Job Security?

I’ve been at this high-tech gig for over 30 years now in various industries; aerospace, printers, compilers, and now health care insurance. You would think that after this long a guy could kick back a little bit and feel secure. Such is not the case.

Something changed right about when I started working in 1980, or perhaps just a bit before in the late 1970’s. Job security went the way of the hoola-hoop.

I remember growing up in the 60’s and early 70’s when people had jobs and kept them for long periods of time, and didn’t feel like they needed to be looking over their shoulders every week. Company loyalty actually existed in both directions. Pensions came with the territory instead of self-directed savings plans. That must have been nice. Work for a goodly spell, then retire comfortably.

Every single job I’ve had felt like there was a layoff just around the corner, and there usually was. Even in management. At one company I was managing a small team and we saw the outsourcing movement coming our way and I prepared myself for the eventuality that I may have to RIF a team member or two. But we never got word of the upcoming RIF. Why? Because managers were targets too! That was a humbling realization.

I’ve been laid off one time, but have had no gaps in employment due to being given 6 months notice of the pending shut-down, so I was able to line up a new employer as the job ended. It seems as though I should get some credit for the equivalent of navigating a 40′ sailboat through Deception Pass or something else really hard.

I’ve tried to explain this to people that are not in high-tech and often get blank stares. Huh? I just go to work every day and don’t worry about it too much. Oh, to be you.

If memory serves, it started with the hyperinflation economy circa the Carter Administration, but got even worse afterwards. Reagan laid the hammer down on the air-traffic controllers and showed ’em who’s boss. That was really bad news for unions which also coincides with the initial demise of the middle class.  The experiment with trickle down economics laid on more pressure to the working class and furthered the divid between the rich vs. the poor.

Then came NAFTA. Ross Perot nailed it with his “Giant sucking sound” comment. I don’t know that something like NAFTA wasn’t inevitable. I sort of doubt the United States could have gotten away with being too isolationist for very long. But man, the effects of all of this has really sucked the energy out of me. For 35 years!

Suddenly layoffs aren’t just commonplace, but expected. Constantly. Look out because the Vice Presidents are under tremendous pressure to show cost savings and productivity improvements. If your job is classified as ‘overhead’, all the worse for you. It was always best to be tied directly to some project work. Unless of course, your project were to be canceled. If you switch jobs, be prepared to start all over and prove yourself no matter how senior your job title says you are. You are replaceable, don’t kid yourself.

How many hours have I wasted worrying about being considered redundant and all the comes with it. Having to break the news to the family. Possibly losing a house and getting in a bad credit situation. Having to take a lesser job to keep putting food in the mouths of 5 people.  Having to go back to school and learn a completely new skill.  A LOT of sleepless nights.

In the 1990’s, outsourcing became the buzzword that showed up on a lot of VP’s powerpoint slides. They couldn’t just come in and propose 5% cost cutting. They were under pressure to come up with a ‘game changing’ idea. Outsourcing tech labor to India or the Far East was the trendy thing to do. Initially the numbers were hard to deny. Labor in India was about 20% of the U.S. rate. It’s since risen to closer to 50% as the global playing field levels a bit, but that’s still a big number. To make matters worse, you could expect to be asked to start looking for a new job while training your replacement. I did for a while. Then one day I just let them know that I was no longer interested in training my replacement. That turned some heads but I got away with it. Not sure how I did, but I just couldn’t train that guy for one more minute.

Meanwhile, in the good old U.S. we have extremists promoting ‘pure capitalism’ as if the human race would be best governed by the laws of Natural Selection. Every man for himself. Dog eat dog. Whatever it takes just so long as nobody’s gonna be mooching off me. The odd thing is, even during the halcyon days of the 1950’s that the pundits like to harken back on as the peak of our exceptionalism, we’ve never been a pure capitalist nation. Taxes were more than double what they are now for the top earners. Our economic policies have always been a combination of capitalism and socialism, just a matter of degree.

I wonder what it would be like to work at a job where the pace was normal and the expectations weren’t unrealistic? Every company I’ve worked for feels like someone’s hair is on fire and the schedule pressures you feel are very real. It’s hard to maintain a healthy lifestyle when you feel the need to work 60 hours a week, often through lunch, and forego your exercise routine in order to help the team meet a specific deadline. God knows you don’t want to be the one called out for holding things up in a status meeting. Anything but that.

There may be hope for future generations. The playing field has leveled quite a bit. Many companies have gone to the school of hard knocks with the outsourcing plans and many have reverted back for a variety of reasons. Some underestimated how difficult it would be to deal with the timezone differences. Others forgot to pencil in additional capital for the bandwidth required to do distributed development. In some cases it’s been the language barrier was too much to bear. 50% is a big number, but there’s a well documented downside now and more outsourcing proposals are getting met with “not-so-fast”.

I’d like to come in at 8:30 every day, always take an hour long lunch and visit with people in mostly non-work conversation, do some interesting work and then go home around 5-ish and leave my troubles behind. And not have to worry about scenarios that might wind a guy up on someone’s RIF list. Sadly, I don’t think I’ll get to experience this in my lifetime.

If you have an everyday job and don’t lay awake at night worrying about job loss frequently, then give some thanks. Well played, I envy you.

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