When people ask me about the subject of my upcoming novel, “The Penalty for Holding,” I tell them it’s the story of a gay, biracial quarterback’s quest for identity, acceptance, success and love amid the brutal beauty of the NFL.
It’s also the story of the workplace. What, you may ask, can we learn from the atypical workplace of the NFL? Ah, but you see, I think the violence of the NFL is a metaphor for today’s brutal workplace – one in which employees are set up to fail by 24/7 demands, no opportunity to take the vacations they earn, weak benefits and eviscerating bosses. It’s the picture The New York Times paints of Amazon.
After reading the article, you’ll think twice about buying from the site. But Amazon is only part of a disturbing trend born of the recent recession, the exhausting nature of the Internet and the systemic failure of Alexandrian leadership, by which I mean leadership from the friggin’ front.
Many of today’s bosses are not interested in putting their employees first as Alexander the Great did the men of the Macedonian Army. These bosses are interested only in building their stock portfolios and golden parachutes on the backs of other people’s miseries. They hire fewer people to do more work, knowing the desperation created by the recent recession – or counting on their ability to browbeat their charges into desperation. Employees with serious problems that temporarily complicate their work lives are met with indifference if not outright hostility. And the convenience store nature of the Internet – open all the time – provides the milieu in which bosses can demand responses that are instant and constant.
What does this have to do with the NFL, a world of haves versus have-mores in which the put-upon employees make millions? Just because you’re paying people millions doesn’t give you the right to mistreat them. The hero of my novel, Quinn Novak, and his teammates are abused verbally and physically by Coach Pat Smalley, whose sadism is met with indifference – or, more accurately, obliviousness – by the front office.
Quinn takes it because, sadly, he doesn’t think he’s worth more and because he understands that in our complex world a job has a ripple effect.
It rarely supports only one person – whether that person flips burgers, works for Amazon or tosses a football.