Great Caesar's ghost, it looks like Superman has met his match.
As you may have heard, Clark Kent, Superman's alter ego, tendered his resignation in Superman issue 13, as USA Today first reported. Kent, who covered the Superman beat as a reporter at the Daily Planet for 70-plus years (or five in comic book years), became tired of his boss, Perry White, laying into him.
He also became disillusioned with the direction the news world is headed where the sensational trumps the informational. In an email, a DC Comics spokesman told me: "After a heated discussion with Morgan Edge (the owner of the Daily Planet's parent company, Galaxy Broadcasting), [Kent] leaves his position as a reporter at The Daily Planet. This is the beginning of a multifaceted storyline that will challenge Clark on all levels—personally and professionally, as both himself and as Superman."
But these challenges are not surprising. Anyone who has followed the job market over the past five years or so already knows about the problems workers face. Figuratively more powerful than a locomotive, disillusionment can make employees feel defeated.
Ironically, workers are feeling beaten down by the "super man" or "super woman" requirements put on today's workforce. When someone leaves a job, there's no rush to fill it, or the position becomes zapped by another workforce archnemesis: Attrition.
Hey, there's already someone on staff who can pick up the slack, right? And salaries have stagnated. With unemployment numbers still high, why pay more when people should feel lucky just to have a job? One researcher recently suggested that 3 percent is the new normal for pay increases. That's just 1 percentage point more than the U.S. Consumer Price Index, which measures price increases for goods and services.
With pensions all but dried up and workers having to fend for themselves for retirement savings with 401(k)s, it's no wonder Disillusionment has reaped a path of devastation, and it has brought mere mortals and Krypton's favorite son to their knees.
The difference between Superman—er, Clark Kent—and the typical worker is that the Man of Steel can pull a "You can't fire me because I quit" because he doesn't have the same concerns that regular people do. The guy re-energizes from the sun not from Sun Chips, so his grocery list is just for show.
He also has a really, really cool, OK cold, place in the North Pole that doesn't cost anything. His Clark Kent pad? OK, well, that's another story. Not surprisingly, Kent is looking for more independence as he considers becoming a blogger to pay his bills. There's money in that, right?
Kent's world, much like our world, is changing. In journalism, the changes are obvious. As White, the Daily Planet's publisher, says in the issue, "Print is a dying medium … and God help me if a front-page story about some reality star gets them to pick up a paper." But it isn't only journalism that has changed; it's the workplace in general.
Companies have shied away from the paternal approach that encompassed the workplace of the '50s, '60s and '70s as if it were Kryptonite. Today, many companies seem to believe that a fresh start means paring workers rather than looking for ways to utilize employees to their full potential, whether it's through training them on new skills or giving them more responsibilities with more pay. Many workers would consider jumping ship if the opportunity presented itself, and many have essentially been typecast into their current job roles because of the recession as promotions have been limited.
Today, people in human resources are sometimes portrayed as the "bad guys," but it doesn't have to be that way. Today's workforce needs more heroes, not villains. With more HR people grabbing a seat at the table, perhaps more than ever, the time has come for the citizens of HR to be true champions and use their powers to help workers defeat Disillusionment and pump up worker ally Engagement. That, in turn, will help companies to succeed and the economy to grow.
Up, up and away.
James Tehrani is Workforce's copy desk chief. Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.