How Companies Are Tackling Job Misery

From a Wall Street Journal story by Russell Adams headlined “How Companies Are Tackling Job Misery”:

What is as good as a raise? A break from drudgery.

More companies are betting on it as they try to retain and attract workers in a persistently tight labor market. They are cutting down on meetings and mundane tasks, easing the discomfort of physical jobs and giving employees more say in how and when they work.

These initiatives aren’t solely for the benefit of the people doing the work. Many of these steps aim to make employees more efficient, a growing focus across a range of industries as executives respond to economic uncertainty and the threat of a recession.

Learn how companies, including Uber and AT&T, are trying to make the daily grind a little less grinding:

Undercover at Uber

Executives at Uber realized financial incentives alone wouldn’t solve the driver shortage that was making it hard for the ride-sharing company to keep up with demand. So CEO Dara Khosrowshahi went undercover as a driver. What he found was a job full of obstacles and annoyances, including a scourge called “tip baiting.” The company has since made several changes, including streamlining the sign-up process for workers and giving drivers more information about the destination before they accept a ride.

12,000 meetings canceled

Executives at companies including Shopify, Wayfair and Reynolds American have taken aim at meetings, which they say waste thousands of hours and cut into employees’ productivity. Shopify canceled recurring group meetings, banned most Wednesday meetings and now requires that gatherings with 50 or more people happen only in a six-hour window on Thursdays. The company in January said it had deleted 12,000 events from staffers’ calendars, freeing up about 95,000 hours.

Metal baskets of misery

Restaurants only recently have begun to emerge from a debilitating labor shortage that led to declining service and angry customers. Restaurant companies have raised pay, expanded benefits and offered workers more flexible schedules. Chili’s Bar & Grill went deeper. The chain cut menu offerings and added more bussers to ease the burden of cooks and servers even as it turned off customers. CEO Kevin Hochman eliminated the task of counting out and bagging shrimp and ditched the metal french-fry baskets he says were bogging down workers, who had to line and clean each one some 40 million times a year.

Ice cream on the tarmac

It is a job so grueling that many don’t last more than a couple months, and some walk right off the tarmac and never return. British Airways outfitted its ground crews with new, more weather-resistant uniforms created by a celebrity tailor.

Swissport, the biggest global contractor of airport cargo-handling staff, revamped the airline’s break rooms with TVs, lockers and coffee makers and has erected tents where employees can get sprayed with cooling mist between aircraft turnarounds. The operator of Frankfurt Airport now offers ice cream on the tarmac.

Project Raindrops

AT&T estimated that by requiring workers to include in expense reports the name of every attendee of a retirement or service-anniversary party, it was costing its workers 28,500 hours a year that they could be spending on more important tasks. So the company scrapped it. The telecom has eliminated or streamlined more than 160 daily tasks so far as part of an initiative known as Project Raindrops, which the company says is saving employees nearly three million hours a year.

Relief on the rails

The major U.S. freight railroads last year reached a new labor pact with unionized workers that raised pay and averted a strike, but it didn’t ease pressure from employees and union leaders to enhance workers’ quality of life.

The companies have since introduced a spate of labor-friendly moves aimed at boosting morale among existing workers and making jobs more attractive to people outside the industry. They include short-term paid sick leave and more predictable rest schedules.

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