Wednesday, December 17, 2008
One of the nice things about having exited the rat-race, no longer toiling for "The Man" as one long-time friend commented upon my departure from the work-a-day world almost two years ago, is that living in fear of layoffs is no longer an issue.
If there was one career-long complaint over my 23-years as a cubicle-dweller, it was that the threat of layoffs was almost always there.
For probably 16 or 17 of those 23 years, there were either reductions in force, salary freezes, salary cuts, furloughs, or some other action taken by the company to deal with changing business conditions.
First it was the end of the cold war in the late-1980s when Southern California aerospace companies slashed payrolls and sent thousands to the unemployment lines as the first Southern California housing boom was peaking.
Cutbacks in defense jobs went on for most of the 1990s, but never did anyone come knocking on my door to give me any bad news. At one time I was told I had nothing to be concerned about - when your boss tells you they'll be handing you the keys to lock the door behind you when you get laid off, you have a pretty good idea that you're not high on the list.
That doesn't stop you from worrying, however, after the guy next to you is shown the door.
In the late-1990s, things got so bad that, after hearing about others doing this sort of thing, I actually volunteered for a layoff and was granted the request (along with the generous severance). I was able to save the job of a nice 70-something fellow who, for whatever reason, didn't want to stop working.
The ink on the layoff paperwork was still drying when I began work for a technology company just in time to be granted stock options at now-laughable prices. Soon after, a whole new round of cutbacks associated with the bursting of the internet stock bubble began.
This went on for the next four years or so and, being the new guy, the threat of not being properly appreciated was always a concern - especially during the many organizational shake-ups.
Time and again you'd hear stories that the highly respected so-and-so got laid off after just having been transferred into a new group. Sometimes, upper management corrected these obvious errors, but not always.
The low came on September 11th, 2001 when a wave of company layoffs began in Boston and, before workers could arrive on the West coast, the terrorist attacks interrupted the delivery of the day's other bad news for some, only to be resumed about a week later.
Naturally, word spread and managers with paper work already in hand had to "be creative" when fielding queries from concerned staff. Once the layoffs resumed, more than a few workers were surprised to hear that they had not escaped, once again including the guy in the cubicle next to me.
Like during the wave of defense-related layoffs in the 1990s, name plates were turned upside down for the departed during the technology-related layoffs in the new decade.
As I was told on a number of occasions, being laid off should never have been a concern to me, but it was. Whether this response (which surely is not unique to me) is good or bad in the broad scheme of things isn't clear.
The threat of being let go surely makes some employees work a little harder so their value to the company is made more clear, but at the same time, living in fear is not an optimal way to go through your career.
On the other hand, the sense of entitlement becomes all too common, particularly for those marginal workers who have stuck with a company for decades with the perception of their value to the company gradually parting ways with the views held by management over time.
In these cases, a little fear might do some good.
Anyway, a whole new wave of layoffs is now underway.
Thankfully, there's no need to worry this time.