HUD’s foreclosure report

A federal report released this week found that employees at major banks who forged signatures, made up fake job titles and falsely notarized paperwork often did so because they were ordered to by their bosses, reported The Washington Post’s Brady Dennis.

The report issued by the inspector general of the Department of Housing and Urban Development found that illegal foreclosure practices were not just encouraged at the direction of managers at the banks, but some employees were judged by how fast they could move along foreclosures, Dennis reported.

“Investigators pieced together a picture of a deeply flawed system riddled with errors, where employees often had little or no training, where managers encouraged wrongdoing and where haste trumped all else,” Dennis wrote.

In one review of 36 foreclosure filings, JPMorgan Chase was only able to provide documents showing the amount the borrowers owed in four of the cases. Of those, three proved inaccurate, investigators said.

As Dennis wrote: “I believe the reports we just released will leave the reader asking one question: How could so many people have participated in this misconduct?” David Montoya, HUD inspector general, said in a statement. “The answer: simple greed.”

Montoya is right and wrong.

He’s right that greed is at the center of all this foreclosure mess and the scandal that led five major banks -- — Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Ally Financial -- to settle charges that they were falsifying foreclosure documents.

But he’s wrong that many people will give a hoot about the HUD report that the bankers were “robo-signing” legal papers certifying that they had personal knowledge of the facts of a foreclosure when they did not. No, harsh, unsympathetic, self-righteous judgment is what I hear for people who have been or are being pushed out of their homes. It doesn’t seem to matter that many people are struggling to pay their mortgage because they lost their job or suffered an illness. Based on the mail I get every time I write about efforts to help homeowners facing foreclosure, many people are far harder on struggling individuals than on the financial companies that caused the housing bust.

So let’s see if Montoya is right. The Color of Money Question of the Week: What do you think of HUD’s report on the behavior of bankers in foreclosing on homeowners? Send your responses to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Be sure to include your full name and city. Put “HUD’s Foreclosure Report” in the subject line.

How To Make Your Employees Miserable

You might have read that headline and said to yourself: My boss doesn’t need a guide, he (or she) can write the book on how to make a worker’s life miserable.

Over the past 15 years, Teresa Amabile, a professor and director of research at Harvard Business School, and Steven Kramer, a developmental psychologist and researcher, have studied what makes people happy and engaged at work.

What did they find?

Employees are miserable because they don’t have meaningful work, and that’s often because many leaders, from team managers to CEOs, are “surprisingly expert at smothering employee engagement,” Amabile and Kramer recently wrote for The Post’s On Leadership blog.

The researchers collected more than 230 personal diaries from professionals in seven companies. Those diaries described nearly 12,000 workdays. Here’s what they learned from the employees about how managers make them miserable at work:

-- They give conflicting goals, change them as frequently as possible and allow people no autonomy in meeting them.

-- They don’t give credit where credit is due. In this case the credit refers to managers who don’t recognize they are the reason behind poor employee performance. They don’t credit the employees’ misery to their own words and actions.

-- They deny there is any problem in the workplace. Here’s one example Amabile and Kramer gave. “In an open Q&A with one company’s chief operating officer, an employee asked about the morale problem and got this answer: ‘There is no morale problem in this company. And, for anybody who thinks there is, we have a nice big bus waiting outside to take you wherever you want to look for work.’”

Washington Post readers responded to the Amabile and Kramer’s article and shared their own tips for how supervisors make employees miserable. Here’s some of their “advice,” and that word is used sarcastically, of course:

-- Give the employee-of-the-month award to the guy who stayed in the office when told his son was in a car wreck.

-- Keep people in the dark, and then criticize them for not knowing what’s going on.

-- Just keep those pie charts and glossy presentations coming.

Let’s keep the discussion going. Maybe some badly behaved boss will become enlightened. Send your tips on how to be a bad boss to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Be sure to include your full name and city. Put “How to Be a Bad Boss” in the subject line.

Temping Full Time

Has temporary work become the new 9 to 5?

The Washington Post’s Ylan Q. Mui reported that more Americans are opting for temp work in an economy where it’s still hard to find a fulltime job.

“Companies uncertain of the strength of the recovery have been reluctant to hire permanent employees, instead hedging their bets with short-term help,” wrote Mui. “Meanwhile, workers are forging new careers as temps, contractors, consultants and freelancers in the face of a tight market for traditional jobs with 40-hour weeks and 401(k)s.”

A recent survey by staffing firm Adecco found that nearly two-thirds of Americans have a positive view of temporary work. But job security still ranked as the most important quality in a job, beating out even salary, the survey found, reported Mui.

Spend Well, Live Rich

I hope you have been able to catch my new PBS special, “Spend Well, Live Rich.” The pledge special is airing this month on various PBS-affiliated stations. Here’s a link for a video preview of the special.

Watch for the program in your local area. Here’s a list of some of the stations carrying the program:

-- West Virginia Public Broadcasting

-- WETA, serving the greater Washington, D.C., area

-- KCPT, Kansas City Public Television

-- WQPT, Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois

-- WDSE/WRPT Duluth-Superior Minn.

-- WEDU, Tampa, Fla.

-- KCTS 9, Washington State and Canada

-- CPT 12, Colorado

-- Basin PBS, West Texas

Upcoming Events

On Saturday, March 24, at noon, I will be speaking at the Jacksonville (Fla.) Public Library as part of a series of free programs to help people navigate financial issues. Click on this link for more information, or call (904) 630-2665.

Tia Lewis contributed to this e-letter.

You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to singletarym@washpost.com. Please include your name and hometown; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.”
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