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The Workplace: Coping with High Anxiety

Desperate times breed desperate behavior. That was our conclusion in "Are People in Your Office Acting Oddly?" (What's Next, Apr. 13), which chronicled the agita coursing through office corridors in this recession. Readers saw their co-workers (and themselves) in the descriptions of the favor-currying and of bizarre rivalries prompted by layoff fears. One letter writer, though, took issue with the idea that bad times can breed innovation. —Michelle Conlin

Can you blame the employees? Isn't this exactly what all those "specialists" advise us to do in times of crisis? Not to be shy about our accomplishments? To make ourselves known and heard? To get facetime with bosses?

Screen name: tiddle

Managers allowing this kissing up are not doing their jobs. When I tell my boss, "I just wanted to let you know I completed XYZ," his response is: "O.K., let's move on." A quick way for managers to fix the problem of such employees: Give a lower mark on reviews—for "lack of independence."

Screen name: JBM

Calm, focus, and balance are the best conditions for quality work. Bosses need to learn how to handle job-security concerns without forcing a flurry of [lower-quality] activity.

Screen name: Owner

I've noticed exactly what the article states: Most of my employees are showing a new and improved attitude—even the slackers. It's unfortunate that it takes a downturn to motivate people, but I guess that's human nature.

Screen name: BossMan

It's not really true that desperate times can breed creativity. They breed only a survival instinct. As renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow pointed out, basic needs need to be fulfilled before people are able to be creative.

Michael Wogalter


Smart Grids Need Smarter Consumers

Regarding "The Static Over Smart Grids" (What's Next, Apr. 13): Variable-rate energy pricing makes sense only if consumers can monitor their usage and actual pricing in real time, on their home computers, say. This would prevent sticker shock and enable consumers to take steps to conserve energy.

Barry Stevens


Taxes: Too Complex for Compliance?

It is a sad commentary that tax preparers can charge $300 to $400 for 10 minutes of work and that 60% of tax returns are handled by paid preparers. ("Toxic Taxes," In Depth, Apr. 13). When preparers trumpet the size of refunds rather than the legitimate minimization of taxes paid, something is radically wrong.

Is it any wonder that fraud enters the picture when a filer is considering whether there is a better deal to be had somewhere in the [new] tax code's fine print? The code's complexity—arising from misguided attempts toward social engineering or fairnessis undercutting a foundation of our society: voluntary compliance with the law.

Michael Lewis


Luring the West with Lax Pollution Laws

Regarding "Chinese Polluters Point to Western Demand" (What's Next, Apr. 6): It is disingenuous for the Chinese to blame the West for locating [polluting] factories in China. Lax pollution laws are one reason it has been cheaper to produce goods in China. Such rules were kept weak in order to attract Western manufacturers. Now that China has made billions in foreign exchange, it can use this money to update its laws. Then perhaps the playing field will be more level.

Karl Weinrich


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