To be perfectly honest, I found Who Moved My Cheese? to be more than a tad offensive. The video was shown as part of a team-building meeting I attended (!). The message I got was: Employers will do what’s best for them, and if employees can’t roll with it, well…too bad.
I’m not sure why I found that so unsettling, because I believe it. That’s why I have worked for myself for nearly 20 years. Maybe the problem is that Spencer Johnson delivers this message in a tone that’s supposed to be uplifting and inspiring.
In his 2016 State of the Union Address, President Obama slyly noted that the only people who could expect to keep their jobs for 30 years and enjoy full retirement benefits were the members of the House and Senate.
Another, bleaker book called Company of One is subtitled “Insecurity, Independence, and the New World of White-Collar Unemployment.”
I remember an interview I did with a young man who lost his job in the depths of the recession. He went to a joblessness support group, got his resumes out there and eventually found a job. For the entire year or so that he was unemployed, he recalled, a woman in the group bemoaned the fact that she never got her cake. She had been laid off just a year or so short of the age when she’d expected to retire–obviously a traumatic experience. You’d think the cake would be the least of her worries, but there is was. On his last week in the group before his new job started, the young man brought her a cake. “Here’s your cake,” he said, “get on with it.”
Another middle-manager who spent time in the ranks of the long-term unemployed told me that in retrospect, the traumatic circumstances of his firing had left him gun shy. He got to the final round in interviews several times, but then undercut himself. He had to finish grieving before he could move on.
It isn’t just the fact of being fired–it’s the way it’s done. Employees are literally ambushed, escorted from the building without ceremony, often with a security guard making sure no files, equipment or contact lists are taken.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the long-term unemployed, defined as 27 weeks or more on the job market, are 22.1 percent of those under 25 and 44.6 percent of those over 55. No doubt there are many reasons–the career ladder is often a pyramid, with less room at the top. But older workers may also be more invested in their jobs and thus more rattled by the loss. A forty-year career is an aged Roquefort, not a scoop of Cheez Whiz.
Yes, workers need to keep their skills and credentials up to date. But employers need to look at termination practices that put proprietary information over people.