Friday, July 18, 2014

Microsoft's decision to fire thousands of workers is just one sign that careers are becoming extinct

Microsoft's new CEO as of February 2014 is Satya Nadella. He replaced
Steve Ballmer who has gone onto retirement with the many billions of
dollars he earned in his lifetime as Bill Gates' partner in crime.
The big financial news that came out of the tech sector yesterday had to do with Microsoft. You see, in what some may call a rambling memo Microsoft began the first of a wave of layoffs that would eventually cull 18,000 from its workforce (or around 14%) as ordered by Microsoft's new CEO, Satya Nadella.

Although the news has reported on layoffs from big companies before, this one struck me as particularly telling because it's the first time in my life that I was tuned into the stock market. Here's what I discovered: while everything else was essentially down across the board in a broad sell off across all sectors because of the Boeing 777 that got shot down near the Russian border (killing 295 people) and instilling anxiety in everyone (including myself), Microsoft was up over a percentage point. In other words, stockholders were celebrating what is perceived to be a good management move...celebrating "party style" to the tune of around a million dollars for every employee thus axed from the roster (when you factor in shareholder value). Deplorable? Well that's capitalism.

So why do I find this particularly telling/revolting? Well my career is in government. I assist clients who are in the federal vocational rehabilitation program; in other words I help the unemployed find jobs. I work with professionals at Workforce Services and Vocational Rehabilitation counselors who all strive to do the same thing: to find people jobs so that they can have stability in their lives. It's a part of the American dream, right? But here's the thing: I think we're all deluding ourselves because jobs (now more than ever) are hard to find, however, work is readily available. So what's the difference between a job and work? Well that gulf is huge and believe me, I'd rather have the former than the latter. Allow me to elaborate.

I was raised to believe that a steady job with a stable employer is what I should strive for and my dad thought that if I worked hard, I could accomplish this goal just like he did (and he was right). However, I thank my lucky stars that this happened because I know many people that aren't/weren't so lucky. I think my archaic notions of a steady job and a stable employer are an endangered species. It has become irrelevant thanks to a new reality wrought by globalization, technology, and a culture where stability has given way to rapid unpredictable change.

The new workforce has more similarities to The Hunger Games than it does to the archaic view of what myself and my parents might call "a job." Companies now hire for tours of duty where you are expected to churn out results at a grueling pace. Every day one spends in this new reality you are forced into the role of a pit fighter who must go to battle against others in order to see who gets/deserves a job tomorrow. To pick on Microsoft once more, here's the message you can read between the lines in that now infamous memo that axed so many jobs from the ledger of the Seattle-based "job creator":
"You have no right to keep a job any longer than we can profit from your efforts."
In fact, the message could be even harsher as all an employer needs to axe you is a perception of underperformance (whether or not it can even be proved). This rings particularly true in a "right to work" state such as Utah.

Inevitably, all of this leads me to seek answers for questions that continuously fill my head regarding our society (and I'm afraid I won't like the answers). What happens to older workers? It's a scientific fact that older workers are not as productive as younger ones because the brain is succumbing to age. Is there no security for old folks? Does loyalty to a company account for nothing anymore? And what about talent? No matter how talented you are, there is always someone better out there. There is always someone brighter and faster. If that person comes along and wants your job, does that mean you need to find work again? Moving costs money and destroys wealth. Always having to start over someplace becomes harder and harder as people get older. And what about the people who were never very bright to begin with? Are they just screwed from the get go and sentenced to a life of scrubbing toilets and living paycheck to paycheck?

Sometimes I wish I'd been born a few decades earlier, in simpler times, when jobs were plentiful and the U.S. was all about helping each other, about community, and no one was poor or grotesquely rich. But if wishes were fishes the sea would be full, right?

14 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Careers with the same company are a thing of the past. Although I have been fortunate and have been with my company over twenty years.

Pat Dilloway said...

Most of those jobs are being cut because of the merger with Nokia, making them redundant. That's how it is anymore. You're just a number to them. Yet they expect you to work your ass off for them. Most of it is driven by your precious stock market because the need to impress Wall Street assholes drives companies to squeeze every ounce of profit and labor (with associated fringe costs) is always a huge line on the income statement.

We had a presentation from a career counselor this week. Her advice was mostly "Get a LinkedIn profile." Because apparently 80% of jobs are not listed; it's mostly word-of-mouth and such. Most of the jobs that are listed are crap ones the company can't fill from within.

Your thoughts on that?

Rusty Carl said...

I could write a very long essay on my thoughts about all this, about how the need for short term results (due to any public company's commitment to shareholders to maintain or increase the value of their stock) has ruined the ability of businesses to look out longer than a quarter or two (well, the next fiscal year end, at least). And since the U.S. is such a mature marketplace, growth has to come from mergers international expansion, downsizing, or even outsourcing. Which of course mean these lower level white collar jobs are almost always under scrutiny.

And that also means that during the last major purchase my company made, we took on a receivables portfolio about three times larger than the business I had been supporting had. There were no changes in headcount, just the expectation that I'd figure out a way to handle three times the volume of work.

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

@Pat Dilloway: I think that cronyism in obtaining jobs is alive and well. I've witnessed two $50,000 a year jobs that went through a "parade" of interviews. I say it was a "parade" because the person that was hired had been notified weeks before that they had the job in the bag. It's kind of ridiculous really, and grotesquely unfair. But that is the reality of today's job market. I'm grateful that I got a really nice job at a time when not a lot of people were looking for them. I intend to hold onto it as long as I can (hopefully unto my retirement).

Richard Hughes said...

Capitalism has never been friendly. Most of those companies where you worked at most of your life were unionized. The union is what protected the worker. Nowadays, unions are seen as enemies of the worker, not their friends. The workers have cut their own throats by killing unions. Without unions, you are on your own in a battlefield called the workplace. And the big guns will simply blow you away when they decide to.

Miranda Hardy said...

It's scary to think about, but I see a very different structure today then 20, 30, or 50 years ago. More and more people are working two and three jobs just to get in enough hours, and not just white collar positions either.

Andrew Leon said...

On the other hand, many companies prefer Gen X employs over Millennials because Millennials need so much attention.

Liz A. said...

Did you ever see the documentary "The Corporation"? These big behemoths are only out to make a profit, and that means they don't care about people. We need to make a severe paradigm shift before any of this is going to change.

Cindy said...

Definitely scary times. We still live a world of survival of the fittest. Yet our society tends to mask that fact.

Stephen Hayes said...

I never believed that any company would be loyal to me unless I produced a profit. This was one of the reasons I've been self employed most of my life. Oh yeah, I also have a problem with authority.

mshatch said...

Greed: the root of all evil.

Adam said...

That's what I hate about CEOs who take over after a founder(s) step down. No pride, just greed.

Danette Baltzer said...

I think your going to get a long comment from me on this one because I won't be writing on my blog about it... (I don't think).
I think you're 100% right Michael and it's pretty sad. My job has become pretty miserable and I would like to find another job but I think I am stuck. I make enough money that I am almost (dare I say it?) comfortable. It pays the bills and I have decent- not great- insurance. It's a government job and you don't lose those unless you steal (blatantly) or commit some kind of crime. You know. I won't go into the details of why my job has become miserable but suffice it to say that it's classic cliche (bully) behavior. And I am the target. And somehow the cliche has got the boss under their thumb. I don't see any way of moving on because of what you just said- there are no careers and I am of an age that the few real jobs there are, are for the young! We get a position open at the library anymore and it's ridiculous how many people apply because the positions might lead to real security even though the positions are part time and for $11 an hour. I took this position thinking that it would give me some supervisory experience and I could possibly go elsewhere if I chose but there are just not a lot of choices. And making the same money? I doubt it. So it looks like I'm going to have to muddle through an ugly work situation with no end in sight as long as the boss allows this cliche access to him all the time. I'm weary of the whole thing but don't see any other choice.

I hate our culture of trickle up theory cause you know trickle down was always a lie. Oh that and govnmt is bad- govmnt workers are lazy. Sick of the republican machine. I've seen plenty of (private) corporate workers who were lazy but nobody will admit that.

Jay Noel said...

Interesting. For several years, I worked on the other side of the issue. I worked with employers in their human capital management. I helped them keep their good employees and find new ones.

I cannot tell you how many jobs are left vacant because there's no one qualified to take them. We're talking about $40-$50 dollar an hour jobs. $60K on up.

Kids go to college to study to become CEOs. It's too bad they don't learn a real vocation, or that learning a trade is looked down upon.

So these companies I worked with had to find qualified employees with the necessary education from outside the country.

I think that's a key issue here. Education. It's out of reach for so many, and that's not right.