Monday, February 18, 2002


The article on job loss I last posted a few days ago was obtained from SlashDot, the famous collaborative BLOG for techies. A wide-ranging discussion ensued about the article, basically veering between two extreme thoughts: "it's terrible that good people are out of work" and "it's good that bad people (i.e. incompetent) are not in the work force".

Layoffs do not "slash incompetents from the payroll" nor does it "resurrect a company's competitiveness". Layoffs are a 'tool' used by management to minimize cost in the face of reduced earnings. It's the cruelest tool that a company can use, because the resources being reduced are people.

As such, good workers and bad workers stay and leave during tough times. I'm one of those 'good workers' who happened to volunteer to be laid off. But as a former manager, I've also looked at a list of employees, and announced to a cabal of managers who I thought was 'worth keeping', and who was not.

Good and bad workers do co-exist, even in these recessionary times. However, before the onslaught of layoffs, both of these workers were safe in their jobs. Maybe bad workers were not as productive as good workers, but they provided some contribution, some value, even if it was only to perform some specialized task. Before the popularity of layoffs, there were places in most companies for people like this. Just as there are always places in most companies for the tireless over-achiever.

The bigger a company gets, the more work it has to do, and the more workers it needs. Clearly, not everyone in the world is an over-achiever. Managers have to hire some 'middle-of-the-road' talent to get the work done. These people punch their clock, doing just what is expected, no more, no less. There's a quiet honor about that. Their style balances a company out. In my experience, these people often take on the grunt work; they implement the procedures, and take instruction well. Bad workers? Not necessarily. Incompetent? To whom?

I don't doubt that the recession has startled people into a heightened sense of motivation. And clearly job losses throughout the industry have forced people to take on more work. Are the people who remain going to be thought of as incompetent when they can't be as productive as they used to be, because they are doing more? And just how often does a company have to contract before those who remain fall below the 'worth keeping' line?

I'm pining for a time that probably doesn't exist anymore, but that everyone wishes would return: the time of the safe job. A time when workers were given an opportunity to add value. A time when workers were united by common company goals, and not fear of being slashed.

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