In a flat world, firms compete globally for everything from human capital talent to market share. Lean manufacturing, six sigma, and total quality management are not passing fads; these are performance improvement methodologies that help firms to leverage resources for maximum results. Companies employ other strategies to get lean and to gain or maintain a competitive advantage. Outsourcing is one such strategy. Outsourcing, often viewed negatively, is a reality of a supply and demand economy and global competition. Non-core business functions and functions that are not an organization’s core competency are eligible candidates for outsourcing. Many human resource functions are viable candidates. How prepared are you, as a human resource professional, for continued employment?
While the dynamics of global competition, lean manufacturing, and outsourcing continue to unfold, the workforce is in the midst of the whirlwind created by these factors. Employees are being made “. . . available to industry” (Scott, 2002, p. 63) on a daily basis. Human resource employees are among them. Long term mature workers are forced into early retirement and highly compensated workers are being enticed to leave the workforce by attractive buy-out packages. Employees, perhaps all too well, understand the meaning of at will employment. The employer/employee social contract has changed. In today’s employment market, every employee is an independent contributor and an independent contractor. This is the gig economy.
Employees are responsible for their own career development, employability, and increasingly assume greater financial responsibilities for retirement and health benefits. Yet, although a day rarely passes when layoffs, downsizing, outsourcing, and company closings are not part of the news, employees worry but fail to prepare for continued employment. Good work ethics, hard work, and long tenure are commendable but not enough when an employer is reducing expenses to survive long term.
There are numerous reasons why every employee should be prepared to seek new opportunities. These reasons include planned retirement, forced early retirement, downsized, right sized, career growth, life style changes, and relief from toxic work environments. Whether your exit from a job or career is planned or unexpected, there are steps you can begin to take now to ensure that you are in control of your own destiny and employable.
- Build your own golden parachute. Know what your organization will provide in terms of finance and benefits and under what circumstances. The circumstances are the conditions under which you are leaving – retirement, early retirement, job elimination, voluntary separation. Over and above, what the company and unemployment insurance (if applicable) may provide, make sure that you have three to six months living expenses in the bank. Keep in mind that there may be a waiting period between your separation from the company and financial payouts. Be prepared for the high cost of medical insurance, both under COBRA and afterwards. Mature workers should consider a heftier account lasting up to a year. Despite laws against age discrimination, it may take a mature worker longer to find work (London, 1996, p. 68)
Not building a golden parachute keeps many individuals at their current jobs, even if the position is not rewarding. Thinking that you are barely making ends meets and cannot afford to set aside emergency money is short term thinking. Start small if you must, but start by paying yourself first. Building your own golden parachute will not quell the fears of leaving your comfort zone, of a steady paycheck, and work you know, but it will enable you to press the pause button rather than the panic button should your employment situation change unexpectedly.
- Engage in continuous learning: The rate of change in business, industry, and knowledge is unrelenting. Your mission is twofold. First, you want to remain current and relative in your present position. When training is offered through the job, be the first to sign up. If your boss wants to try something new on the job, volunteer to help. Offered well thought suggestions that increase the value of the work or service provided by your work group.
The second step takes a bit more work on your part. Honestly, assess your strengths. Indentifying, developing, and leveraging your talent will provide the greatest return on investment (Buckingham & Vosburgh, 2001, p. 21). Gain a sense for the type of job skills that are in demand by looking at job boards, online employment sites, and jobs/employment outlook data. Is there a reasonable match between your natural talent and needed job skills? If so, begin to develop those skills and build a bridge between your transferable skills and desired job skills. Books for your consideration include Strengths Finders by Tom Rath and Go Put Your Strengths to Work by Marcus Buckingham.
- Know who you are: Separate yourself from what you do (job, position, or profession) and the roles you assume (spouse, partner, parent, and friend). Who you are is connected to your life’s mission. What is the purpose of your life? The work we do and the roles we assume are manifestations of our missions. Perhaps your mission is to teach and yet you have worked in corporate America for most of your career. If you mentored the new hires, trained one or more boss, and others come to you for advice, you are accomplishing your mission. Laurie Jones (1996) tells us we need to develop broad personal life and work mission statements that free rather than restrict us. You may find journaling helpful. You may prefer to discuss your self exploration with someone equipped with counseling skills. In the end, you have to do the discovery work. Books to consider are The Path by Laurie Beth Jones and The Artist Way by Judith Cameron.
- Take a transition period: Though you may be tempted to immediately begin looking for work, don’t. It is akin to rushing from one relationship to another without taking time for reflection and transition. You are leaving your comfort zone. You are leaving friends and associates behind. And, though you vow to keep in touch, they will go on with their routines. You have to develop a new routine. Leaving or losing your job was a externally imposed change; how you react to it is an internal, personal transition (Bridges, 2004). Opportunity lies ahead, but in order to move ahead we often need to reflect, sorrow, angst over what we are leaving behind (London, 1996, p. 68). If possible, take at least 30 days to reconnect with yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually.
- Reenter the workforce prepared: Know the geographical market rates for your targeted job based on skills, education, and experience. Understand the difference between 10 years of experience and 10 years of seniority. The person with 10 years of experience can usually speak to a list of accomplishments. Understand that you are being interviewed for your job skills and that you are interviewing organizations to whom you are considering providing your skills. Engage in a two way interview process. The job description posted by the organization is the ideal candidate. What the hiring manager is looking for is the viable candidate closest to the ideal profile. Understand how well you match the profile and what other skills you possess that may add value. Understand the reality is that people hire people they like. Be likeable. Be likeable on the phone. Be likeable from the time you enter the firm’s door until the time you leave. And, remain likeable while you are considering and negotiating the job offer.
- Network: Network to help yourself and to help others. It remains true that networks can provide information on unannounced job openings and serve as informal or formal references for your work quality and ethics. The real purpose of networking is to expand your pool of resources and to serve as a resource to others. While we each may possess unique areas of expertise, we are not experts in all fields. We rely upon our networks. Strive to develop a personal network of diverse resources and to maintain your professional network of similarly skilled contacts. Does your network include experts in SAP, six sigma, lean manufacturing, finance, information technology, and learning? As HR professionals, we are charged with knowing the business (Grossman, 2007). Developing a diverse network of experts is a great strategy and resource.
For the well prepared human resource professional, the odds for continued employment are favorable. The work will be different. Transactional HR work will be automated or outsourced, but the intellectual work of releasing human capital potential requires a professional HR business partner. Is that you?
Bridges, W. (2004). Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes (2nd ed.). Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.
Buckingham, M., & Vosburgh, R. M. (2001). The 21st century human resources function: It's the talent, stupid! Human Resource Planning, 24(4), 17-23.
Grossman, R. J. (2007). New competencies for HR. HR Magazine, 52(6), 58.
Jones, L. B. (1996). The path: Creating your mission statement for work and for life (1st ed.). New York: Hyperion.
London, M. (1996). Redeployment and continuous learning in the 21st century: Hard lessons and positive examples from the downsizing era. The Academy of Management Executive, 10(4), 67.
Scott, S. (2002). Fierce conversations: Achieving success at work & in life one conversation at a time. New York, NY: Berkley Publishing Group.