Friday, October 30, 2009

Nothing Personal

Once upon a time there was a girl who had a job she kinda liked. Then 9/11 happened and lots of companies panicked and started laying off employees. The girl had a jerk for a boss who liked to make himself seem important. When he heard that a new VP in the company needed an admin, around the same time he heard he would have to let one of his employees go, he called the girl into his office and said, "Listen, here's the thing. There is an opening in another department for an admin. Is that something you've be interested in doing?" When the girl replied "No" the boss said, "Well, you can take the job or I can let one of your co-workers go." So the girl, not wanting anyone she'd been working with for the past two years to be suddenly unemployed, took the job.

That girl was, of course, me. And that admin job was just as awful as I had feared it would be, with one exception. The people in the new department. Sure, like every place of employment, there were the oddballs and the crazy people. But for the most part the new team made me feel welcome by helping me figure out how things worked there and by joking around with me to make things seem less painful. Over the two years I had that job, I had many different bosses, most of whom were terrible. But I really liked the people and came to genuinely appreciate the constant banter. I've moved on to different jobs since then, but getting to know those people remains in my mind as the single bright spot in an otherwise dismal job situation.

Times have changed and the higher level technical support those folks do is being offshored. I know I need to be careful what I say here, so I'll try to be all PC and stuff. I'll just say that in my opinion, these people who have been providing these services for over a decade are more qualified and better suited for these particular jobs than other, newer people regardless of where they live. It is frustrating to say the least.

Friday night I attended a farewell happy hour for the first of these people who had fallen victim to the RIF (reduction-in-force) brigade. This wasn't the first RIF round, but previous rounds had impacted newer people who I didn't know so I wasn't invited to their Farewell parties. "Jeff" was the first of the 'old timers' to go. Jeff is one of those guys who would give you the shirt off his back. Family man. Good friend. Really just an all-around great guy. And now he is unemployed.

The thing is that the representatives of big businesses would say, "It's nothing personal. It's just business." Really? Nothing personal? I'm pretty sure it is personal to the people who are now without jobs. To the guy who has given the majority of his time to the company for over ten years and who has spent the past several of those cleaning up mistakes that were made by off-shore resources. I think that is personal.

I don't really care if someone can pull out a chart or a presentation and run some numbers and say that it makes fiscal sense to reduce the on-shore resources. What about the things you can't put numbers on? What about a workforce who will cover for each other in a heartbeat if one of them has a family emergency and has to leave early? What about the salaried employee who for some crazy reason is still willing to work extra to ensure something is taken care of, simply because they take their work personally and feel it would be a poor reflection on them to leave at the end of their shift without seeing the issue through? What about the experience that comes from being at a company for so long and knowing all the players and which of two people to call who will help you resolve an issue even more quickly? What about someone who is familiar enough with a customer to know if something seems incorrect and knows where to look for the correct information? Those are the numbers I want to see. What is the value of those things?

I know times are difficult now. I know there are sometimes when a business must reduce the number of people on their payroll to keep themselves afloat. What I do not understand is why it seems like that is such an easy decision for some people. It seems they just look at titles and job descriptions and numbers and determine those people are no longer valuable to the company. Do they even look at other ways to save or avoid costs? I have to believe that in many cases there are other options. Options that would allow them to keep valuable employees at the company.

All of Friday evening, the elephant in the room was who would be next. As I left, several of the other guys made comments that now that I'd come to Jeff's happy hour, I'd have to come to theirs when it was their turn. I tried to stay positive and say that the company would come around and realize that we still need people here to do what they do, but in my heart, I know that probably isn't the case. And I hate it. No one will ever be able to convince me that the numbers companies look at when they make these decisions are always right. No one will ever be able to convince me that anyone should be told "It's just business." I'm sorry. When you're talking about good employees who have given so much to a company, it's personal.

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