Friday, February 13, 2009

We feel your pain....

When the economy started its merciless decline, it first hit those least able to afford the consequences. For months, perhaps even a year, the 'higher echelons' of employees were immune, but now even the legal marketplace is experiencing a marked contraction --- and the pain is everywhere.

A review of today's headlines from show just how dismal things are: "800 Law Firm Jobs Lost in One Day," and there is a list of dozens and dozens of firms where tens of thousands of lawyers and legal assistants have now joined the ranks of the unemployed. A different headline discusses another large firm's approach to the economy, an across-the-board 10% paycut for associates, but an increased bonus pool for those associates as an incentive. While there is no mention of the partners (who typically draw seven figure plus incomes) taking any hit, it is still noteworthy that the firm, which has already laid off associates, has chosen this path. It also serves as a model for all employers.

Money is not the #1 reason employees leave employers. A lack of satisfaction with their workplace is. Toxic bosses. Oppressive work conditions. Lack of recognition for a job well done.

If a distressed but enlightened employer to give its employees the choice of a reduction in force versus a percentage paycut for all employees, I am certain the employees would choose the latter. An enlightened employer looks for ways to maintain esprit de corps, to keep its workforce together and productive through these dark times.

For myself, I find myself in the uncomfortable position of assisting one client with a reduction in workforce on the same day I am negotiating severance packages for other clients who are being laid off. It's hard to find a 'happy client' on a day like that.

So much of what happens in a down economy is knee-jerk. Cut marketing! (so what if we already are losing customers?) Fire employees! (so what if we don't have the staff to do what we need to do as it is?) Reduce equipment maintenance! (so what if the machines are already broken?) So much of those knee-jerk reactions are destructive, and only accelerate the employer's distress.

The survivors of this downturn will have taken a 40,000 foot approach to the situation, made the tough decisions at the right times and in the right manner, and will emerge stronger than before. As Abraham Lincoln said, recalling the ancient folktale about King Solomon, "This too shall pass."

1 comment:

  1. I'm a 52 single woman who was employed for 9 years with the same company. The way I was treated, I have no idea why I stayed. I imagine part was my mother passing in 2005 and I was trying to restructure myself. Then it happened 3 short days before my 52nd birthday. I was called in and laid off. Given a horrible severance package, compared to others. Had my 28 year old supervisor who spent most of her days on the phone talking so loud, no wonder why I was shaking all the time. I know in my heart it is a blessing and I am struggling financially wondering when I will get a job. Will I lose my small condo I worked so hard to get. Will my health deteriorate with no insurance? These are all questions I ask. But I do know that what goes around does come around and for the company that belittled me, disrespected me will some day maybe feel the same pain I am feeling. And to the brothers and sisters I left behind that are going through the same thing I went through my prayers, my heart and my soul is with you.