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Sunday, 18 October 2015

Do workers more and more become people with no past and no future, only working in the present days? Maybe, companies should try to give their to-be-dismissed workers a second chance in a totally new role.

“Workers in many industries seem to become people without a past and without a future. They are hired for a particular, short-lived  assignment alone and just do their thing, until the job is done. Afterwards they go away, leaving everything behind as if they never existed”
Ernst Labruyère – 2015

To make things clear at the start of this article: I am a freelancer by heart and I love to work in new environments and jobs in the financial industry. The work is rewarding, also in the spiritual sense of the word, and it gives me the chance to get to know new, interesting people and inspiring colleagues. I love my job and I would never want it to be any different.

Nevertheless, I chose myself  to do the things I do, regarding work, and live the working life I live. It was a choice that I could make in all freedom and a choice that I will probably never regret during the rest of my life.

However, a great many workers in large industries do not have this choice anymore. Their jobs just cease to exist, as their executives-in-chief decide that their department or business unit is simply “not efficient”, “too expensive”, “not profitable anymore”, “overtaken by ICT-driven developments” or “no longer part of the core activities of their bank/insurance company / financial institution”. Their job becomes history and they are asked to leave.

Especially in the tech- and internet-driven financial industry with its mounting share of ICT-driven developments, strongly influencing the daily business, this is almost becoming a daily event.

The problem of such dismissed workers is not only that they lost their job! Their real problem is that dozens or hundreds of workers (i.e. their direct colleagues and peers) lost exactly the same job at the same time, as it had been taken away by a new ICT system, which does the same job in a fraction of the time. Or taken away by a customer that does not visit the brick-and-mortar offices anymore, as he can do all his banking and insurance business through the internet nowadays.

And not only at the employer in question, such jobs go away. No, in the whole financial (or other) industry similar jobs become a thing of the past, as all large employers make the same strategic decisions at the same time, driven by their competition.

This situation leads to a phenomenon, which is becoming more and more usual in the 21st century: a giant company in the financial industry – but also in other industries – is announcing a massive reorganization, slashing up to thousands of jobs in the process.  At the same time a different  business unit or staff department of the same company is hiring dozens and sometimes hundreds of new workers (most of them probably temporary or freelance workers) to get either a specific job done or an important project accomplished.

Both groups – the group of exiting, dismissed workers and the group of entering freelancers – are not aware of each others existence and there will probably be no exchange of people and knowledge at all between these two groups. One group is heading for the exit, while the other group is looking at a new assignment with another steep learning curve and another job to do, as always under high time pressure.

I truly understand the dynamics behind the management decisions involved in these situations; let that be perfectly clear.

Nevertheless, it leads to the peculiar situation that people with loads of experience in the financial industry (i.e. in any other large industry) and especially the company at hand walk out the door, while people with little or no experience in the same company or even industry (hence: freelance ICT, finance or legal workers) must do a very complex job, which... requires loads of experience in either the financial industry or in the company at hand.

So many projects simply fail, because suppliers, ICT workers and project leaders, finance workers and legal people cannot grasp the culture and the forthcoming behaviour within the head office, staff departments and business units of their assignor. They are nowhere close to understanding it or even becoming aware of it.

And the worst part is: at the time that the job is done after all and the ICT, finance and legal workers have finally acquired the necessary cultural feeling, ‘hands on’ experience, knowledge and skills of their temporary assignor, their assignment will have ended. Instead of being helped with finding a new assignment within the same (financial) institution or company, they are simply sent out of the door.

Perhaps many of the original, dismissed workers at the financial institution or company in question might also have chosen for a life of freelancer, in order to avoid long-term unemployment, and supply their sometimes desperately needed (financial) experience to new employers or perhaps even their old employer.

In the process, workers-turned-freelancers could become people without a past (i.e. experience within the company of their assignment) and a future (i.e. a prospect for a new assignment or job within the company), who just do their thing and afterwards leave, as if they never existed!

As a consequence, companies become totally unaware of their culture, past and future themselves, as few temporary workers take the time and make the investment to understand the culture and politics within their assigning company. “You are the boss, you call the shots” is traditionally their point of view.

Welcome to the new reality...

But what if...?! 
  • What if companies see their culture, past and unified future as an indispensable part of their company; something that they should preserve actively at all costs and never ‘forget’, through the rapid exchange of personnel? 
  • What if companies do not see their excess personnel as one-trick ponies anymore, but as people with numerous skills and endless possibilities, who just need “a break and a long shot”? 
  • What if companies made real work of replacing dismissed workers within their company itself? 
  • What if companies give their dismissed employees a chance to learn new skills and competences instead, while preserving their old experience, skills, competences and cultural understanding of the company at the same time? 
  • What if companies give their excess employees the chance to work themselves in in a new business unit or staff department and become invaluable assets of their new department again, even if this would take them three months or more? 
  • What if such excess workers would get in a master-apprentice role, in which they are coupled to an experienced tutor, who teaches them everything about their future job and thus prepares them for their new future?
  • What if such formerly excess workers turn out to be 'exactly what the doctor ordered' for ICT projects gone awry and cultural misunderstanding among freelance personnel in temporary jobs?!

Would that not be great for both employer and employee, as less people need to be fired and less new, unexperienced people need to be hired in return?

Maybe, it’s a long-shot that we should try. And of course, this would not lead to companies never dismissing workers at all. Still, it could lead to companies not dismissing more workers than is strictly necessary.

Most people have many more possibilities than directly meets the eye. If you just give them the chance to prove themselves...

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