The Dilbert Index? A New Marketplace Podcast

Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is called "The Dilbert Index?" (Download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript below.) It's about workplace morale and the measurement thereof.

This segment was largely crowd-sourced from Freakonomics blog readers -- so: thanks! It began with a blog post in which a reader named Tim Wadlow asserted that the direction you park in your company lot may say something about company morale. We then opened up the blog to further observations on company morale. One of the most interesting: the "Dilbert Index," as described by a reader named Damon Beaven:

BEAVEN: I look for the number of Dilbert comics and that seems to be inversely proportional to the level of morale. A lot of Dilbert comics seems to be like a passive aggressive way of an employee complaining.

We also take a step back and ask the basic questions like: How much does company morale matter to a company's bottom line? What's the best way to measure morale? And, in the realm of unintended consequences, what happens when a company tries to cut down on sick days?

A Cheap Employee Is … a Cheap Employee: A New Marketplace Podcast

Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is called "A Cheap Employee Is ... a Cheap Employee." 

(You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript below.)

It's about the question of whether low-paid employees are indeed a good deal for a retailer's bottom line as the conventional wisdom states.

The piece begins with a couple of stories from blog readers, Eric M. Jones and Jamie Crouthamel, which were solicited earlier here. (One of the true pleasures of operating this blog is having a channel by which to turn readers into radio guests -- thanks!)

Question of the Day: Any Good Stories About Workplace Morale?

We're working on a new podcast episode about morale in the workplace, and need your help. The episode was inspired a recent blog post in which a reader posited an interesting theory: morale is higher at companies where a lot of employees park nose-in (indicating they're eager to get to work) rather than nose-out (indicating they can't wait to get home).

My request here is two-fold:

1. We've started poking into the academic literature on company morale but haven't gotten very far, so please let us know any good leads.

2. We're also interested in hearing stories about morale at your workplace, be it high or low, and especially any clever/strange indicators of morale and unusual methods that have been used to measure morale.

Thanks in advance!

Who Wins (or Loses) in Overtime Exemption?

The U.S. Department of Labor is proposing to end the overtime exemption of “companions” (home assistants typically employed to assist/watch the infirm elderly) employed by an agency. The exemption would remain for companions employed directly by a private individual. This rule would lead to classic results: 1) Higher labor costs through agencies, no doubt passed onto older people in the form of higher prices, leading to less employment through agencies; 2) A shift to more companions employed directly by individuals.

I’m not sure what the demand elasticity for companions is, but it is unlikely to be small.

Less Work Time = More TV, Grooming Time

What would we do with our time if we suddenly didn’t have to work as much but were just as healthy and had the same income? This question is ages-old, was posed by Keynes in 1930, but is very hard to answer: sudden, permanent drops in work time that change nothing else are very rare. They did occur in Japan in the 1990s and Korea in the 2000s, when their governments induced employers to cut work hours. In a recent paper Jungmin Lee, Daiji Kawaguchi and I use time diaries from before and after the changes to see what happened. In Japan, almost half the free time was devoted to additional TV-watching, while in Korea, much was devoted to increased personal care, particularly grooming. But in neither was there any increase in home production — child care, cooking, gardening, etc. I like to think the same would occur in the U.S. — that we would use permanent cuts in work time to enjoy ourselves and take more care of ourselves. Regrettably in the workaholism champion of the Western world, these cuts don’t seem likely any time soon.

Can Parking Direction Tell Us Anything About Company Morale?

A reader named Tim Wadlow writes in with an interesting theory:

I spent about 10 years as a operations management consultant, working with dirty, dull, and dangerous manufacturing companies.

After spending time at roughly 100 manufacturing locations around the world, I noticed an odd trend: the direction that employees parked in their parking spots highly correlated with employee morale and satisfaction with their jobs. Most of the cars parked forward? A good company to work for, with employees who want to get to work. Most cars backwards? It seems as though the moment that the employee got to work, he or she was planning a quick exit.

Next time you drive by a manufacturing company check it out.

Maybe CEO's should study Google Earth maps of their parking lots to determine if they are changing a companies culture?

Does Raising the Minimum Wage Increase Unemployment?

Conventional wisdom holds that instituting or raising the minimum wage will increase unemployment. But a recent paper by Jeremy Magruder, an economist at Berekley, finds the opposite effect. Magruder examines the case of Indonesia in the 1990s, "where real minimum wages rose rapidly in a varied way and then dropped quickly with the inflation rate in the South East Asian financial crash." Here's an excerpt:

When minimum wages rose in one district relative to their neighbors, that district observed an increase in formal sector employment and a decrease in informal employment. It also observed an increase in local expenditures, which is consistent with the hypothesized mechanism of the big push: that local product demand increases labor demand. Moreover, this increase was only observed in local industries which can be industrialized and do supply local demand, supporting the model further. Tradable manufacturing firms saw no growth in employment, and un-tradable, but non-industrializable services saw an increase in informal employment.

System D: The Shadow Economy is the Second Largest in the World

In 2009, the OECD concluded that half the world's workers (almost 1.8 billion people) were employed in the shadow economy. By 2020, the OECD predicts the shadow economy will employ two-thirds of the world's workers.

This new economy even has a name: "System D."

In a new article (accompanying photoessay here) for Foreign Policy, Robert Neuwirth explains:

System D is a slang phrase pirated from French-speaking Africa and the Caribbean. The French have a word that they often use to describe particularly effective and motivated people. They call them débrouillards. To say a man is a débrouillard is to tell people how resourceful and ingenious he is. The former French colonies have sculpted this word to their own social and economic reality. They say that inventive, self-starting, entrepreneurial merchants who are doing business on their own, without registering or being regulated by the bureaucracy and, for the most part, without paying taxes, are part of "l'economie de la débrouillardise." Or, sweetened for street use, "Systeme D." This essentially translates as the ingenuity economy, the economy of improvisation and self-reliance, the do-it-yourself, or DIY, economy.

Stimulus Package Analysis: Which Type of Spending Created The Most Jobs?

Bruce Sacerdote and James Feyrer, both of Dartmouth, have produced a paper that looks at how the stimulus package (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) affected employment, and which type of spending had the most (and least) amount of impact. It's among the first detailed analyses of employment and earnings effects from the stimulus that uses actual employment outcomes. Here's the abstract (full version here):

Immigrants Are Getting More Education

A Brookings report shows that for the first time, the share of working-age immigrants in the U.S. who have college degrees (29.6%) exceeds the share without a high school education (27.8%). In 1980, there were more than twice as many low-skilled immigrants living in the U.S. as high-skilled ones.

The report focuses on demographic trends in the 100 biggest metropolitan areas of the country over the past 15 years. While the Southwest and Great Plains remain destinations for low-skilled immigrant labor, much of the Northeast and Rust Belt now attract more immigrants with college degrees than those without.