From hero to zero – the illusion of secure employment
November 29, 2022
“I’m looking for secure and stable employment” – that’s a statement that I’ve heard many times during my talent acquisition career. “We’re just like a family” – I heard from numerous companies reassuring me about their spectacular and unique company culture. And well… both statements would be beautiful and highly desired but there’s just one tiny problem. Both are an illusion. Now let me ask you a very honest question. Have you ever been worried about your job? At least once in your life?
The pandemic has brought numerous layoffs that came unexpected to hundreds of thousands of workers all around the world. Recent tech layoffs remain surprising, especially for top-performers who have dedicated their professional and personal lives towards the mission and vision of their employer. The bubble has exploded. Just like that. Of course, nobody expects redundancies but they’re common. It doesn’t matter if a company is a global giant or a small business. Long story short, anyone can be affected and there’s data to confirm this statement. Obviously, some workers performing high-demand roles in certain industries may find new opportunities relatively easier than others. Nevertheless, predicting the future isn’t necessarily an easy task and in the end of the day, nobody will know when a global crisis or recession will start lurking in the dark.
The fake promise of job security
When I started my professional career in the human resources field, my major focus was talent acquisition. I’ve recruited and hired people from Europe, Asia, Africa, through North and South America as well as Australia. Frankly speaking, I’ve heard numerous real-life stories from employees who were open to new job opportunities. The reasons varied but there’s been everything and anything, trust me. Let me share the most “unexpected” ones that have happened in companies all around the world:
Staff reduction because of a merger or acquisition
A significant change within the company’s strategy
Financial liquidity issues in start ups
Lack of sufficient funding also in start ups
Redundancies due to a completed project
Recession (in 2008) and insufficient financial resources
Process outsourcing and no need for inhouse staff
In most cases, employees who were let go, were able to share great references from former employers that just confirmed that having to leave the company wasn’t related to their poor performance. Many even received severance pay but these regulations differ per country. Also, in many countries the amount of it depends on the actual duration of the contract, rather than the seniority of the role. In other words, redundancy processes vary and employees who are doing their best, having great results may suddenly find themselves unemployed. No hurt feelings, just business. So… what happens with the whole concept of secure employment?
It’s nothing personal… BUT
Imagine a random employee. Let’s give this person a name: Kate. Kate is a happy and valued employee. She believes in the company, so she’s super engaged. She works long hours and she’s an amazing team player. The company offers many perks and fun team events. She feels like she belongs to the team. Everyone likes her and she identifies herself with the company. She’s planning to run for the “Employee of the year” title. Her social media profiles are all about the company, sharing job posts and company culture content. When you ask her about her role, she enthusiastically responds “Oh, I go way beyond my job description”. She also mentions that friends often ask her for help with some projects as they highly value her expertise. However, you would have never figured this out from her LinkedIn as she doesn’t have time to update it.
…And suddenly the most unexpected scenario hits out of nowhere. “Kate, it’s nothing personal but we will have to part ways with you” – says her manager. Shocked and sad, Kate is trying to keep a straight face. “But my contract is supposed to be indefinite and protect me. I hoped to receive a promotion soon because of the great feedback that I keep getting from you guys”. But the manager says: “It’s nothing about you but it’s a leadership decision”. Feeling deceived, worthless, and jobless, Kate starts doubting her skills, abilities and literally everything she’s believed in.
This story is very sad. But let’s be honest. The number of layoffs keeps increasing every day and so are personal dramas, including overdue mortgage payments and even employment visa terminations. Interestingly, some of these tragic stories could have been predicted but unfortunately… nobody really cares. Let me share an example: Companies still make offers to candidates literally one day before announcing a hiring freeze that consequently results in revoking freshly signed employment contracts. Who is the culprit in this case? Well, it’s probably a systemic and operational incompetence that’s not easy to unravel.
Digital presence and remote gig parachutes
Now, what’s the conclusion? Is there any way that employees can proactively help themselves? In my opinion yes, there is. Drastic company changes and layoffs will always be unpleasant, hurtful and rather unpredictable (at least in many people’s eyes). However, living in constant denial about their existence is neither a solution nor a sensible escape. Taking matters in our own hands and investing in ourselves been the best medicine to overcome tough situations in live. Both personal and professional ones. So, what can we do in this case?
Remote work and the gig economy can be the best parachutes that we can possible imagine.
Let me explain. Remote work doesn’t mean the possibility to work from home for only one employer. It’s much more than that. It opens doors to the ever increasing gig economy. Almost everyone can benefit as the financial, marketing, IT, logistics, customer service, human resources, translation industries look for gig workers. Only in 2021, almost 24 million workers were engaged in it. Having a skill that we can monetize online is they gateway to make it happen. If someone is an accountant who speaks a different language, they can take on both gigs related to their current job as well as translation-related ones. It can be a marketing specialist to help with online campaigns or a customer service assistant providing voice-over services on the side. There’s nothing wrong with having two, completely different careers or a side job that is fun and educating.
However, a massive mindset shift like this won’t happen overnight and it requires collective understanding. Here I mean… employers must participate too. Do you know that in some companies employees must ask for permission to do a side job (even if it has nothing to do with the current company’s type of business)? Have you noticed that most companies only hire people on a full-time basis? They claim that total engagement is essential to perform a certain job according to their expectations. I wonder if they have any kind of data to support this way of thinking? At the same time, they promise a “flexible working schedule” on their career pages. Well, I wouldn’t be so sure about that.
Basically, the world of work isn’t all about a physical workspace anymore. We’re living in the digital era with access to the cloud and we have the possibility to build and optimize our online work profiles. Employers should also understand that an ideal managerial approach towards knowledge workers isn’t the traditional 9 to 5 schedule but the ability to measure the output and results. Also, incentivizing employees to make them believe they’re special until they’re no longer needed by the business just isn’t fair. Making promises about secure employment in today’s rapidly changing and challenging world isn’t they way to go either. Providing sincere work flexibility and broadening people’s horizons to embrace it seems much more reasonable.
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