real lj idol | week 30 (prompt 1) | 848 words
Scared Money Never Wins
One of my friends is losing her job.
Her job is necessary and she does it well, but her company decided to reduce its headcount by some bean-counter-determined amount, and she's fallen victim to the numbers.
That's what thirty years of corporate loyalty and excellent job performance will get you these days.
Her company sent out retirement offers to everyone who'd worked there for a certain minimum number of years. This was to trigger voluntary headcount reduction. Once the retirement-offer window closed, the company looked at how many people still needed to be cut and then dropped the axe. My friend could have retired early, but chose not to take the offer. She needed the salary, she wanted to stay with the company another five years before retiring, and she knew how important her current project was for the company's near-term revenue.
So she banked her future against her continued value to the company. With her track record, her current project, and her love of the company, why leave before she wanted or had to?
That's where things got ugly.
You would think that when laying people off by percentages, a company would begin by firing the low-performing employees and then look at its business objectives and make further cuts in the less-critical areas. This removes the least-productive workers, and preserves the company's most important interests. Simple, right?
Welcome to business-as-run-by-attorneys. My friend's company did remove some of its low-performers, but its next step was to randomize the remaining cuts by having high-level corporate suits fire people without applying any specific knowledge to the decision whatsoever.
I.e., rather than letting lower-level managers (who know their employees and projects) decide whom to select, the corporation's goal was to prevent knowledge from entering the firing equation. Except, one suspects, that when choosing talented employees to fire, the company probably targeted the ones with lots of accumulated benefits and years of service.
Corporations look at long-term employees and see people with higher salaries and "expensive" benefits' packages. In the last couple of decades, there has been a relentless drive to push those people out the door—especially if it can be done before they retire with full pensions.
Lower-level managers and coworkers view those same people as knowledge centers. Long-term workers are the ones who know the business, know how to do their job most efficiently, and can be crucial in getting projects finished on time. When those employees leave the company (whether by choice or by being forced out), their lower-level peers are whom it affects. Any new people who are hired not only lack the experience to immediately help the business, they also have to be trained. So, the remaining coworkers lose a productive teammate, and waste additional time making up for the lost work and training the new people. Those coworkers feel thrashed and frustrated, and projects become late. The corporation loses revenue due to the delay, and angry and demoralized employees are more likely to leave for new jobs. The cycle of thrashing continues.
What, you might wonder, is the reason behind randomly firing people (including important people) instead of choosing according to business need? It is solely to reduce the chance of being sued by the people who were laid off.
In other words, the company suffers lost revenue and productivity because it is focused on avoiding the possibility of lost revenue from lawsuits.
This situation is a microcosm of (I'll say it again) the bean-counter mentality that drives corporations today. "Productivity" is a nebulous quantity that is hard to measure, so typically it is left out of the equation altogether. The effects are very visible at the lower levels of a company, but since they are both invisible and unquantifiable at higher levels, they are simply ignored. What about delayed revenue from lost productivity? That's the kind of annoyance that is best dealt with by hand-wringing and more bean-counting, and by sending chastising emails to the corporation's employees, telling them to "try harder."
That idea that losing productivity and revenue is the expected outcome of the corporation's own business policies never seems to occur to the high-level people who make the big decisions. They are so obsessed with short-term savings and avoiding lawsuits that they never realize that their overly cautious choices may actually cost them more money in the long-term.
When the revenue numbers come in and show that the company has lost money yet again, the corporation tiptoes through a nervous twelve to eighteen months and then usually resorts to pulling the layoff lever once more.
Now my loyal, hardworking friend is heartbroken and unemployed at fifty-plus years of age, and has to look for a new job. Her division of the company may also lose needed sales, since she won't be around to finish her project, and it's all happening because her company's layoff policies only considered her cost to the company without also factoring in her contribution.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is a tragedy. It is also the reality of how far too many companies' "smart" decisions are now being made.
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