Jobs, layoffs and passion for work

posted by Jeff | Monday, July 21, 2014, 10:33 PM | comments: 1

Microsoft let go of something like 18,000 people last week, though to be fair, the vast majority of those came from the acquisition of Nokia, and everyone saw that coming. The bigger story for a lot of people was the 1,300 and change who were being let go in the Puget Sound region, though this is still less than the number they let go of in 2009 (coincidentally, the year they moved me out to Seattle). I'm still not surprised, because when I left in 2011, the head count was something around 88k, and three years later they were over 100k without Nokia. That seems like insane growth. Regardless, reading the stories online, this was not limited to those who were underperforming, it seems. Also let go were folks with over a decade and good reviews.

I've thought about how much I should write about my experiences in Redmond, and one of these days I'll do so now that time has passed (along with countless re-orgs). I will say that what I did not experience was the stereotype that so many have of the company: Long hours, soul sucking bureaucracy, no work-life balance, etc. If that's what I experienced, I assure you I would have left as soon as my move expenses were in the clear, a year from my start. No, as much as I wasn't sure where I belonged in the company, it was in no danger of killing me.

But I'm amazed at how many folks who were laid-off were taking deep breaths and expressing online relief at being let go. Obviously a lot of people did live in that negative stereotype of the company. I know it existed, but I never saw it first hand. I also noticed how many people had spent many years working there, and simply had no idea how they would exist off-campus.

In both of those situations, I can certainly understand to an extent. Regardless of what a lot of people think about Microsoft, working there and identifying with the company can certainly be a sense of pride. I will still proudly tell people that I worked there, and for the right job, sure, I would go back (though I'm not sure I'd move, it would have to be remote). Heck, I still have some regrets about leaving.

When I think about the layoffs, I can't help but think of the scenes in the Clooney movie Up In The Air. He works for an agency that lets people go, and the reactions range from anger to distress. I get that, because I've been there.

The first full-time job I lost was working in radio, because I had no contract, and they had to stick the guy with poor ratings somewhere because he did have a contract. That soured me on the whole profession. Then I watched Penton Media fall apart, with so many friends let go in the chaos. I found a new job before it reached me (my replacement was cut a year later), but that new job ended shortly after 9/11. I was completely devastated. It didn't help that it was the first job that was 100% software development, and I had just bought a house. I went work-free for six months and it just crushed my self-esteem.

That certainly wasn't the last time I would get laid-off, but I learned a lot about myself and the relationships between employers and employees. There are some general things I try to keep in mind about work:

  • Work does not define you. A lot of people can't accept that, especially if they're worried about status or perception. Your value as a human being doesn't disappear just because your job does.
  • Companies are not people. You can personify the legal entity all you want, but a company isn't a person. It exists solely to make money, and it's not personal.
  • Time spent does not change the employer-employee relationship. The arrangement is simple: They need some kind of work done, you perform that work, and they give you money. If that value proposition disappears, loyalty is a non-factor.

So where does this leave you if you have the kind of personality that lives to work? Maybe that's putting it too strongly. What do you do if you have passion for your work? I think if you do have passion for your work, that's going to come through in every way, and as long as the market for your skills doesn't completely suck, you'll always find work. Sure, some people only work for the money and status, but the people who really impact their lives, the companies they work for, or even the world, make things awesome because of those deep intrinsic motivators they have. You have to keep in mind that the kind of value you bring is precious, and just because it isn't required by a certain company doesn't mean it no longer has value. You can't tie up your worth in a company like that.

I've been fortunate to work for a number of companies that value what I offer. In every one of those cases, I want to do right by them, and will always do so. But I understand that it's possible that they may change their mind about my value, or be forced into a situation where they simply can't afford to pay you anymore. It's never easy, but you get through it and you refocus.

To the hundreds of Seattle-folk who had to turn in their blue badge, I feel your pain. I've been there, if only at other companies. I totally get how you feel about Microsoft, but I think you'll find that professional life goes on beyond 148th Ave.


Paula Hill, September 30, 2015, 8:10 AM #

I was a casualty of the 2008/9 crash and lost my 18 yr position on a Penton Media property - had already survived 3 acquisitions with ease and advancement. Print to digital transition was still pie in the sky and revenues plunged like stones in the sea. Thankfully I survived the lay off at 59 and found a fabulous new direction in hotel sales. Thank you Penton Media for setting me on a new course, even though it hurt at the time. Up In The Air came out one month after my lay off! Made me laugh. Perfect portrayal of insensitive corporate practices and their total lack of loyalty to everyday hard working folks.

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