Admittedly, the president’s speech on jobs Thursday night stirred up a lot of emotions in me, although I’m not exactly sure why. I thought I was over politics and watching speeches, and was really only focused on the football game it preceded. In fact, I had already pretty much written off Obama, as have a lot of his early supporters, and couldn’t imagine why I want to hear the same old empty rhetoric. But to my surprise, I watched the entire thing, taking in every word with the same hope and anticipation I used to feel.
While I’ll leave the political commentary about the speech to others, I’d like to share a thought that struck me while listening to the president talk about his proposed American Jobs Act. Our little company, Greenopolis, has hired five new people in the last 30 days– and we need more — but I realized that because we are on a tightened budget due to the economy, we have not really done a thorough job of indoctrinating or initiating these new hires into the organization. And that got me to thinking that there’s more to creating jobs than simply creating jobs. We should be creating sustainable, engaging and rewarding jobs, the kind that imbue the people who hold them with a sense of mission, pride and enthusiasm. A large part of that, of course, is providing a positive working environment – an upbeat, reinforcing culture that makes employees feel good about waking up in the morning and going to work.
Whether new jobs are created by federal programs or the private sector isn’t what really matters – what’s important is making employees feel that their work matters. Recently flying on United Airlines I was amazed to hear the flight attendants complaining about scheduling and other issues. They didn’t seem to be enjoying the fact that they have a job that both enables them to travel and to make a big difference in the ability of passengers to enjoy their flights, which perhaps reflects the airline’s failure to create a sense of “joy in the job. “ In China, which has transitioned from communism to a privatized industrial economy in just two or three decades, one of the biggest problems has been widespread worker depression. We might perhaps take a lesson from that, and realize that creating depressed employees is no way to cure a depressed economy. If, on the other hand we’re able to make sure that whatever jobs we generate are the sort that people truly look forward to doing, we stand a much better chance of once again becoming a forward-looking country.