I am a veteran of various industry downsizing, right-sizings and debacles, having held management positions:
- In savings and commercial banks during the thrift crisis when banks rearranged the deck chairs on the Titanic
- In advertising during two ad recessions when agencies failed to understand what the end of guaranteed 15+% commissions on media meant to their business model
- In a Big Five, then Four accounting firm during the salad days of selling tax advantaged special purpose entities and Y2K consulting to Fortune 500 corporations
- In an Internet start-up before the dot bomb went off
- In marketing technology consultancies working with Fortune 500 clients on digital transformation and the deployment of advanced algorithms for audience definition and manipulation
For 25 years I have been the sole bread-winner for my family of four. During that time I have been laid off several times and resigned a bunch more, occasionally with no notice. I have consistently provided around forty hours a week to my employers and guard my free time jealously. I have also never hesitated to walk away from a job that wasn’t working out for me or because I just needed to press the reset button. I possess no inherited wealth and don’t know any really important people. I hold a four-year degree in philosophy from a respected but not big name private college, graduating in the top third of my class but with no special academic distinction. I don’t hold any graduate degree, but did obtain a Certified Financial Planner designation and FINRA Series 7 license that I allowed to lapse. With my wife I have owned nice homes the last of which was paid for with cash and sold, leaving me entirely without debt. I have paid for BA’s for my two kids with cash so they can start out without debt, despite my strong reservations about the cost/benefit of said “education.”
I am going to add a series of posts covering things I’ve learned about how to win at the sometimes nasty game of being an employee.
American white-collar workers grew up with a social contract based on higher education as the ticket to a stable corporate career face futures for which they are wholly unprepared. Most of them are neither ready nor able to succeed in entrepreneurial ventures, nor even to understand the people who will. Out of desperation they will buy get rich schemes and make vloggers, franchisers and other hucksters rich, but most will not achieve any kind of financial security. Bankruptcy rates, which were already at a post WWII high before the last recession, will continue to climb for the foreseeable future in spite of legislation making it tougher to seek shelter from the creditors who helped Americans row over the falls of easy credit.
The answer for most people, who still want to be law-abiding citizens, is to get tougher with their employers. The old way to do this was through collective bargaining. The union movement may come back, but there is no broad strength or great track record of organizing success among white-collar people who don’t see themselves as union types. Consequently, the dues paying rosters of the big unions continue to decline steadily. Labor leaders haven’t figured out how to make the pitch to people who still want to believe they could be like a character by Horatio Alger if they had vim or pep, to use anachronistic Babbitisms. Barring a miraculous and culturally incongruous emergence of something like Lech Walesa’s Solidarity in the USA, individuals have to do what they can to preserve and protect their incomes and prepare for inevitable periods of under- and unemployment. This is true whether the much-heralded economic turn around finally materializes or not. Now it is time they learned how to play by the Machiavellian rules used by CEOs in this winner-take-all economy. What follows are strategies for playing hardball as an employee.
Some of what I will say here goes against the revealed wisdom of experts who work for recruiting firms paid by large employers to find them wage slaves at all income levels. Some of it does not. I hope there is something here you can use. Take the best and leave the rest.