Dead suit walking

From Newsweek,via Mary at Pacific Views:

Many of these guys may be great on the back nine but totally lack the skill set to get them through anything like this, says Judith Gerberg, a Manhattan-based executive career coach. “If you went to the college of your choice, married the woman of your choice, and bought the house of your choice, you’ve never dealt with rejection. You’ve never had to develop fortitude.” She gives her clients a chart with all the hours of the day, because corporate types are used to having other people color-code their life. If not quite the Great Depression, it is certainly the Great Humbling.

But the problem facing these white collar workers isn’t new and isn’t only a problem for the guys. Just go back and read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bait and Switch from 2006 where she lays out what it feels like to be an unemployed white collar worker in the 21st Century USA.

[I]n Bait and Switch, she enters another hidden realm of the economy: the shadowy world of the white-collar unemployed. Armed with a plausible résumé of a professional “in transition,” she attempts to land a middle-class job — undergoing career coaching and personality testing, then trawling a series of EST-like boot camps, job fairs, networking events, and evangelical job-search ministries. She gets an image makeover, works to project a winning attitude, yet is proselytized, scammed, lectured, and — again and again — rejected.

Bait and Switch highlights the people who’ve done everything right — gotten college degrees, developed marketable skills, and built up impressive résumés — yet have become repeatedly vulnerable to financial disaster, and not simply due to the vagaries of the business cycle. Today’s ultra-lean corporations take pride in shedding their “surplus” employees — plunging them, for months or years at a stretch, into the twilight zone of white-collar unemployment, where job searching becomes a full-time job in itself. As Ehrenreich discovers, there are few social supports for these newly disposable workers — and little security even for those who have jobs.

The Newsweek piece describes the networking sessions, the boot camps and the career coaches. And it describes how the men they talk to believe that somehow it is their fault that they haven’t found a job.

Perhaps we should do more to build up our social supports instead of blaming the victims again. Or maybe even put some focus on jobs.

“Don’t work for free,” I’ve always advised my friends. “Take your lunch hour. Don’t kid yourself that your boss will be grateful if you eat at your desk, he’ll only expect it all the time. Don’t be any more loyal to your company than they are to you, because they will drop you in a hot second if it makes their bottom line look better.”

And you know, most of them didn’t believe me.

In an odd sort of way, I feel lucky. Being periodically unemployed, living so close to the edge for so long and having a political and social context for all of it has left me better prepared than most. It’s been so long since I expected life to be fair, I can’t even remember.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s been difficult, and it continues to be painful. (Today I started obsessing over how I can afford to get my car inspected in July.) It’s no picnic. But at least it’s not the shock to my system it is to so many others.

It’s much worse for the control freaks I know — people who wouldn’t dream of coloring outside life’s lines — who are totally disoriented now. I hope they get their sea legs, because only the strong are going to survive.

5 thoughts on “Dead suit walking

  1. “Don’t work for free,” I’ve always advised my friends. “Take your lunch hour. Don’t kid yourself that your boss will be grateful if you eat at your desk, he’ll only expect it all the time. Don’t be any more loyal to your company than they are to you, because they will drop you in a hot second if it makes their bottom line look better.”

    And you know, most of them didn’t believe me.

    Yup. Exactly right. I came to that same conclusion in 1982. I had just left my first college job (after two years there) and went to work as a contractor for AT&T on a six month contract. After two weeks, they let eleven people go, including me, with no notice and no severance. I decided right then and there that companies have no loyalty and neither do I, and that attitude has served me well.

    And NEVER work for free. Take your full lunch hour. Use all your vacation time. Do not work on the weekends.

  2. Hey folks, I’m not playing a “woe is me” color card here, but you wanna know about being fired and/or laid off in a New-York-Second without any notice? Try being a ‘person of color’ in the good ole US of A………………………Thank God retirement caught me before the REAL SHIT hit the fan………………!

  3. The only “good” job I have found at age 60 is teaching a couple of college classes as an “adjunct” (what they are now starting to call “the contingent academic workforce). The pay is very little, but there is some degree of dignity in it, and I am finally finding some value in the two Masters Degrees I got a long time ago.

    Anyhow one of my students was telling me that she had lost her job as an x-ray technician and department manager of a hospital radiology department. The hospital has let go of five or six technicians because fewer people are coming to the hospital. People are out of work and losing their insurance, resulting in layoffs in healthcare, the last field where jobs were still available.

    What happens next?

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