Friday, April 10, 2009

I do not believe it is April. What happened to December, January, February and March? I am certain that time goes faster as you get older, or perhaps I'm just getting busier. Certainly the last few months have been extremely busy for me, hence the lack of regular blogging. I was promoted to Team Leader a little while ago, and am now coming to grips with the extra duties required of a "people manager". And I am now properly engaged in my job, which means that I always have plenty to do, and then some. However, today is a public holiday, and I have some free time.

At the beginning of this week, the local Sun office started its current round of local redundancies. Monday and Tuesday I got a lot of calls, SMSs and emails from former colleagues to tell me either that they had survived, or that they were now ex-Sun employees. Everyone knew that this was coming, and I was deeply grateful last weekend that I no longer worked for Sun, and I didn't have to worry personally. When I quit in July 2005, I calculated that Sun would survive for between 3 and 5 years, based on observed performance, and that I probably had no more than 3 years to broaden my skill set to something beyond just Sun if I wanted to remain employable. Of course that was before the entire world caught the financial flu, and I would no longer bet on Sun to survive until July 2010: if the Sun management team have not figured out to make the company consistently profitable in the last 4 years, they are unlikely to suddenly work it out now. While I still believe that Sun has wonderful products, and some of the most brilliant technical people I have ever worked with, all the technical excellence in the world will not generate a profit if badly managed.

I feel deeply sorry for those who have been laid off (in Sun jargon, RIFed. RIF stands for Reduction in Force). Being made redundant is seldom a nice experience - I do know one or two people who deliberately went after redundancy - but if it is unexpected it is a horrible shock. I was made redundant by the Australian Public Service in 1986, and I can still remember the sense of disbelief and of shame. In 1986 I was still working as a librarian. The government of the day (Labour, left wing) announced an across the board cut in public service staff numbers. I don't think I paid much attention: I had mountains of work to get through, and I was just about to be married.

I returned from a brief honeymoon (all we could afford, since neither of us earned much in those days), and on the first day back in the office, I was told that I was being made redundant. I was horrified: Steve and I were saving stringently to get a deposit on a house, and now I had lost my job. I couldn't believe that my work was so unimportant that it could just be stopped (as it turned out, it couldn't: services had to be cut). Where I came from in those days, you only lost your job if you had done it badly. I was shattered.

I was lucky: I found another job within days, and in fact left my old job much sooner that the Public Service had planned - they had some scheme whereby they could make someone redundant, place them on the unattached list, but still keep employing them for some months while they looked for another position within the Service. This satisfied the politicians, while not immediately disrupting anything. The department that made me redundant expected me to be there for at least another six months; in fact, I was out in a matter of weeks, and starting in a new career in IT. But that is another story.

In the ensuing years I have lived through many, many rounds of cost cutting and redundancies a various places. Perhaps the most terrifying was the place that brought in a new manager just to handle the lay offs. You would come into the office in the morning, and desks would be suddenly empty, as if something had come in the night and expunged the existence of the previous occupant. Nothing was said: people just vanished. Morale, predictably, plummeted. I got out as soon as I found another place: I do not like working under such circumstances.

The first round of lay offs at Sun were targeted at allegedly low performing staff members, though I would question how the rating was done, since some very good people were made redundant, and some complete idiots were retained. Subsequent lay offs seems to have been variable - some targeting senior staff, who were paid more, some targeting particular areas of the business. None really effective, because they caused the company to lose talent and experience, while reducing the proportion of people who generated revenue and increasing the proportion of people who performed non-revenue generating duties. When I joined Sun in 1998, the organizational structure was relatively flat: there were people in the Sydney office who were only one or two "steps" from Scott McNealy. Year on year we got more layers of management, and it got worse after I left.

So if you have been laid off, my sympathies. Remember that it is unlikely that you could have done anything to prevent this happening, because it is not about you, or your performance. It is about someone who probably doesn’t understand what you do trying to save money. If you got a pay out of some sort, use it carefully, because in this climate it may have to last a while. Some companies are still hiring (my employer is, see here), but many are not, and many are conducting stupid lay offs, because they think they should because everyone else is. This will hurt them later, but doesn't help you.

If you have time on your hands, study something new, and consider doing a few hours volunteer work each week, to keep yourself engaged and remind yourself that you are useful. A lot of people have major problems when they lose their jobs simply because the structure of their days disappears. They wind up sitting in front of the television while the days drift by. Don't do that: set up a schedule and stick to it. If you have spent the last 10 years in front of a computer, take the opportunity to get some exercise. If you haven't had your hair restyled in the last decade, get that fixed before you hit the interview circuit - an old hairstyle dates you instantly.

And please spell check your resume.


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