Keeping a Job
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If there is a lack of any kind, whether it is need for employment, or for money, or for guidance, or even for healing, something is blocking the flow. And the most effective remedy: Give! Spiritual Economics: The Prosperity Process, Eric Butterworth
Several decades ago, people would start with an employer in the United States, and the chances were quite good that the person would be working with that employer for the majority of their career. This was how it was for my parents for the most part. It was probably also this way for your parents. Both of my parents spent the majority of their careers with just one employer. There are still some pockets of this today; however, for the most part, this is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Today, most of us will have had several jobs over our lifetimes.
While this means many things, its significance is that there is really no such thing as employment stability and certainty in your job. In fact, with very few exceptions, no job is immune from going away. Most of us crave stability in our lives. Stability in our careers is an incredibly important thing. People search for and get stability in their lives in numerous ways:
Why do we all do one or more of these things? We do them because we are seeking a certain level of security in our lives. We want to feel secure, and we expect each of these things we do will give us that result. Security is coming home to the same home each night. It is about having a job to go to tomorrow. It is about having people in your life who love you. It is knowing you will be alive tomorrow. It is about being comforted when you are tense and agitated. How we define security is unique to each of us, but something we all have a need for. It is among the most important needs we have as human beings.
The need for security in your career is real, and it is something I am sure is exceptionally important to you. We need to have a purpose in the world, and we need to know that we are going to have the ability to make money and support ourselves in the future. This is the reason people typically chose one profession over another. This is also the reason people typically get an education, for example.
When I was growing up, the most secure career you could go into was medicine. The reason for this was largely due to the fact that doctors typically were guaranteed a pretty good income if they managed to get into medical school and graduate. They could count on making enough money to live in a nice neighborhood and drive a nice car. They could send their children to good schools and be respected in their community. Much of this has been shaken recently and, within the past several months, I have even read some incredible stories about doctors going bankrupt due to being unable to find work. This is not the case everywhere, of course, but it is a sign that there is not as much security in this profession anymore.
The most secure job you could possibly get in the early 1970s in Detroit was a job with an automotive company. If you got a job in a factory, you would get a good hourly wage, health benefits, and a pension. This is, of course, no longer the case at all. Life and business is a continual cycle of creation and destruction. What is alive today may not be alive tomorrow. What goes up often comes down. This is what makes our careers so hard when we are seeking security.
Most people don’t realize this fact, but in the Great Depression there was a severe crash with unemployment rising to 25% from 1930 to 1933. These stunning unemployment numbers are a sign that we should never take our future security lightly. Things can change, and any and all security you currently feel could be gone in a heartbeat. One of my favorite economists whom I have been reading for years is Harry S. Dent, Jr. In his most recent book, The Great Depression Ahead, he writes:
Businesses need to understand that a “survival of the fittest” battle is coming between 2008 and 2012 that will determine the leaders for many decades to come. The businesses with the largest market shares or niche dominance and with the lowest costs and strongest balance sheets and liquidity will grow stronger and gain long-term market share, but many more will fail and be taken over by stronger companies. Banks need to understand that they haven’t seen anything yet when it comes to home foreclosures and business failures.
This extreme shakeout process in business, along with the great over-expansion and credit expansion of the bubble, will cause this downturn to see much higher unemployment than in the recessions of the 1970s and the early 1980s; our best estimate is 12% to 15%.
I have been reading Dent for years and, in my experience, he has always been right on. I believe there is a strong reason at the moment for you to pause and question whether or not your job, your profession, and your life is secure. I’m asking you to do this so that you can understand the forces that are acting on your career. Regardless of how secure you think your job is, regardless of the quality of your education, you do have reason to potentially be concerned with what is about to happen in the economy.
Before I go any further, I want to be very clear about a few things that I believe have a major affect on your life. With the Internet, population growth in various parts of the world, and more–the world is now wide open, and many of the jobs that we formerly did in the United States can be done anywhere. These jobs can also be done much more cheaply and by people who are incredibly enthusiastic compared to many Americans. The jobs can be performed with less bureaucracy and delivered to consumers more cheaply. Businesses must operate as businesses, and the role of all businesses is to provide the best products and services they can at the lowest possible cost. If the business can produce the product or service at a lower cost, then the business will also be able to sell more of the product by lowering the price.
In fact, in practically any office in the United States, most of this work could be taken and moved overseas to a place where the work can be done more cheaply. This also goes for work that occurs in factories. Call centers have been being moved overseas for over a decade. Sophisticated accounting and tax work can be done at a fraction of the cost overseas. Computer programming can be done overseas. I remember 10 years ago, it was difficult for me to hire a programmer in the United States because they were demanding incredible amounts of money and stock options–if they knew what they were doing. My experience was no different than the majority of American employers. A decade later, most companies I know have put most of their programming staff overseas in areas where it is much less expensive.
They would be crazy not to.
If you can have something done better and more cheaply somewhere else, why would you not do this? This is something I am confident has eliminated hundreds of thousands of jobs. The same goes for manufacturing. A tremendous amount of manufacturing in the United States (and throughout the world) has now been moved to places like China. Even taking into account the costs associated with taking shipping containers across the ocean, China is still able produce goods at a much lower cost than in the United States and elsewhere.
Not too long ago, I was on vacation in Hawaii and shopping in a store which apparently had “authentic Hawaiian apparel.” Everyone working inside of the store appeared to be genuine native Hawaiians. I started looking at all of the labels and, within a few minutes, I realized that every single thing in the store–whether it was a straw hat, or a flowered shirt, was from China. There is nothing wrong with this. The business was just doing what any smart business needs to do–it was getting its products from the lowest cost producer so it could make the largest profit margins.
What’s going on is not just confined to products and programmers, however. Legal work is now also being increasingly outsourced to places like India. People can now have legal work done there. Imagine what the implications are for the long-term job security of American attorneys due to this. I’ve heard others say that the education industry is safe; however, this is also being questioned now. I read recently in The Great Depression Ahead, that even this may not be immune:
There are likely to be big changes in education ahead due to this Shakeout Season over the next decade. Just as with the housing or technology or emerging market or commodity bubble, there is an education bubble. Does it make sense that education costs should be rising so fast when education is an information-intensive industry during an unprecedented information revolution? Bureaucratic management structures, real estate intensity, and tenure-based systems have sustained high costs, while high demand from frantic parents has exacerbated the price spiral. Why can’t parts of education be conveyed online with greater access to experts and peers around the world? Why do we need sprawling campuses with elaborate landscaping, buildings, libraries, etc., in an Internet world? Why should students be restricted to teachers and experts in a local area when they can have video and interactive feedback from around the world from the best experts, peers and blogs?
Education can be delivered at radically lower costs through a combination of online programs, in-classroom programs, and internships with companies. However, it will take a shock to the system to force such changes in the most complacent, academic and tenure-based system in our economy. Page 306.
My idea here is that no industry and no job will necessarily guarantee you the security you crave in the future. One proposal being batted around is that the Obama administration may decide to create a massive number of government jobs. This may very well occur, however, if this does occur, then even these jobs may not have a lot of security because they may be eliminated when a new administration comes in. Everything goes in cycles of creation and destruction.
I believe the next 10 years or so in the present economy are going to witness a massive shakeout that is beyond anything we have ever seen before. In a poor economy, businesses do everything they possibly can to cut costs. This will mean that many of the jobs they have will be relocated overseas, where possible, and done in much cheaper ways. In addition, I believe that productivity enhancing tools are going to increasingly put pressure on the human equation to lower wages. I recently read a September 10, 2008, article in the Wall Street Journal, “Retailers Reprogram Workers in Efficiency Push,” which I am confident is a huge indicator of what lies ahead in most retail jobs:
Retailers have a new tool to turn up the heat on their salespeople: computer programs that dictate which employees should work when, and for how long.
AnnTaylor Stores Corp. installed a system last year. When saleswoman Nyla Houser types her code number into a cash register at the Ann Taylor store here at the Oxford Valley Mall, it displays her “performance metrics”: average sales per hour, units sold, and dollars per transaction. The system schedules the most productive sellers to work the busiest hours.
Ann Taylor saleswoman Nyla Houser, a retired teacher, has gotten fewer work hours under a new ‘workforce-management‘ system. “We are under the gun to be a much more efficiently running organization,” said Scott Knaul, director of store operations at the women’s apparel retailer, which said earlier this year that it is closing 117 under performing stores over the next few years. There was an initial “ego hit” for some employees, he said at a gathering of retailers in May. But the system, he said, has helped turn more store browsers into buyers.
Such “workforce-management” systems are sweeping the industry as retailers fight to improve productivity and cut payroll costs. Limited Brands Inc., Gap Inc., Williams-Sonoma Inc. and GameStop Corp. have all installed them recently. Some employees aren’t happy about the trend. They say the systems leave them with shorter shifts, make it difficult to schedule their lives, and unleash Darwinian forces on the sales floor that damage morale.
“There was a lot of animosity toward the system,” says Kelly Engle, who worked at an Ann Taylor store in Beavercreek, Ohio, until late last year. “Computers aren’t very forgiving when it comes to an individual’s life.”
Tools like this are enabling retailers to squeeze as much work as they possibly can out of their workers. They are also shaking inefficiencies out of the system and making our jobs less secure and certain. In this article it was discussed that this efficiency increasing tool is creating tremendous downward pressure on the wages of the most marginal sales people in the stores.
The quest we have for security is there because we are all trying to survive. How do you do this, however, when the world around you is constantly changing? We fight for security in our jobs. Unions are there, for the most part, to give people employment security. Most of the worry and anxiety people experience is due to them worrying about what may happen or not feeling secure. There are a lot of ways people try and get security:
Not all of these things may apply to you, but I am sure many of them do. You know that you have a need for security. The problem with this need is that you should understand there is no such thing as security. Every inefficiency in every business and job you could possibly have will eventually be eliminated. This is especially so in the current economy where employers will do everything within their power to reduce and eliminate unnecessary expenses. This is something that happens in all recessions, and it’s happening at the moment and is likely to be severe. Many people you know are about to lose their jobs if they haven’t already.
Where does this leave you? What about your security?
You’re not going to be able to find security in almost any career you go into. I don’t say this to you to frighten you, but it’s a stark reality. Concentrating on security and searching for this is the wrong approach to your career. What you really need to be concentrating on is yourself and the value that you can provide an employer.
All of these ideas (and I could write them down all day) are things you can do that are meant to give someone else (i.e., your employer) security. When you concentrate on the needs of your employer and being exceptional at your job, very good things happen to you. I’ve been faced before with the choice between letting one or another person go in our company during cutbacks. If there is someone out there I know is always trying to cut costs and increase the revenue of one of our companies, then I will do everything within my power to save this person’s job. Other people don’t seem to care, and these are the people who are let go. People who are constantly improving themselves are also kept around over those who are not. People who are aware of inefficiencies in various operations and point these out to the employer are valued.
In 1927, Bruce Barton, the co-founder of the BBDO advertising agency wrote: “If a man practices doing things for other people until it becomes so much a habit that he is unconscious of it, all the good forces of the universe line up behind him and whatever he undertakes to do.”
In order to experience the security you are seeking, you need to focus on the needs of others. Focusing on your own security is something that is often counterproductive. There is a chance you could lose any job that you do, even after having done the job for decades. We are going into a frightening economy where a lot of bad stuff is about to happen. It will be, in many respects, a true survival of the fittest. The fittest are, and always have been, the ones who are providing the most value. They are anticipating and catering to the needs of others and, due to this, they are staying ahead of the game.
This is what I want for you as well. You need to give your job your all and be seen as a productive unit that is working on behalf of your employer and creating immense value. Not the opposite. This is the only way to true security.
Concentrate on your employer’s needs in order to achieve career stability. While everyone seeks security, it’s detrimental to approach your job search with this as your main motivator. Concentrating instead on the value that you provide your employer will increase your own value. Give your job your all, and you will be seen a productive unit in your employer’s organization, and security will follow naturally.
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