Job Jitters Should Make Business Nervous, Too
In regard to your articles "I'm worried about my job!" and "A career survival kit" (Cover Story, Oct. 7): Approximately 10 years ago I had the opportunity, firsthand, to experience an LBO and the resultant downsizing in personnel and shift of corporate policies away from employees and toward the bottom line.
The changes in the workplace and in the relationship between employee and employer, as indicated in your article, are becoming profound. The next round of changes will be equally drastic in that benefits once provided, however grudgingly, by employers--retirement and savings plans, health insurance both at work and into retirement, child care, leave policies, and other forms of compensation--will, increasingly, have to be social benefits that government will provide. One suspects that business will, in all likelihood, bear the bulk of the financial burden for these costs.
I am concerned that the traditional relationship between employer and employee has so eroded. If your articles are correct, we in this country will soon become a nation of itinerant workers as people shift, industrially and geographically, from place to place to seekthe highest compensation and best opportunities.
In a "free" marketplace, such as this scenario presumes, there are, inevitably, winners and losers, and with the talent being drawn to the greatest opportunities in prosperous industries (keeping in mind that compensation has now become virtually the sole determinant of employee loyalty and productivity), those industries either slumping or weakened by foreign or other competition will, in all likelihood, disappear permanently. One could also expect to see, in the wake of all this, a resurgence in trade unionism for professionals, perhaps dubbed "associations" or "societies" so as not to offend the sensibilities of the professional members but nevertheless functioning as unions.
Geoffrey K. Wascher
Your story is an excellent reminder of how our nation's business has evolved over the past few decades. If our corporations can no longer provide a sense of long-term security to diligent employees, the long-term profitability of many of America's corporations could be in serious jeopardy.
W. A. Rossetter Jr.
Yorba Linda, Calif.
With too few exceptions, U. S. companies have merely paid lip service to the oft-abused line, "human resources are our most important asset." Unfortunately, until the upper tiers of our organizations begin to better demonstrate and articulate vision and direction throughout their organizations, productivity improvements and innovation will fall short, middle management will remain on the chopping block, and we will continue bemoaning the U. S.'s "lack of competitiveness."
As one who has been "downsized," I can identify with both stories.
My trouble is, I was raised in an era in which one was taught to be loyal to one's employer and to do the best job one can do. I did that as I spent over 13 years with one employer. I endured the selling off of the industrial products companies, the Chapter 11 proceedings, and the many due-diligence visits by prospective suitors--all the while spurning inquiries by headhunters in the misguided belief that loyalty counted and it was my responsibility to stay and help to turn the business around.
When the company was acquired by an investment banking firm in September, 1991, I redoubled my effort to reduce our costs and to develop a very cost-effective and highly efficient manufacturing operation. I spent many 70- and 80-hour weeks and traveled frequently to our plants, and I succeeded quite well.
What did I get for my efforts? A lost job when the new owners combined seven companies into three and decided that someone who had spent the bulk of his career in human resources could not possibly know enough to effectively run an operations function. I have raised my two boys in the same manner in which I was raised and tried to teach them the values of doing one's best and being loyal to their employer. They now ask me why they should be loyal and I, frankly, did not have an answer for them. However, thanks to your articles, I can now give them an answer. Be loyal to yourself only, for that's all U. S. businesses apparently value these days.
William J. West
Like it or not, American employers and employees have collaborated since the 1950s--with a combination of confrontational union activism, career-development job-hopping, and LBO-driven corporate restructurings--to construct an ethic of employment nomadism that is now visible in the 1990s as a new standard.
I speak with hundreds of job-seekers every month, most of them already in the situation of having to find a new position. Unfortunately, far too many have yet to absorb BUSINESS WEEK's career planning recommendations.
Sacrifice may be involved in lifestyle (disposable income, location--or both) and in prior expectations about what one will do for a living. But if it contributes to reshaping this nation into a leaner and more focused economic competitor, then free-market forces once again may be preparing us well for prosperity in the next century.
Howard C. Mueller
South Bend, Ind.
What happens when the blue-collar worker starts reading these kinds of articles? Realizing how little trust corporate officers have in their employment longevity, will not the labor sector have even fewer reasons to take pride in their work and their company?
J. Douglas Marshall
In the good old days, when we workers were incidentally making the U. S. famous, we did so by working to further the goals of our company--and incidentally furthered our own.
Sure, I get a kick out of the fact that my first boss (55 years ago) is still a friend and the company is still a world leader, because we employees worked hard to make it so.
No wonder we old timers feel that the business world has changed for the worse--it has. Employees are out to get better breaks for themselves and the job, and the customer comes dead last. After the Depression we worked hard to get the job done. After this little "recession," let's hope the world changes back again.
Walter H. Carnahan
Rochester, N. Y.
Your concept of the itinerant manager encourages self-reliance and offers independence, but it won't prevent talented people from worrying about their jobs. Where will these lone rangers ride off to after completing their temporary assignments? On to the next town? This wandering will test the loyalty of the faithful companion, who has a mission of his or her own.
Corporations have eliminated jobs because of fierce competition and rising costs, but they should closely evaluate the impact of downsizing on loyal employees, not just on the bottom line.
It is too soon for companies to abandon employee involvement and participative management as ways to solve their problems.
Assuming prosperity returns, the best people will flock to the companies that tried to preserve a reasonable quality of life for their dedicated employees.
James V. O'Connor
Just when American corporations need strong leadership most, you encourage middle and upper management to be prepared to jump at the first sign of water. I was deeply disappointed that BUSINESS WEEK would endorse such a view. Has not the propensity to think only of the short term gotten us to where we are today?
What American industry needs now is managers who can lead, who know their business and their customers, anticipate needs, and be able to deliver products and services to meet those needs faster and cheaper and of higher quality than the competition.
James D. Hay
Yes, I agree with you that each of us has to continuously improve ourselves, build skills, and network. But not with a view to getting a better job--with a view to doing the best we can even in the current position.
Madhavi B. Solthna