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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Losing Your Job Due to Downsizing - A Blessing or A Curse?

     Is losing your job, especially in middle age, a blessing or a curse?   It can be either, depending on your situation.  If you have never thought beyond your current situation, are buried in bills, or get all your identity and self esteem from your work, it's hard to see it as anything but a curse.  But if you are in a relatively good situation financially, have money saved for an emergency, and have a good support system, and have other interests, it could be a blessing in disguise.

     The company that I work for is undergoing one of these corrections, commonly known as a "downsizing."  This has happened every 4 or 5 years since I've worked there, which is over 20 years, so I've been through at least 4 or 5 of these.  It's a medium sized manufacturing company with offices and plants all over the world.    Apparently when business is booming, they hire lots of people to keep up with the demand.  Then when the economy slows down and sales drop off, they see it as an opportunity to cull the workforce.  In the past they have used these down times to get rid of the non-productive "dead wood" workers.  It always served as motivation during the good times to be as productive as possible, so when the bad times came you wouldn't be one of those cut.

     But this time things are different.  The company is under extreme pressure to reduce costs, due to the growth of globalization.  A few years ago we moved much of our manufacturing from the unionized northern states to the non-union states in the southern United States.  But that's not enough.  Now we are to competing with companies that employ low cost workers in Asia and India.  The people who are being cut this time are not the dead wood non productive employees. They are good people who have 20 and 30 years experience in specialized fields.  True, some of them are being offered attractive incentive packages to convince them to retire, and others are being laid off because their positions are eliminated.  The company is cutting some of their best employees and is losing much of the expertise that has taken decades to accumulate.

     These are people who have dedicated their entire working career to making the company profitable and they are being let go without much of a thought as to what's being lost.  There will be little or no chance for knowledge transfer, since they didn't know they'd be leaving so soon.  And the people who will be taking up the slack are on the other side of the world.  Due to time zone differences and opposite schedules it's almost impossible to find time to train them.

      Nevertheless, the cuts continue and will not stop until the company has reached it's S&A target.  There's no way to prevent it, so what is one to do?  First of all, having witnessed the business cycle repeat itself numerous times, we should have learned long ago to live our lives like we have a job but could lose it at any minute.  Don't make big unnecessary purchases.  Save as much as you can.  Pay off the bills you owe and stay out of debt.   Don't live beyond your means.

     Second of all, it's fine to be a dedicated employee but don't let work take over your life.  Don't spend every waking hour at work.  Cultivate networks of friends inside and outside your workplace.  Be a shoulder for others to lean on.  It's been shown that people who have good support systems consisting of friends and family suffer less stress and are happier and healthier altogether.

     Develop other interests, social and otherwise.  Do crafts, play an instrument, join a book club, go to the gym.  Do something that you love and find stimulating.  You'll keep your brain and body active,  learn new skills and make connections that could provide useful in case of a job loss. 

     Continue to perform your job to the best of your ability and keep a positive attitude.  Keep your skills up to date.  Take classes, attend seminars, read up on the latest technology. Don't become a dinosaur in your field of expertise.  

     If you've done all of the above, an still end up being downsized, you'll have an easier time finding work or adjusting to your new situation.  Your financial situation will be less precarious.  You'll have lots of connections who may be able to help you find something else.  You'll have outside interests so you don't climb the walls with boredom in the mean time.  You'll have developed additional skills and interests that may lead you in an entirely new direction that you never dreamed of.  You might just find yourself doing something you love and getting paid for it.  Wouldn't that be a great way to spend the remainder of your working life?  Don't look at it as a curse.  With proper preparation and a positive attitude, a job loss just might be the opportunity you've been waiting for all your life.  You may find yourself doing something you've really wanted to do all along.  It could be a blessing in disguise.