[Preparing for the Pink] Building a Smart Job Loss Plan

Building a Smart Job Loss Plan:

Imagine that tomorrow – or your next day at work – you go into your workplace only to find a pink slip waiting for you. You’re done. Your employer heard some horrible rumor about you, or maybe your organization is downsizing, or maybe you made a big mistake recently and it’s caught up to you. Whatever it is, your job is no longer yours. You have 15 minutes to clean out your desk and half an hour at HR to sign some papers and then you’re out on the street.

What now? What do you do?

(Via The Simple Dollar The Simple Dollar)

Way back in 2013 (was it that long ago?) I wrote about being laid off from the company where I worked for twelve years. I called my posts “Preparing for the Pink” as in a Pink Slip. This is the traditional American notice of termination of employment though the physical pice of paper is not often used any more.

Anyway, here is an updated version of the same idea. While very focused on people in the United States the general principles should be useful to workers everywhere even where the labor laws are much more liberal.

  1. Keep your resume updated all the time.
  2. Keep your training and education current, preferably using current workplace resources.
  3. Have a set of strong professional contacts in place; do favors and make sure those relationships are strong.
  4. Have a very healthy emergency fund.
  5. Know exactly what benefits you’re due if you were to lose your job and how to get those benefits.
  6. Have a list of people to contact immediately to start finding another job.

This whole article and my earlier ones are a great example of the Stoic idea of Negative Visualization, which the ending of the article sums this up spectacularly:

The key lesson is that thinking about life’s potential problems now and coming up with solutions in a rational and calm way, then taking steps to make those solutions easy to execute in a crisis, goes a long way toward making any and all crises in life much easier to handle.

The little steps you take now, handled with rational thought and just a little effort and a little money, can save you enormous headaches and a great deal of money down the road when an unfortunate event does occur. Preparing for a job loss is just one example of this powerful life strategy.

Trent Hamm’s articles in the Simple Dollar are great. If you’re not reading it on a regular basis, you should.

Ambivolence as Empowerment

Your lack of planning does not constitute my emergency

A former co-worker and former friend coined that phrase for me. He was fired for exercising that customer support philosophy far too stringently on a day-to-day basis (among many, many other sins). Both his mantra and eventual fate educated me.

Long after his departure, the poem “If” by Kipling stuck home:

“If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you”

The opening quote to this post takes on a new meaning if the opening of “If” is included.

Emergency responders, be they Emergency Medical Technicians or police or fire fighters, do what they do to their training. For example, if you find yourself impaled on a piece of rebar your sense of urgency is to remove the rebar. The EMT knows removing the rebar is the wrong thing to do. Maintaining your blood pressure, treating for shock, and many other things are more important.

Case in point: About 10 years ago my team and I were pressed into service performing real life disaster recovery for a business unit that planned for no such disaster. We came in and assessed the situation. We told our customer truths about the current state of affairs they did not want to hear. We required them to make hard choices about which they wanted to dither and debate. We, as part of a larger response team, got them back up and running far faster than they deserved based on their lack of planning.

Ultimately our value was as much in our not being emotionally invested as our ability. They needed a rational actor in what they experienced as a highly irrational environment. My team and I offered independent advice, provided facts, and ultimately used our skills and creative thinking to help our customer get back on line from a catastrophic event.

We could have empathized. We could have offered platitudes. We could have told them everything would be okay, that being strong in the face of adversity would overcome.

Again, our emotional ambivalence offered more value. We didn’t coddle or make people feel good about themselves. We were there to fix things. We needed the business to make decisions based off of uncomfortable and ugly facts. These were hard business choices – short term, medium term, or long term; pick one. Shop floor production or back office support? Payroll or shipping?

Our stark A/B questions caused a number of recalculations. Back office staff could be easily relocated elsewhere, so they were moved off site. Some finishing and shipping could be shifted to another site, too.

Some of the stuff we tried failed. When that happened, we tried something else. Today that’s called agile development.

The catastrophe evolved to an event to a disruption to restored service in 6 days. I don’t presume my team’s approach was the primary catalyst for the speedy resolution of things, but without a doubt it made a positive impact.

This story highlights the value of an emotionally independent or ambivalent actor with their wits about them when yours are completely invested. This is true in an emergency, but also true when yours are too invested in the status quo.

Axle Wrapped: Performance Review & Stoicism

You may not know I am on a global work assignment in Japan from the United States. I get to have two management teams, one in each country, and two performance reviews! Ain’t I lucky?

My US manager sandbagged me with my review. I woke this morning to a meeting request for my review at 21:00 JST. There was no warning and no notice.

My history with these types of activities is complicated. I won’t go into detail now. Suffice to say I find little value in these lazy “one size fits all” retail approach to HR. A good leader does not require such a complicated artificial construct, nor do truly empowered and well lead employees.

Never the less, I’m shackled with this time consuming obligation. I need to take time and reflect on good old fashioned stoicism to get my head right. It would be great unwrapping myself from around my HR axle as well.

First, it’s important to remember at the moment my career path, goals, and objectives align with my employer. The alignment is temporary.

Second, my employer’s goals and objectives reflect what is right for the company. There is nothing requiring me to like or even agree with the goals and objectives. Gainful employment encourages my active engagement toward them, yet my gainful employment is not the object of my life.

Third, the common theory of “you will get out of the process what you put in” is false. It is not true in physics, engineering, romance, cooking, finance, politics, small appliance repair, Pokemon Go, or much of anything in life.

Fourth, these retail HR systems are more and more geared toward meaningless concepts and platitudes which fail to bolster any concept of anti-fragility or resilience. Anecdotally friends and peers shared ratios of three or more positive comments to every negative comment in reviews. Others shared “the bell curve” – in any team the manager plots the best and worst performers on a chart and scores everyone else somewhere in between because “you can’t have a team of all above average or below average” members. Arbitrary artificial constructs like these try to pave over the world’s variables (I’ve seen plenty of teams with no above average performers, typically in non-critical roles) plus fail to offer employees any tangible constructive feedback (i.e., “You were rated a 2 out of 5 because there are too many 3s and 4s on the team already.“)

Fifth, companies want some degree of fragility in their employees. They cannot rely on loyalty any more, especially in the US and other countries with at-will employment. Employee retention is usually a balancing act between enough training, team building, and encouragement to make employees feel empowered & add value while subtly keeping them just fragile enough to fear change.

Stoicism and Us | New Republic talks about these concepts in other contexts, such as the cancer diagnosis in the opening paragraph.

What matters, in good times or bad, is not whether you have a job, an income, a family, or a home, but whether you have the inner strength to realize how little such things matter.

This quote, Dear Friends, helps me unwrap my mental axle.

Stoicism is having a moment in the robot revolution | The Financial Times talks about a new book by Svend Brinkmann, Stand Firm: Resisting the Self-Improvement Craze – Kindle edition by Svend Br…. Full disclosure: I have not read the book yet. This article however talks about a few of the concerns I laid out above in the context of the current stoicism fad in Silicon Valley. This neo-stoicism smacks of exuberant exceptionalism without embracing the negative things in life. The side bar about this in relation to Ryan Holiday’s writings (which I enjoy) intrigues me.

This idea of embracing the negative leapt to my attention today when I read Feeling bad about feeling bad can make you feel worse | Berkeley News. This study (full disclosure: I have not read it yet) seems to reinforce the concept of the negative things in our lives can make us better at living our lives.

This long, rambling screed flowed fairly quickly. I feel better about my impending US performance review (and the soon-to-follow Japan review). I remain bearish toward the whole process, but at least I can get on with my day. And I hope to learn something more about dealing with things like this in the future.

What do you think? Am I off-base? Do you agree? Have I missed the boat entirely? Add your tempered, well reasoned thoughts in the comments or on the social media.

Date: 2017-08-15 Tue 11:54

Author: Paul Jorgensen

Created: 2017-08-15 Tue 13:55

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