There is no such thing as permanent employment
It was a soft day in Huntington Beach as it was most days. Sunny and 73 with a gentle breeze blowing the
sweat smell of the ocean across the parking lot. My cohort and I had taken a moment to get outside and
plan our next steps in world conquest. We lingered under the sprawling eucalyptus trees and drank
coffee. Enjoying some of the ease that comes with white collar technology jobs. That is until we noticed a
group of people coming out of the back of the building behind ours. A look of mourning was upon them as
they trudged from the back of one building across a short parking lot and into the next building. No one
was smiling, laughing, or joking as is normal during a fire drill or company function. In fact my friend
pointed out hardly anyone was even speaking. The sky seemed to have suddenly darkened with clouds.
An overwhelming sense of gloom and dread filled the air as they formed a line between the two buildings.
The line seemed to go on for quit awhile before the last had made the journey inside. Quit lingered for a
moment and then the sun returned and was followed by the sound of birds in the trees nearby.
What do you think that was all about my friend asked? I looked at him and said their being fired. He
looked puzzled and said no. How do you know that? I said just look at them. That was the death march of
unemployment. You could almost smell the fear. In moments there would be tears, and anger, and stories
of how well they were doing, how they didn’t need this job, how they were about to quit anyway and of their
bigger plans. All of which was crap to try to cover the fact that they had been caught off guard and where
going to be very desperate very soon.
My friend who was younger and less experienced then I had never really been through a lay off and had
never been let go. He was young. He was naive. In return to his doubts of my observations, I recounted
the several experiences at a few companies where lay offs had occurred 500 here 1300 there. Even more
poignant were the small companies of a couple a hundred that let go 15 or twenty. In a big company, I
said you could get lost. No one really new your situation. You could feel a part of something bigger. It
was not personal (“it was just business”). A lot of people where being laid off. You could think it was a
bureaucratic mistake and blame it on corporate policy and greed. In a small company everyone new you
where being let go. It was personal. Someone you knew decided you were gone and your family was
without provision. He shook his head partially to acknowledge the sadness of it and partially as if he didn’t
really understand or didn’t believe me. The next day while I was driving into work and listening to the radio
news. I heard the story that a major internet service provider had filed for bankruptcy and had just laid off
the 500 employee at their site in Huntington Beach. It was a bit sad but that is how it works. That company
was not doing well and was doing whatever it could to stay afloat. What was even more sad was that a few
months later the company closed its doors and went out of business.
You might think that the employees being fired were more sad, they had families. I do admit it is tuff but
the difference is that when they were fired they were put into a desperate situation that they would have to
adjust to and find other means of support… most would. The company on the other would not and when it
closed its doors it also closed the doors on the possibility that it would continue to employee other
families. There was no longer a chance for more jobs. The job market in Huntington Beach and in Orange
County had just shrunk by at least 500 and was not going to grow back soon. It was a precursor to the dot
com bubble burst. Here is an analogy: Image the job market as an orange tree, the branches are
employers and the fruit are employees. If the tree is healthy it produces many strong branches on which
fruit can grow. Flowers bloom on the branches. Fruit will develop and ripen. The fruit will either get
picked and used elsewhere or it will fall off the branch. Off the branch anything can happen. The fruit
could be eaten by animals as part of a larger system, it can decay and feed the tree, or its seeds can
produce new trees. As long as the branch is strong it will continue to produce fruit. The branch gets sick
or is cut off not only will the fruit on the branch die but it will no longer produce fruit. If there will be less
fruit available from the tree as a whole. If the tree is healthy it will produce new branches but if too many
branches are cut off the tree will go into shock and die.
The effects of being fired are tough on an individual but they are limited and in a healthy market there will
always be another opportunity. The effects of a company closing are more wide spread and can weaken
the market as a whole. Right now we are seeing this first hand as we struggle through a recession. The
question is not if people will be fired but will they have a new place to go. Will there be another opportunity
for them. In the grand scope the question is magnified to ask will the market, the economy, the system be
able to recover. How many branches can you cut off the tree before it dies?
In terms of this analogy you have to see yourself as and realize that you are the fruit or more accurately
the seed in the fruit. You are one of many similar to you. You will come and go from branch, to box, to
store or floor. The purpose of a seed is not to stay on a single tree for ever. In order to survive the seed
must grow and in order to grow it has to move on.
Nothing is forever in the working world. People change and so does the market and your job. You are just
one of many and as vital as you may be you can be replaced.
The Lesson to Learn:
The market is ever changing and your place in it is based on how well you can adapt to that change. By
necessity you will transition from one job to another. The sooner and more you embrace it the better off
you will be.
The Brutal Truth:
There is no such thing as permanent employment. You will change jobs. The secret is to make it work for
you. Instead of holding on to what will eventually go away start looking for and adapting to change.
Beware that your job is temporary, make the most of it and be prepared to move on.