When you stay at a company for ten or fifteen years, through thick and thin, and take your 3.5% or less yearly raise you are not showing that you are worth keeping and increasing your chances of being kept in any future downsizing. If some other company buys yours, chances are they will not look at seniority in deciding who gets kept unless they have to because of a union contract. What they will do is make managers do appraisals on everyone – maybe for the first time in years – and grade them A, B or C. If you are a “C” you are history. If you are an “A” then you will be counted on to stab others in the back and be ruthlessly ambitious. If you are a “B” you will be expected to do more with less.
You may think you are well placed in the organization with many friends in various departments won over years of dedicated service. This may or may not help you. It is never a bad idea to be loyal to people you trust. That kind of relationship is hard to find and worth preserving. At the same time, never confuse those people with the company.
A company is treated as a person under the law in strange ways. Among the attributes of personhood corporations lack is the need to be responsible for their actions. The corporate structure is designed to maximize the benefits of personhood derived from ownership of property – both tangible and intangible. However, a corporation does not exist in time and space the way people do. People come and go and corporations go on. Corporations may be incorporated any where it suits them and manage where they want to choose to pay or not pay taxes, what prevailing wage rates they pay and other such matters. But corporations exist to limit the liability of their senior executives and directors from actions or negligent inaction. This principle has come under fire recently but in large measure it still holds. You can’t send a corporation to jail. Fines for misdeeds, when levied at all, tend to be inconsequential. Because corporations are entities that are protected by the law from such things as theft they are held to be like people by officers of the law and the courts. Because they can’t be held accountable for stealing from or even killing others they can’t be trusted. They are supported by the law but largely beyond it. They may be sued, but they can afford to hire teams of expert legal help and use unlimited time to defend themselves and undermine others. At this point, only the most naïve citizen thinks the burden of proof matters in our courts. The weighty issues are how big or celebrated you are and how much time of a dream team you can use to prevail.
Corporations exist to create an unfair advantage for their managers and directors. There are countless stories of babies born with serious defects because their parents drank water they were assured was safe or lived on land that was poisoned and never cleaned up. You can check for yourself at the EPA’s website on the many superfund sites that are still out there leaching poison into neighborhoods all over the country. Victimized families are publicly vilified and even when some Erin Brokavich helps them they are not adequately compensated. If they lose in court the companies can say, “It’s nobody’s fault really.” The old saying is, “behind every great fortune there is a great crime.”
In spite of this total lack of accountability or even of shame, companies want employees to feel guilty for any perceived or imputed breach of trust with the company. You are culpable if you fail to produce an “honest day’s pay for an honest day’s wage.” This is an egregious double standard that leverages deliberate confusion over personhood to keep people in line.
The deck is stacked against trivial violators of the law even as high roller crooks continue to ravage the basic trust without which there can be no rule of law. The jails of America are indeed full – of poor folks. The United States imprisons more citizens in total and per capita than any other nation in the “free” world. Most of those people are there for committing trivial crimes. Most of the inmates believe they are the little fish and the big ones got away. Most of them are probably guilty of the crimes for which they are doing time, but a young person in jail for possession of a small amount of marijuana is hardly paying a debt to society when those who steal millions from the companies they run continue to go free. The state of affairs described here has not changed much in at least the last one hundred years, except that growth of jail beds has outstripped the growth in population. Zero tolerance policies combined with for-profit prison systems mean those beds are full and more jails will be built. Keeping somebody in jail costs about twice what it costs to keep a kid in school and somebody is winning at that game.
You don’t owe a corporation anything — not ideas, not time, not money and not truth. A corporation is not a person deserving of your respect. It is a legal alchemy for transmuting the base metals of trust and productive energy into gold while limiting accountability. The gold goes where it has gone for the last hundred odd years since J.P. Morgan & Co. created the modern corporation based on precedents set in England and the Netherlands many years before: to the less than 1% of the population that controls virtually all of the wealth in the world. Chances are, there is nothing you or I can do that would change this in any way and I am not recommending that you try.
However, you work with real people and you have to live with them and with yourself. This means you must be responsible for your conduct towards them and on their behalf. It never pays to cheat or steal from corporations because the law will get you and the people will be betrayed. So here are some rules to protect you:
- Don’t take their stuff.
- Don’t use their equipment for personal things.
- Keep personal and business income and expense separate.
- Be squeaky clean and meticulous on expense reports.
But never give them what they haven’t earned:
- Don’t give away intellectual property.
- Don’t waive your rights to legal recourse (even if you don’t intend to use it, they don’t know that).
- Don’t be too free with your time or resources.
- Don’t be loyal or fair to legal entities or fictions, just to people.
When you get a pink slip they always say something like, “It’s nobody’s fault really – it’s the economy.” You should be prepared to do the same. If you fire your employer and they want to know why you simply say, “it didn’t work out.” Resignation letters should never complain or explain and the same goes for exit interviews. This is not the time to unburden yourself. Just leave and don’t look back lest you turn into a proverbial pillar of salt.
If you are invited to resign from a company do so at once. Make sure you don’t leave any documentation you shouldn’t. Do not retain intellectual property, equipment or other property of your employer. Always be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.
It is never a shame to resign of your own accord. It is always a travesty to stay on a job where you are not wanted or appreciated because you need a secure income. Loyalty is always a two-way street between flesh and blood individuals. Corporations should not be thought of as persons in the way you would other human beings or even canines. Your boss deserves as much loyalty as s/he gives you and is willing to recompense . . . not one whit more.
I have been asked in more than one interview how a prospective employer could be sure I would stick around and wouldn’t bolt when I thought the grass was greener or got bored. My answer is always the same. I can’t give any such assurance and I wouldn’t if I could. I have never been offered a contract of guaranteed employment but I would probably not sign one anyway. I appreciate that I am hired at will and can be fired at will. Either they have a need I can fill or they don’t. If not, I thank the interviewer for his/her time and move on.