Wednesday, April 23, 2003

On job security

I was talking with my dad the other day about life in general, and he mentioned a company in the Boston area that he said it would probably be great to work for, because of their track record of success (as reflected by their stock price over the years).

That got me thinking a little about the (relative) safety of my job - or of any other, for that matter. Where I work, I've been reviewed very favorably over the five years I've been here. I think I've done a pretty darn good job for the most part. But am I safe? Well, compared to a lot of people in the workforce I might be. But no job is truly safe anymore, including mine. Here's a bit of the reason why:

When I came here to work five years ago, we were a small insurer with a long history (over 150 years) and a "long-term view" of things. The company was struggling in the marketplace, but had a commitment to provide as well as possible for the policyholders first, and the employees second. Top management was right here in the building, and as a result any personnel decisions were being made by people who knew you personally - the decision to get rid of people was certain to not be made lightly.

However, we continued to struggle. My second year here, we made a deal with a much larger company to join into a "pool", which is basically a way that mutual insurers can merge. Top management was now in the Midwest, but we were still run as an independent entity that was part of the pool. The pooling saved the company (otherwise, recent years might have sent us down the cliff - our management did a great job of seeing the signs and cutting a favorable deal for the company while it was a sellers' market), so no complaints there. But now, despite local management, there was a veto halfway across the country.

Last year, we "merged" IT and IS operations into their respective organizations pool-wide. Now, we lost much local autonomy in that area, and personally, my management was now split between local and Minnesota (where the fellow who is in charge of the three smaller companies' IT resides). It's a pretty decent arrangement overall, but now we're one more layer removed from local management. But I'm still known by most of the people who have control over my fate.

Well, as of this year the president of the company retired. Now we're operating as one part of a "region" combined with our counterpart company in New England. Essentially, we've doubled in size, and the head of the region is based in the other state. So that's one more step of removal. Now, all the people who are likeliest to control my fate are people who I can't see everyday anymore.

Ergo, despite the fact that I'm pretty good at my job, and run a reasonably tight ship, I'm really just a number on the ledger now - and though it's not likely, it'd be much easier for someone in another state to say "cut expenses by X, and point to my position on the org chart than it would be for someone I see at the supermarket to do that.

Believe it or not, that's not a whine - it's just reality. If I were at my old company, it wouldn't be quite the same (it's smaller, and owned by three partners), but I still could be a sacrifice to the math. Even if I worked for myself, I'd still only be as safe as my next customer. If I had a corporate client who needed to cut outside expenses, out I could easily go.

So there's no really safe place short of being independently wealthy. My strategy, as a result, is just to live within my means and save as much as possible. The only real job security is cash in the bank.

That said, I still like what I do - I really do. I don't have any real complaints about the people I work with or for, I love the commute (about a mile), and the job itself remains interesting.

By the way, so you folks can read something more interesting than my twaddle above - David has now entered the Cheerios phase of babyhood. We're still feeding him jar food, but once the supplies are out, that's it. We'll move on to diced-up bits of real food, and let him self-feed entirely from then on. It's messy, but he's getting the hang of it.

Eleven months old tomorrow!

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