“Business is Business” – Really? What About People?
This is a bit of a different post. But I wanted to share a little bit of my experience in the last 12 years working for a large company, and then a small company. The atmosphere is the same, but different . . . How many times have you heard, “business is business, it’s not personal”? Is it really? Shouldn’t it really be more personal? I don’t want to digress too much, so I’ll let you read about it . . .
Business is Business, a Story of Betrayal and Loss.
Do companies care about their employees, or are they just greedy money-grubbing entities with no thoughts but preserving their own existence?
In the beginning of my career, I worked for a large mega-corporation. I now work for a small company. The differences are stark. And the cultures are just as polarizing. I’ll tell you part of my story, and from my experience you can form your own opinions
Maybe it was my youth and naivety, but my initial observation was that the company I worked for did actually care about me as a person. It was my first job after college, and they offered me what I thought was a generous salary and benefit plan. I received vacation days and sick days. Because people do get sick at times.
Getting paid while I was on vacation was initially thrilling. To do nothing and still make money! After a few years the excitement of “vacation days” wore off, but the benefit was still appreciated.
I also heard from several managers and executives during all-hands meetings how the work we do matters and the impact it had on the company and the world at large. It was all exciting and new. And there were some advanced projects which did have the potential to change the world.
I figured that I would work for this company for most if not all my career. But unfortunately, my plans didn’t coincide with those of the company.
Surviving the Culture.
Things went well for a while, at least that’s what it seemed. I worked on some interesting projects, and increased my visibility within the company (as much as one can within a mega-corporation). And then I came to realize what so many before me had already known: business is business.
And all that mattered was money. Money in the form of profits and earnings that could be passed on to the shareholders. Anything that could be done to increase the profit margins took top priority. Which meant cost-out projects and slimmed down budgets. We had to deliver the same finished product with less money and in less time.
I saw projects that I worked on for months and years turn into impressive technological products that earned the company millions despite the culture. The IP (intellectual property) we created belonged to the company. The money that was made with those technological advances again belonged to the company.
All the while we continued for years with our three and four percent raises. We had our compensation packages while the company had everything else, including our time.
And of course, we agreed to work for the company in exchange for that compensation. And they had resources that enabled much of the success that we had. It would have been difficult to create the products we created if we each worked separately in our own garages.
But in the end, if you boiled down our situation to simplistic terms, all we had was a simple business arrangement. We received compensation for our intellect and ideas. While they (the company) profited from said ideas. Business is business.
The Inevitable Consequence.
We were a “resource”, not a person with a life outside of work, and a family depending on the income the job provided. Just a “resource” to be used up and discarded when we were no longer needed. That made it easier to buy and sell whole companies. When you see people as numbers on a page to move around, it makes the company not about people, but about numbers: money.
And when they no longer needed our particular numbers?
They closed down our plant and moved the products elsewhere.
The company had moved on to other ventures and other projects with new “resources” elsewhere. And we were left with no compensation and no job.
The survival of the company pre-empted the needs of the employees they left behind. “Resources” were cheaper elsewhere, and the tax environment more favorable. (Ironically, that particular part of the business is now floundering.)
“Business is business”, they said.
“We’re closing your plant to cut costs”, they said.
While the company moved on, the people they left behind had few options. Most of the degreed staff were able to find opportunities elsewhere, but those without degrees found it tougher to continue their careers. And the stress of being dumped by the company we were so loyal to was difficult.
Maybe we should have seen it coming? The current work environment had warning signs that should have signaled major changes were coming. Like key personnel leaving for other opportunities, and promising projects being underfunded or cut. And of course, hindsight is 20-20. But if we were smart, we would have had a fallback option and a contingency plan.
We would have kept our resumes up-to-date. And we would have had a sizeable emergency fund to carry us through the time with no income. I’m sure some were more prepared than others. But I’m also sure that it was a blindside to everyone. You can’t ever be fully prepared to lose your livelihood.
I have a new job now, for a small company. And I have the same feeling that I had when I started at the large corporation. The feeling of importance as a contributor to the bottom line of the company. The feeling that my work matters, and that the money the company makes will be passed on to me in the form of bonuses and compensation.
Maybe all companies start this way. When they’re small, they have to care about their employees. They couldn’t grow without good people. They’re privately owned, and the owners care about the welfare of their employees and their families.
In my opinion, this is the way it should be. There is nothing more motivating than to help and work for someone who truly appreciates you as a person and not just a resource.
If you’re a manager with people underneath you, remember to treat them as people. Loyalty un-reciprocated leads to discontent and subpar production. Don’t let your organization grow to a size where people are no longer people. Don’t let people become simply “resources”.Loyalty un-reciprocated leads to discontent and subpar production. Don’t let people become simply “resources”. Click To Tweet
And Now? Our Current Corporate Climate.
Company loyalty is lacking, and thus employees are no longer loyal either. They switch jobs every three to four years, and companies move on. The days of twenty or thirty-year veterans are long gone.
I’ve heard more than once, “You’d better move on, because if you stay with one company too long, they’ll eventually turn on you, and let you go. And if you leave on your terms, you have some semblance of control. Business is business, after-all.”
We as employees say we demand company loyalty, but the investors demanding increasing profits and earnings quarter over quarter take precedence.
Unfortunately, until that changes, publicly owned companies have to put the wishes of their investors above those that work for them. This is the sad reality of our current business climate. So, companies will continue to re-structure and re-organize, and people will continue to lose their jobs through no fault of their own.
If you get a chance, work for and contribute to a privately-owned company. Find some place where human decency still lives, and people are still people. A place not where business is business, but decisions are made without simply considering the bottom-line.
What do you think? If you worked for a large corporation, what was your experience?
Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading and sharing.