The Work Series - Part Two
Updated: Jan 3
So, you landed your dream job. After 4 years of college, an internship that seemingly resembled slavery, years of being underpaid in a job that had nothing to do with your education, you made it. You execute your new job with all the drive and determination of an Olympic athlete going for the gold, with one stated goal, of making yourself a star. As time goes on you begin to feel that you have made it. You feel that you have obtained your goal and you will rise through the ranks and possibly work at this company for the rest of your life. Then one day you receive an email telling you the company is downsizing and they are closing your office. In a single moment, your entire life has changed.
The story I tell can be applicable to every type of career. The factory you have worked at for 25 years, the retail store you sell clothes at, the restaurant you serve customers at, the construction company you labor for, they are all vulnerable to changes that can impact this thing called “job security”.
Firstly, job security in the workplace is reliant on your personal performance. Do you do your job well? Are you meeting the expectations of your employer? Our personal performance in the workplace is something that we are in charge of and completely under your control. Secondly, there are external forces that can impact job security. These are the things that are completely out of our control; the economy, a change in market demand, mergers, acquisitions, closures.
A CEO’s job security is often tied to the performance of the company’s stock and earnings. Automotive workers jobs depend on the sales of the vehicles they make. Restaurant workers are reliant on the quality of their service and the ability of the restaurant owner to get people in the door. And let’s not forget me, the “sales guy”. We are often only as good as our last year’s sales performance (or in some cases, last month’s sales). I think you get my point.
I grew up in the Detroit area. Detroit was often referred to as the “Motor City” or the “Automotive Capital of the World”. The “Big 3” (Ford, General Motors and Chrysler) all call Detroit their home and their world headquarters are still their today. Unfortunately, it was in my lifetime that I saw this place go from an industrial metropolis to a ghost town. In the 1950’s Detroit’s population (not including the suburbs) was 1.85 Million and the city and the surrounding areas provided nearly 300,000 jobs related to manufacturing. Ford Motor Company’s River Rouge plant employed over 90,000 people (this factory was like a city of its own). After a couple of decades or more of decline, as manufacturing jobs were moved to Mexico, China, and non-union states, strong competition from Asian car manufacturers, and a long list of other problems for these U.S. auto giants, by 2015 Detroit’s population had decreased by 1 million people to approximately 700,000 people.
You were working for one of the Big 3, you were a member of possibly the most powerful labor union in the world, you grandfather worked there, your father worked there, and now you worked there. You were making a good living with excellent benefits. You have a nice home, new cars and are providing a nice life for your family. Then “poof” it’s gone. You not only find yourself without a job, but you cannot find another job, due to the collapse of an entire industry in one region of the country. I cannot imagine how many men, women and their family’s lives were upended during these times.
Let’s fast forward to today. We read the newspaper stories and watched the news reports about thousands of people losing their jobs as a retail giant closes their stores or as big factories close. We have witnessed the number of jobs lost due to companies moving the operations to a country with low labor rates. When I have had to call my credit card company’s customer service (the one with American in the name). I can say with full assurance that “Bill” I am talking to from customer service, is actually Rajesh and I am not calling a service center in the U.S.A.
For my German friends, here is a nice bit of information for you. In America, many employers have this nice little document they “ask” you to sign when you are hired. It is called an “At Will Contract”. Here is the Wikipedia definition: At-will employment is a term used in U.S. labor law for contractual relationships in which an employee can be dismissed by an employer for any reason (that is, without having to establish "just cause" for termination), and without warning, as long as the reason is not illegal (e.g. firing because of the employee's race or religion). When an employee is acknowledged as being hired "at will," the courts deny the employee any claim for loss resulting from the dismissal. How is that for job security?
Now, to feel happy and satisfied in our jobs we all need to get to a place in which we feel secure. You certainly cannot go to work every day waiting to be called to the electric chair for your day of execution. So, you do your job well, your boss likes you, you are performing well, and in some cases, you might even think the company cannot live without you. So here is a VIEW FROM MY WINDOW REALITY CHECK! They can live without you. I have seen many a person come and go at places I worked over the years. Some fired, some leave on their own accord, it happens all the time.
Years ago, I had the privilege of working with a man, who was probably one of the best salesmen I met in my lifetime. As we say in America, “this guy could sell ice to the Eskimo’s”. His sales production represented 50% of our firm’s revenue. After 10 years of service at our company, he and the company parted ways. I was the General Manager of the company at that time and my immediate thought was, “oh no this is the beginning of the end”. Well, it wasn’t. My mentor went on to other great successes in his career and our company continued to grow after he left. After a short period of time, it was as if that person had never worked there (mostly forgotten, except for some crazy stories).
We must accept that we are all replaceable. I have said several times in recent years, that I would hate to be looking for a job at my age and at this stage of my career. This is because I know and accept that even with all my years of experience and track record of success; that one day I could find myself in the lobby of a company waiting to interview for a job and setting to next to me is some “kid” who is half my age, wearing a navy blue business suit (his Dad bought him), carrying a leather briefcase, with shiny new shoes, a $100,000 college diploma in his back pocket, and he would be willing to take the job for half of my current salary.
In my career, I have hired a lot of people and I have unfortunately fired just as many. Most of the firings fell into the categories of poor performance, company downsizing or the sale of the company. During the firing process, I regrettably would often say to the person who was getting the axe, “I am sorry, it’s not personal, it’s business”. It took me a long time to realize how stupid that statement was. Because, well………..it is personal. Someone has to go home and tell their wife or husband they don’t a job anymore and explain to their kids why they are not leaving the house to go work today. Not a good day.
Companies are made up of people and these people execute a multitude of tasks that make companies great and successful. Unfortunately, I think some of the people who control our destinies and the security of our jobs, forget this point or even though it is recognized, “it’s business”.
Perhaps you have a nice relationship with your boss or the owner of the business or you feel you are highly regarded by the executives of a company. You need to keep in mind, these people are not your friends. They are (at best) your colleagues. As I have shared this thought with others, I have said, “friends are people you invite over to your house for a cookout”. I can pretty much assure you, that after that decision was made that impacts your job security, your boss will be out later on his 40-foot boat or golfing at the country club or puffing a fat cigar while sipping margaritas in the Bahamas and not thinking about you.
I believe the rational related to job security for employers and the people who manage these companies is actually quite simple. Their employees are paid a good wage and provided with nice benefits, in exchange for executing a function in the company. This is an agreement or a business arrangement. This “agreement” itself, makes us somewhat disposal. Very rarely, is there an employment agreement that includes a long-term job security clause and even in the case there is a contract period, it is all subject to change. Who is going to honor that contract in the desk drawer of your former office, if the company goes out of business or is sold?
So here is my suggestion. I call this the “Job Security Bucket” plan. This can be used to bring some balance between you and your employer for your job security and can minimize the impact due to unforeseen disasters with your job.
I already established previously that in your work arrangement with your employer that your pay releases your employer for any guarantee of employment. So, you need to assume that a portion of what you are paid is in exchange for no long-term job security. Then you need to determine what portion of your earnings you can live without on a weekly or monthly basis. Perhaps it is 5% or 10%. Then, put that portion of your income in a bucket labeled - JOB SECURITY (not really, but you get the idea, a bank or safety deposit box might be a better alternative).
This money is not to be used for anything; like a new guitar (Stephan), a new car (Tim) or big vacations (Seml). This is your job security fund and your balance of power in the workplace. In the event that something happens that changes your employment status, or you lose your job, you have given yourself power over your career and destiny. It’s a safety net or your own personal insurance policy (German = Versicherung). You then have the power to not let a company’s decision completely turn your world upside down and furthermore you have balanced the power to leave a job that is horrible if you so choose and possibly make a change for the better (you are in control of your own work destiny).
Now here is the bonus. I hope you will never face some of these situations I wrote about today and a lot of us never will. In the event you are never put in a position of having to use your job security bucket, you might a have a nice little nest egg for your future.