Tuesday, October 27, 2009

How I Almost Lost My Job

About 18 months ago I got a new job. I left a large, established technology company, for a small start-up in the same field. There was a certain amount of trepidation involved in leaving a solid company for a tiny one with only a few months of cash in the bank. Last week my decision was vindicated, in the most nasty of ways. My former company eliminated my old position. In fact, they eliminated the entire team that I ran.

OK. I admit it. That wasn't even close to my losing my job. Still those cuts hit close to home. Some good friends of mine lost their jobs, in what is a very nasty job market.

I believe that I would have kept my job, had I stayed with the company. I had very good relationships with my management and I believe that they would have found a new role for me in some sort of a re-org scenario, but I can't help but feel that I made the right decision to take a risk and move to my current position.

There are a couple of lessons to be had here. First, no job is safe in today's corporate culture. Next time you have any feelings of loyalty or warmth towards your employer, remember that those feelings only go in one direction. If the need arises, your company will let you go in the blink of an eye. I am not saying this in a pejorative way. In fact, just a few weeks ago I had to let someone go in my company. However, what I am trying to say is that "every man for himself" is the reality in today's business climate, and I don't know that it was ever different.

Second, job security is a very ephemeral thing. Some of the financially strongest companies in the world are laying people off, left and right. Some small businesses and companies are retaining their employees and are even hiring. Big business is such an impersonal thing. You could be doing a phenomenal job, but if someone at the top decides to lop-off a business unit, you would lose your livelihood just as the slacker in the next cube would.

At the end of the day job security exists no-where in corporate america today. I believe that a new term is needed: Career Security. It's not about keeping your current job, it's about making sure that if you do lose your job your long term earning prospects are not diminished. Career security is about recovery and resiliency more than it is about maintaining a specific employer.

I think there's a book in there somewhere.

Enjoyed this post? Please consider subscribing to Money and Such by free RSS Feed or by email. You can also follow me on Twitter.


Kim Stiens said...

It does seem like its about time you wrote a book. And I know this after following your blog... three months now? :)

Shadox said...

Hey, I didn't say that I would be the one to write it. Me lazy.

Rob Bennett said...

"every man for himself" is the reality in today's business climate, and I don't know that it was ever different.

There was a day when it was very different.

In many senses (not all) that was a better day. Workers who are thinking primarily for themselves are not putting the needs of the company first. It is not at all uncommon for the different sorts of needs to come into conflict. In the days when there was more job security, there was also more loyalty among workers to the company that employed them.

What you are saying (according to my read) is that trust is breaking down. When trust goes, everything else follows not that long after. Many long-term ventures cannot succeed without trust and commitment on both sides.


Shadox said...

Rob - I am not suggesting that you should not trust your employer. Nothing wrong with trust. All I am saying is that people need to recognize the fact that their relationship with their employer is a business relationship. An arms length business relationship in most cases. And whereas some folks feel fierce loyalty to their place of work, those feelings are not mutual.

Yes, you may have a very loyal relationship with your manager or with your team members or with your reports, and those relationships can indeed be mutual, but never make the mistake of assuming that this relationship extends to the company that employs you.

Think of being employed as a simple contract. Just as you would not have feelings of loyalty to your car dealer or your supermarket, you should not have them towards your employer. Just as the car dealer or your supermarket is a profit maximizing business entity, your employer is all about maximizing profits. Your relationship with your employer will only last as long as it feels that it is in its best economic interest to continue the relationship.

As long as you recognize that fact and understand that the relationship is one based on mutual economic interest, trust (in that context) works very nicely. Making the mistake of extending the trust beyond this context is a career killer.

Rob Bennett said...

Nothing wrong with trust. All I am saying is that people need to recognize the fact that their relationship with their employer is a business relationship.

I understand, Shadox.

But what does the employee do when his boss proposes a really bad idea and the employee knows that it will hurt the employer to go ahead with this idea but he also knows that it will hurt his chances of getting a promotion to speak up against it?

If it's all just about dollars (a contract and nothing else), the employee keeps his mouth shut and the employer suffers.

If there is a sincere long-term relationship in place, the employee takes a chance on losing out on some short-term bucks to protect the employer's long-term interests.

We all face thousands of choices like this in a career. My view is that, when we start thinking of things in a legalistic (contract-oriented) way, we are doomed. Yes, contacts are certainly part of it. It's a business and business realities need to be considered. But businesses are run by humans and employ humans and sell to humans. When the human element is ignored, bad things happen sooner or later.

Lots of employees today are just putting in time. Not because they are not capable of better. Because they have not been inspired to do better. Employers who take note of the human realities win a fierce love from their employees which can give them a huge competitive edge in the long run.

That's my take, in any event.


FB @ FabulouslyBroke.com said...

For me in IT, job security is a myth.

I wrote all about it here.


I'm glad I quit when I did, because I could not have gotten to where I am today (growing personally & financially) without doing so