"Today was my last day", "Marylou" told me, "and I did not see it coming." She was the sole Human Resources manager for a branch office of a vast multinational telecommunications company. Her job moves to a group of remote managers.
She reminded me of the three friends who lost their jobs the first week of 2009. Where are they now, four years after that first crack of recessionary thunder?
C., 55, works in corporate banking. She landed first at a consulting firm, and was then hired by one of the firm's client banks.
She recalls the first six months of 2009 as a "mad scramble" that felt precarious, despite her advanced degrees and executive experience. She is working 60+ hour weeks; though she keeps saying this has to end, it has not. While I believe some of that is due to her own very high standards, the culture rewards this behaviour, and will take every hour she's giving. Her role has been "expanded"– no promotion, but more responsibility.
During last summer's vacation, she worked so much from the resort that, on her return to work, she requested a reduction in vacation time taken–but her husband says that's not the point, and refuses to book again unless she promises to be present.
M., 60, lost her job at a nonprofit when donations dried up, worked lightly for the past four years as a subcontractor, applied for dozens of jobs, and got some interviews but not an offer, until December.
She applied to a posting on a job board, defying conventional wisdom about the "hidden job market" being the only one to pursue, and was hired on a one-year contract. The organization is her dream employer, and she's having a stimulating, fulfilling time. She's hoping to be asked to work on projects when the contract ends.
She has health benefits through her partner's job, but must exert discipline to replace retirement savings that she spent during the four lean years.Of the three, she was most financially affected.
J., in her late 40s, was laid off from a corporate job in technical sales. She went to work briefly for a friend of mine who has a small business, but it didn't work out. J. was more of a researcher than a closer, and they parted ways after fewer than six months. J. then spent her life savings to train to be a luthier. (She's not even a musician, but always loved woodworking.)
After nearly two years' study, she is now a modestly-paid apprentice to a master builder. But I should add, she has no dependents and is content living on very little.
These trends are their reality: contract work, performance by one person of a role that used to be done by two or three others, and the strategy of finding work that cannot be done by offshore outsourcing. (Though guitars can be built anywhere, the musicians who order from J.'s atelier want direct involvement in the process.)
J. is happier than before; M. has regained her happiness after years when she often felt depressed and lost hope that anyone would hire her at her age, and C., though exhausted, takes pride in her achievement.
And Marylou? Marylou did something prescient. While at the corporation, she used their flextime policy to pursue, though part-time study, a certification in an entirely different line of work (medical aesthetics) as a hedge.
The company permitted compressed work hours, she paid tuition. She already has an offer from a busy salon near her home, which she will use to tide the family over if needed.
But Marylou is also negotiating for a better severance package. At 43, she anticipates making at least two career changes over her remaining working life, and plans to invest in more education.
The Passage will close for the next two weeks
for spring break;
see you April 2!