Worried About Jobs and Outsourcing? These Books Will Help

The bad news about the unemployment rate uptick to 9.1% spurs the question: are corporations under investing in the American worker? After all, capital markets and corporate profits are recovering faster than paychecks and people.

It's true that new improvements in process redesign and advanced technology have delivered more productivity during the recession, squeezing more output from fewer staff, while managers learn to function with uncomfortably low staffing levels. As of the first quarter of 2011, output productivity was up over 3 percent for the economy from last year, and 10 percent for durable manufacturing!

Still millions of workers fear for their jobs, and managers are concerned about maintaining productive teams and employee morale when key pillars of job security are damaged or missing. Workforce turnover is high, wage growth is elusive, and companies continue to move millions of jobs and major operations overseas. National surveys identify outsourcing as a source of public fear and anger that few companies address.

I would point to a handful of books with varying points of view that provide well-researched and argued insights into controversies over outsourcing, jobs, and the responsibility of corporations to social and economic wellbeing. They will give you various points of view on what corporations can and should do on behalf of their own employees, and what workers can expect in a persistently tough job climate.

  1. Profit at the Bottom of the Ladder: Create Profit by Investing in Your Workforce, by Jody Heymann (Harvard Business School Press, 2010): this overlooked gem draws on a six-year research project and thousands of interviews investigating companies that invest in workers "at the bottom of the ladder" to answer the author's fundamental question of whether we can manage profitable corporations that deliver the fruits of success from the top of the organizational chart to the bottom. Heymann's research found not only that companies can be profitable for their owners and shareholders while being profitable for their employees, but because they have been profitable for their employees. She proves the business case for top to bottom policies that include affordable health benefits, clinics and services; corporate training and internal promotion; profit sharing and stock options; engaging line workers and implementing their best recommendations; and community service.
  2. The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Workers, by Steven Greenhouse (Anchor Books, 2008-2009): Greenhouse's masterpiece of journalism connects the dots between corporate and government policy and the American lives they affect. Greenhouse's expose of working conditions and abuses are riveting, and his portrayals of unsung union organizers and worker activists such as Chuck Moehling, Kathy Saumier, and Jennifer Miller are powerful and all too rare in today's journalism. He details the causes and remedies for America's broken social compact between workers, employers, and government.
  3. Take This Job and Ship It, by Senator Byron Dorgan (St. Martin's/Thomas Dunne Books 2006-7): Dorgan, a former US Senator from North Dakota respected for his grasp of budget and economic issues, makes a powerful case with telling examples that free trade has become a disaster for the middle-class and a misleading euphemism for unchecked greed by U.S. corporations. Dorgan is particularly effective in showing the devastating effects of deindustrialization, trade agreements, corporate tax policy, outsourcing, and the loss of "corporate patriotism."
  4. Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail (Portfolio, April 2011). As I wrote earlier this year, Malled is great reality journalism, a raw education in the nature of American low-wage retail work before and during the devastating recession of 2007-2009. It also is a searing narrative of Kelly's experiences working in an upscale mall, laced with a national investigative skewering of the awful working conditions, low wages, and big brother corporate leadership in the US retail sector
  5. In Defense of Globalization, by Jagdish Bhagwati (Oxford University Press, 2004/2007): This highly praised book is regarded as the most lucid and compelling defense of globalization. As noted by Daniel Drezner in The New York Times, "There is a need for someone to step into the breach and defend globalization using the language of the average Joe, as opposed to the calculus of a Nobel Prize-winning Joe. If anyone can rise to this challenge, it should be Jagdish Bhagwati." In The Wall Street Journal, Bruce Bartlett wrote that, "Bhagwati takes on many antiglobalist arguments, showing them to be overblown or groundless. The lot of women and children improves with the opening of markets, and the environment too, not to mention the chances for democracy.... Accessible and clearly argued. There is, one might say, a wealth of material on every page."
  6. The Offshore Nation: Strategies for Success in Global Outsourcing and Offshoring, by Atul Vashistha and Avinash Vashistha (McGraw Hill 2006): Of the numerous books providing strategic, operational, and management advice on offshoring, this is the best. The authors offer a concise defense of the value of outsourcing to corporate growth and deftly connect the dots to core practices and governance questions. A comprehensive guide that demystifies outsourcing.
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  • Herb Schaffner is president of Schaffner Media Partners, a consultancy specializing in business, finance, and public affairs publishing expertise, and is found on Facebook. He has been a publisher and editor-in-chief at McGraw-Hill, and a senior editor at HarperCollins. Follow him on Twitter.
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