welfare recipients receive, net, more than a starting secretary would, and in 11 states, more than than a first-year teacher. That's surprising to me and perhaps to you but remember that there are cash payments, housing subsidy, food stamps, free or low-cost health care (Medicaid plus local subsidies) transportation vouchers, utility subsidies, means-based college financial aid, and Women with Infants and Children (WIC) subsidies. Yet millions of worker bees show up to work day after day, not abusing the Family Leave Act nor suing Deep Pocket employers for trivial or non-existing offenses despite knowing that such employers often will buy them off to avoid more litigation and bad press. Here’s to the worker bee.

Of course, CEO salaries at Fortune 500-companies that the media focus on don’t reflect average boss salaries. Still, at many companies, non-profits, and government agencies, bosses make much more than worker bees and even though bosses don’t get overtime, the gap feels unfair to many workers, yet they rarely complain. They do their jobs, even suck up to bosses. Here’s to the worker bee.

Many formerly full-time benefited employees are now asked to work part-time, temp. And they do, accepting that job insecurity and the frequent need to pound the pavement yet again. Here's to the worker bee.

Commutes are getting ever longer as the government has deemed that the possible environmental benefit is worth adding more hours of stress to the workday by dramatically under-building freeways relative to population growth and forcing people onto time-consuming mass transit. That often requires workers to drive to a commuter bus or train, wait for it, perhaps take another bus or train, and then do the same thing at the end of the work day. Yet most workers just grin and bear it. Here’s to the worker bee.

Many blue-collar worker bees literally sacrifice their bodies so they can build and repair things to make our lives easier: from the steel body that makes our car safer to the handyperson who keeps our homes and businesses running, to the sewer worker who keeps our pipes running. I’ve seen so many plumbers, carpenters, etc., who by their early 40s have such back and knee problems that they must retire from their trade. And alas, they have a hard time launching a new career. The job market isn’t great for partly-disabled 40-something not-college-educated people with no experience in that new career. Here’s to the worker bee.

Worker bees put up with it all, not just for less money, but with less status in a nation obsessed with it. Here’s to the worker bee.

I also have great respect for bosses and other professionals, who seem under ever greater pressure from their bosses, employees, customers, government, and sometimes the media. But here at Labor Day, at least equally worthy of a tip of the cap is the employee. Here’s to the worker bee.

Dr. Nemko’s nine books are available. You can reach career and personal coach Marty Nemko at

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