Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Liquidity of Labor

As part of a major restructure at my previous employer in Australia, I found myself with an American boss who was brought in from outside the company (no it wasn't Trump). In his initial session with the team, he ran us through a PowerPoint presentation to introduce himself and give us some guidance on how he wanted to operate. About 15 minutes in to the meeting, he pulled up a slide titled, "things that will get you fired". I vividly remember the uncomfortable looks on the faces of my colleagues in reaction to this slide. After the session, everyone was saying how shocked they were with the bluntness of this message. Having lived and worked in the US, I can now completely relate to and even in some way appreciate where my boss was coming from. 

The idea of a job for life is widely recognized as an outdated concept, so that certainly wasn't the source of our discomfort. Being employed at a big Australian corporation, I was certainly used to seeing people leave of their own volition or getting made redundant. However in my seven years there, I do not remember any examples of people getting fired. A firing implies that due to some gross negligence or non performance, you were told to seek opportunities for excellence elsewhere, usually in an abrupt fashion. Irrespective of your status as union v non union, there are government imposed rules and regulations in Australia that protect employees, along with internal company policies on the process for exiting an employee for performance reasons or making their position redundant. For a redundancy the payouts were usually quite generous. In fact the corporate intranet even had a spreadsheet you could download to calculate your estimated redundancy payout. So in reality it might have been quite hard for our new boss to "fire" us,  but we were still taken aback by his comments given we felt relatively safe in our jobs.