Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Lost in Transition

Perhaps the name of this blog should have been "Lost in Transition"!

All my life, I worked for a large multi-national computer company. In the beginning, it was fine.. in fact, I actually liked my work. I was one of those guys that could not wait until the weekend was over so I could get back to work.

The company was famous for putting its employees first. And for a time, they acted like they really meant it. There were all kinds of programs for the benefit of the employees. When the employees voiced a concern, the company listened, usually, and often acted.

But over the years, things gradually changed - especially, in the late 80s and early 90s. This was a time of turmoil not only in the computer industry, but also for many companies and businesses. Many shut their doors. Many employees were cut. There was fierce competition, and margins were getting smaller and smaller.

Our company had an unwritten policy of never firing anyone. Well, you had to be pretty bad to actually get fired. More often than not, a poorly performing employee was simply moved to another area and given another chance at a different job, but still within the same company. It was almost like working for the government, where no one ever got fired. All that changed in the late 80s and early 90s - when the focus changed from keeping an employee happy, to keeping the company alive. Indeed, there were many soothsayers that predicted the company would not last - but somehow it did.

This was an almost live or die situation for the company, and while many others were folding, we were struggling to stay alive. Layoffs, for the first time in the company's history, had started - but they were never called layoffs. Many were forced retirements, or early retirements. Whole departments were made redundant - the employees of which were sometimes given a few weeks or months to find work elsewhere within the company, or face termination. This is where good contacts and networking skills became extremely useful!

In the beginning, those that took the early retirement packages made off like bandits. Often, they would get a severance package of 18 to 24 months salary. The problem was, that this initial package was voluntary, and those that volunteered were the most skilled in the company, so when they left, not only could they easily get work elsewhere, but they left a serious hole in the company's workforce. To make matters worse, many often came back to the company as contractors at double their original salary! (We needed the contractors to help fill the void after all the skilled labour left!). Needless to say, this angered a lot of the remaining workforce, and soon a new policy was put in force the prohibited anyone who took early retirement, from working as a contractor.

Often, we did not have a choice. We would come into work one day, and be told our unit was being sold off, or merged with another. The word 'transition' became the word of the day. Our company was famous for creating new words and acronyms (we even made acronyms out of acronyms!), but the one I really hated the most was transition - used as a verb! As in, "you are being transitioned to this department". There is no such verb! Arrrgh! It made me angry to hear supposedly educated upper management using that expression. But they were like lemmings.. once it started, everyone was using it.

Needless to say, I was 'transitioned' many times, against my will, during those turbulent times. But times were tough everywhere, and I guess I was thankful to still have a job. I had many friends in the company that were forced into early retirement, and were still out of work several years later.