Is Your Job Safe?

Posted on | March 14, 2009 | Comments Off on Is Your Job Safe?

Not long ago, as I was schlepping my computer and over-the-shoulder bag through the Minneapolis Airport’s Green Concourse, on the way to somewhere, I passed a newsstand plastered wall-to-wall with the Time magazine cover of the week.  Out of the corner of my eye I caught the question it posed:
Is your job safe?
I took another couple of steps, then stopped dead in my tracks and stared at the display again.  That’s the wrong question! I thought immediately.  A better question would be,
Are you safe, regardless of what happens to your job?
Because one thing is perfectly clear to anyone who works today, and that is. . .
Unavoidable Fact of Life # 1: Your job is not safe.
Economic crisis. Merger. Acquisition. Downsizing. Re-engineering.  Let’s face it, they all mean “layoff” to whoever happens to be involved.  And no one is immune.  I recall sitting in a boardroom listening to the CEO of a large Fortune 100 company describing to his senior leadership team the details of an up-coming downsizing project. “There are only two people in this room who have jobs that appear safe at this point,” he said to nervous twitters around the table, “Harry’s (the project manager for the effort) and mine.  And I’m not too sure about mine!”  (More nervous laughter.)  Sure enough, six weeks later the CEO had been let go, eased out into an early retirement as a part of the restructuring-along with about 20,000 other employees.
So it doesn’t matter whether you are the Chief Executive Officer or the Chief Floor Sweeper, your job is not safe anymore.  As Mike Stephen, good friend and client-and former CEO of Aetna International, said to me once, ‘The old unspoken agreement, that the company you give your life to will protect your life in return, is no longer tenable.  Any leader or manager who tries to convince you otherwise shouldn’t be trusted.  They may want to make that old promise to you, but the inexorable forces working in the marketplace make it impossible. We were taught in business school to encourage people to give their life to the company. The problem is: we succeeded! Now, when we lay someone off, it’s not ‘just a job’ it’s their life. . .’
My oldest son, Jay Scherer, is a web-designer/graphic artist and rock musician. In a recent conversation, he suggested an innovative metaphor for approaching workplace uncertainty which comes from the way his music life has gone.  “Dad, maybe people don’t have careers anymore; maybe what they have is a series of gigs.” You may play the same instrument from gig to gig-but maybe not.  You might also be better off if you got comfortable playing jazz, blues, rock and classical. That would give you more options.  You probably also need to accept that you are certain to move from one venue to another several times before your worklife is over.”  
Implication: to the extent that your sense of safety and well-being is connected to holding on to a particular job or position or title, you’re in deep-shall we say-yogurt. Your sense of safety has to come from somewhere else. . . You need to find out how to separate your identity and your sense of security (what’s on the inside) from your job (what’s on the outside).  That way you have a fighting chance of not having the outside suck up the inside. More next time on how to do this.


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