Wednesday, 1 July 2009

How Far Would You Go To Save Your Job?

In these troubled times, even though there is talk of recoveries on the way, the continuing contraction of economies means that inevitably job losses have some way to go before they peak.

British Airways workers have voted to take a 'work for free' month after CEO, Willie Walsh, led the way. The fact that he was surrendering £35k was pretty impressive but then so is his annual salary, despite presiding over the largest loss since the airline was privatised. Workers at JCB voted to go on shorter working hours in order to save some 300 job losses. I am sure there are more examples of how people have either made sacrifices or been incredibly innovative about how they persuade their employer not to shed their job.

In Spain, where many economists are predicting as high as 20% unemployment very soon, the situation is becoming desperate. To some extent, here in the UK, people are either stoic, fall back on the Welfare State or are reasonably confident they can get another job over time - even if they have to accept less money or seniority. The Spanish predicament is so acute that if someone loses their job, then the likelihood of finding another at all, let alone with a salary drop, is very remote.

There has been the case of one Spanish man who worked at the Barcelona International Convention Centre who contracted a group of six Colombians to murder his boss in the hope that it would stave off the imminent loss of his job. At least he will not go without a roof and food as he is due to spend a significant time in jail.
But it begs the question: How far would you go to save your job?

Work Hard And Be Flexible

I don't know if there are any good formulae to be really helpful in trying to save your job. I am sure many companies are just using the current situation to shed more than is necessary as for some companies you have to believe that they cannot see beyond the very short term with some of the measures they take. Many banks and financial companies have slashed back office staff, while embarking on high visibility marketing campaigns and you have to question their management capability. The Government is reducing the Armed Forces headcount yet we are fighting two major wars - strategies continually seem to be at loggerheads with market situations. Many companies are cutting very deeply just at the point when economists are predicting we are through the worst of the recession and that markets may pick up.

That doesn't help the people being made redundant. Some people can see the writing on the wall and almost invite it. There is some wisdom here. Think about it - the market is at its nadir and things may pick up soon so what better than to have a nice redundancy pay off, take advantage of a lovely hot summer or foreign holiday and wait it out until the market picks up?

The fact is that most of us are born worriers and the older you are the worse it gets. As a person not far from 50, I have mild panic attacks thinking what would happen if my business implodes and it must be far worse for those working for large employers as at least I am pretty much in charge of my own destiny. I have seen small companies cruise into the recession and hang precariously onto a single decent customer who is the difference between survival and bankruptcy and am astonished how they continue to not worry. Then I look at people like my sister, whose company is having a strong time thanks to continued Government spend on training and yet she is never satisfied that they have enough resilience.

Different companies and different people react in different ways. For many, a job is a mark of status or duty while to others it's what pays the bills. Clearly, to the unfortunate man in Spain, it was his everything.

I used to think that if you worked hard and were flexible then your employer would value your contribution. This recession has proved that employers do not always work that way. In the heat of the banking crisis, great swathes of administration and back office jobs - none of which had contributed in any way to the idiotic decision-making that exposed the organisations to losses beyond comprehension - were lost and few of the whizz kids who caused the mess were ditched. In fact, in the craziness of the Bank of America take over of Merrill Lynch, they actually paid bonuses long after everyone vented their spleens on the subject to prevent the very people who caused it all leaving. Here in the UK, the banks proved almost suicidal as RBS shed some 9,000 jobs and then a subsidiary launched a glossy advert campaign saying how they were going to mobilise more staff to visit clients. Aviva spent millions on telling us why they were changing Norwich Unions' name yet in the same timeframe they made many people redundant and saw their share price collapse.

My point here is that this recession has exposed us to some of the worst effects of poor management and it is pretty clear that some seriously large companies are managed by fairly incompetent managers. This means that the decision-making in cutting jobs is being made from pretty limited understanding of business and therefore likely to not really focus on what is needed for the future and almost certainly neglect the general contribution of workers. Management by numbers has come to the fore and 'entrepreneurial' and 'blue sky thinking' managers who delighted in their own successes seem to have all too quickly abdicated their responsibilities and left it to the accountants.

My only advice to people under threat of redundancy is to seek good advice and to listen to what the company has to say. Inevitably there may be some consultation process and, if so, take an active part and be constructive and conspicuous. If you want to save your job in dire times, it is important to be flexible. I know there is a real danger that employers may force what appear to be short term changes in conditions on employees in order to save jobs, but make sure concessions are made with caveats relating to the future. In all of this, keep talking about the future because that's where the company is trying to get to so if you play your part in helping your employer get a future, so too must you at least get back what you sacrificed to help this being achieved.

Redundancy is an emotive topic and many take it personally. In my book, it is more a failing of the company and its management team and the stigma should fall on them. In the UK, it doesn't work like that. There is no penalty on the company for using redundancy to boost profitability, the State picks up the tab and so it becomes an easy weapon to use. In France and other Continental countries, redundancy is a hard tool to use to save money and can end up costing more. For good or bad, this focuses the minds of managers to be not so bullish in the good times and be prudent in the bad - to make them run their businesses more strategically rather than tactically even if they that's what they think they are doing (so many believe if they mention the worked 'strategic' then that is what they are doing - most have no idea what strategy is).

In preparation for potential redundancy, think positively about how you will handle it, talk to family and friends, get ideas on what you may do after being redundant, formulate a plan of action, a list of things you want to do, and how you will do them. Most of all use the experience to gain a confidence rather than the opposite. Remember, if you are not for a man like Stephen Hester of RBS, who will get a £9.6m bonus shortly, nicely in proportion with the 9,000 redundancies. You can walk away with your head held high as you were not in it for yourself alone.

Britain has a chance to get better managers in place, to force companies to think beyond the mountain of short term opportunity, to be more prudent, regulate themselves more and protect their employees against the outcome of their stupid actions. Time and again, low paid workers pay with their jobs for more well off managers' mistakes.

As we sit under a Socialist Government, you would have thought this would have been top of their agenda. Once again it will be an opportunity missed.

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