Monday, February 09, 2009

It's Not Your Fault

I call my buddy Alejandro to see what he was doing yesterday. He's wasn't doing much and since he's from Mexico, I thought he might find it novel to partake in an American pastime;

Shooting assault rifles.

He had never shot a gun before so I brought my little arsenal with and we headed out to the range.

En route to the range, I asked him what he had been doing with all his free time, because unfortunately he, along with 2,500 other engineers got laid off at one of the larger employers in town. He said he was looking for another job, talking to recruiters, applying, etc., but then he said something that made me quite angry. Not at him, but in general;

"I'm also going to this workshop where they try to help us out with dealing with the stress and the shame that comes with getting laid off."

The "shame?" I thought to myself. Why would he have shame when 2,499 other people got laid off? Fear of not being able to pay your bills, I could understand. Annoyance due to the fact you would now have to restrain your budget and not afford certain luxuries, OK. But shame? Why would you feel shame?

Sadly, it's a story I had heard before. Not more than 2 weeks previously another friend of mine was laid off. A computer programmer. He was telling me how he couldn't bear to hang out with us, his friends, because he was too ashamed he had been laid off. He was in a 2 month depression, holed up in his house, before he got another job (and found the pride to start hanging out with us again).

Another friend of mine just last Thursday was laid off, and though nowhere near as distraught was certainly down and depressed about it. I was keeping somewhat close tabs on her particular employment situation as her boss would constantly berate her for not meeting sales goals, ignoring the fact the economy was in a recession and that sales across the company were down. But despite the psychopathology of her boss, she still felt a little bit of shame.

So let me lay it out for all of you out there who are getting laid off once and for all;

It's not your fault.

Pure and simple, it's not your fault.

I'm not saying this to make you feel better. I'm not saying this to get you in the "cheer up camperoos! The sun always comes up tomorrow. And you should be happy little people, because if you're not perpetually happy, then you have psychological issues and need prosaic!" brainwashed-modern-day-American-mandatory-perpetual-happiness-sort-of-way.

No, I'm saying it because it's true.

It's not your fault.

The reason it isn't your fault is multifold.

One, we're in a recession.

Oh, I know your boss may have berated you and harped on you and told you, you weren't cutting it. But don't kid yourself, the reason for this added pressure is because his boss was pressuring him to boost sales because the regional manager was being pressured by his boss to cut losses, because the president and CEO has noticed the stock price tanking and isn't going to get his bonus this year. And the reason the stock price is tanking is because we're in a recession. A recession, I might add, management should have known was coming years ago and should have prepared for it, but are so incompetent and late in dealing with it, they now have to have massive lay offs.

This is what you must understand from a macro-economic perspective. When GDP contracts at 3.8%, it doesn't matter how good of an employee you are, demand for your firm's product, and thus labor goes down. The company cannot keep you on, not because you're not pulling your own weight, but because there just isn't demand for your labor. If anything, management should be criticized for hiring so many people in the first place, only to lay off again in 6 months when the economic indicators suggested a recession was on the way. It really is something to view as "nothing personal."

The second thing I wish to point out is the childish, assholeic (which is a word I just made up, but is the only way to describe it) behavior some managers have where they lack the maturity to be forthright with their employees and instead insist on blaming the problems of the macro-economy ON THEIR EMPLOYEES!

This enrages me because you have a person in a position of power, a position of authority, falsely blaming their staff for the problems of the company. The reason they do this again is that management is responsible for maneuvering the company through choppy economic waters. Management is responsible for making the decisions, developing the policies and implementing the strategies to deal with the outside environment. And since they are so inept and incompetent that their policies don't work, they don't have the intellectual honesty to admit it was THEIR decisions and THEIR fault that led the company to the dire straits it currently now faces. Ergo, since their bloated egos can't handle it, they blame their staff.

I hear endless stories of my friends being flogged to produce more sales, to make more loans, to sell more cars, despite this being the worst economy since the Volcker Recession. And if they don't, well then it's not the economy's fault, it's their fault and they should feel ashamed as the door hits them on the ass on their way out. To blame an economic crisis currently estimated to cost $2 trillion not on the sub prime deadbeats and corrupt banking system, but because my friend didn't sell enough couches is not only laughable, but hypocritical and typical of management today. Perhaps we should blame the chef of the Exxon Valdez for it running into a reef and not the drunk captain.

The third and final thing I insist you must understand is that your "supervisors" are NOT your SUPERIORS. And I think this takes a little more psychological thinking than normal.

Just because somebody is your boss or is older than you does not make them BETTER than you. Oh sure, back in the day that may have held, but today it absolutely does not.

When historians look back at this recession it is going to be a shameful period for the Baby Boomers for they are the ones who were more or less at the helm of this financial disaster. This is not to foist all blame on them, as there is certainly no limit to the amount of idiotic, disgusting, entitlement mentality driven Gen-X'ers who more or less make up a plurality of the sub prime dead beats and thus are also to blame, but at the helm of all the financial institutions, regulatory institutions, governments and corporations were the Baby Boomers. And they were asleep.

Be they bankers who disregarded any semblance of risk management in an attempt to enrich themselves through commissions, be they middle or senior managers who blindly flogged their staff to boost sales to make bonus at the expense of the integrity of the firm, be they auto manufacturing firms who had not the pair of cajones required to face down the union and basically admit to the reality "we can't afford to keep paying you this much," or be they the politicians and government leaders who instituted policies that channeled trillions to sub prime deadbeats all to buy votes from the degenerates of this country, in all cases sanity, logic, integrity and real leadership were forfeited for short term gain. The decisions being made by the leaders of these institutions were so horribly wrong, misguided and short sighted it is impossible to blame the ground troops over the officers for losing this war.

Of course to blame your elders or supervisors requires some bold and arrogant thinking. You are basically saying, "I, a younger, not-as-experienced, INDIVIDUAL claim to know more than the older, wiser and more experienced MASSES." But all one has to do is look at the empirical data. If the bosses, supervisors, leaders, governors, regulators and elders were right, would we be in this financial debacle? If they were competent, would we need trillion dollar bailouts? If the heads of these firms, the "elite" of Wall Street and other banks, we so god damned gifted, would they require taxpayer money? If they knew what they were doing and were thusly entitled to the rank of "supervisor" or "manager" or "boss" or "executive" would the company be in the red with its stock price tanking, along with the rest of the stock market, impoverishing us with the destruction of our 401k?

Once you understand this, then you will realize why you should have no shame. And not only why you should have no shame, but why you should have pride in getting let go by one of these Titanically-doomed wrecks.

In the meantime do yourself a favor and pour yourself a Fat Dachshund (1 part vodka, 1 part white creme de cocoa, one part baileys). You've earned it.


Rufus Willy said...

where do you shoot?

Anonymous said...

As a member of the "proud" ranks of the un(der)employed, I feel a lot of shame, especially after graduating from law school five months early. The vast majority of my law school class will be graduating this May, and most had jobs lined up months ago. Me, I'm finished with my classwork, but still pounding the pavement looking for work that will hopefully pay off my student loans.

For me, the shame does not come from being unable to find work in a bad economy; I know full well that it's not my fault. It doesn't even come from living outside my means, since Mrs. Bob (an engineer with a good salary) is making enough for us to get by and then some. It comes from not contributing to my own support - from being a freeloader, leeching off of assistance of others to survive. I'm ashamed because I'm like the welfare parasites I despise so much. (Though I like to think I try harder to find work than the parasites do.)

Anonymous said...

Another excellent post, Captain.

I tend to look at it in this way - you and your job can end up between a greedy, ruthless executive and his/her bonus at virtually any time. There is nothing you can do to prevent being there, there is nothing you can do to get out of that situation.

Profit is revenue minus cost. You are a cost. If a company cannot grow revenue for whatever reason including being in a recession, the only way it can grow profit is by cutting cost. Yes, you.

It doesn't matter whether we're in a recession or not, if they feel they can make the numbers look better over the short term without you, you're gone.

At that level, it's nothing personal, it's all managing to numbers, short term numbers at that. It's just business - bad business, short-sighted business, but it's still just business.

I work for a large multinational which recently announced record revenues and a day or two later silently cut 8,000 US jobs. Every quarter in the last five years, the execs have either sold off a business or layed off thousands.

That anorexic corporation, which is offshoring US jobs as fast as it can, while the execs loot the company for exorbitant pay and bonuses, will eventually fail. I also know that sooner or later, I will get the ax.

And it won't be my fault - I just managed to get between an exec and his bonus.

Captain Capitalism said...

I don't know mark. Being the "parasite freeloader" is all the rage nowadays.

How else did Obama get elected?

Anonymous said...

Just a note, you probably weren't shooting actual assault rifles as those are machine guns. Of course, gun controllers like to use the term "assault weapon" to deceive the masses...

Goldwater's Ghost said...

Great post Captain. The WSJ had an interesting take on this very issue this morning

Hot Sam said...

Mark, you have no reason to be ashamed. Success is half chance. Your friends likely got jobs because they went on the market during 'prime time' hiring for the attorney market.

I didn't get a permanent job immediately out of grad school. I struck out at the January job meetings and finally got a job in May. Then a year later I was offered two full-time permanent jobs. When I left my last job, I hd three great interviews but all fell through. I took a job well beneath me and hated every day. But old applications wer still active and I got 3 interview calls. I ended up switching to a better job with less stress, better benefits, and higher pay.

I can tell you several places still hiring lawyers: the US military, the Fed, the FTC, the FDIC, the IRS, the FBI, the Dept. of Labor, state government, and universities. None of us conservative types wants big government, but we do want some government and they are the best place to weather a recession. The Fed and FDIC are actually private companies which act as govt agencies.

The Captain is right - it's not your fault, and even if it is it's not something you can't fix. Tighten your belt, lighten your load, and spend every day on Monster, The Ladders, USAJobs as if you're doing it as a full time job.

Job searches are worse than house hunting, car buying, and, but it has to be done. Just get to it and hang in there. I got every job I ever had during recessions.

Brad in Waterloo said...

Great points, and the great writing makes it all the more enjoyable to read.

Anonymous said...

Very nice post. I am sure it will comfort a few.

I am self-employed and my penance will be less work and less money, but no lay-off.

I have been unemployed in the past and what I experienced was depression and fear. Those feelings are similar to the feeling of shame.

Perhaps those who are feeling shame should work harder to get in touch with their fear and depression.

Even a life filled with negative emotion needs some variety.

Anonymous said...

While I think your points on not taking the layoff personally are valid I hardly agree with your condemnation of the program on helping former employees cope.

I think it is worthy to note that the course was likely to have at least been funded by their former employer. You must realize that when a company makes the difficult decision to reduce its workforce the impact these actions have on people is understood.

I have been closer to many consolidations, organizational realignments, and offhshoring actions than I would like to have been.

Often discussions of previous actions are noted as "handeled well" if there were no suicides. The majority of executives realize the impact of these decisions.

To the guy complaining about the "greedy ruthless executive": While I agree there are executives who are morally bankrupt if not criminal, but those types of generalizations and "workers thinking" are something I would expect on a liberal blog.

Anonymous said...

Captain C: Yeah, that's obviously how His Imperial Majesty, The Saint President of the Holy Moron Empire got elected, but I've never been one to go along with the crowd. I like the illusion of self-respect.

Robert: I know there's no reason to be ashamed, but I still sometimes feel like I haven't done enough. Plus, there's the self-respect that comes from pulling my own weight. I miss that. Treating job-hunting as a full-time job and then failing for several months straight is just excruciating.

On the other hand, I have a callback interview lined up for Thursday. Not an attorney position, but it involves financial planning, and especially estate planning work. It's an honest job, and beats filing frivolous lawsuits to pay the bills. So we'll see what happens.

Hot Sam said...

Alcibiades: Yes, a semi-auto is not an assault rifle, but an assault rifle is not quite a machinegun. Even a light machinegun lays down much more lead than an assault rifle. Some assault rifles don't even fire full auto anymore. But the liberal definition is entirely cosmetic, not functional.

Mark: I know exactly how you feel buddy. I was unemployed for five months in 2007 and, worse, sleeping on a futon at my mother-in-law's house with everything in storage.

Yes, we're all committed to being self-sufficient but that is a luxury of a healthy capitalist economy. In other countries men leave their families for years for overseas employment. Even in the US that was common until the late 20th century. Chin up, you'll get a job soon enough. Shame and disappointment serve no useful purpose. Confidence is key. The hard part of law school is behind you. Imagine being an unemployed carpenter right now!

My wife works in wealth management for a bank. They hire lawyers to do estate planning just like you're interviewing for.

Figure out what your role will be vis a vis bringing in revenue in this tight economy. Everyone is a salesman! A lot of potential customers are searching for a safe place to invest and ways to protect assets. Remember the estate tax exemption is expiring soon if/when the dimocrats don't renew it. That's crucial. Develop your talking points from that angle - how you will serve your customers to better earn money for the company. Don't just focus on why you're right for that job, but also why that job is right for you.