2009, The Year of the Employer
by Mitch Arnold, CEO and president, Preferred Partners LLC
For years, as the economy grew, competition among businesses to
add the best and brightest candidates to their payroll was fierce.
Often, hiring managers settled on candidates who weren't quite what
they wanted, but could be trained to do the job for which they were
hired. Because talent was so difficult to find, and because talented
people had many options for employment, employers bent over backwards
to make life cushy for their employees.
As they say, that was then, and this is now. In 2009, employers
are taking a hard look at their workforces and using the down economy
as an opportunity to eliminate poor performers and problem employees.
Right or wrong, 2009 is the year of the employer.
Many of the job cuts we see today are necessary and done in the
interest of preserving the company and, subsequently, the jobs that
the company provides. If these cuts are not made, the future of
the company could be in question, which would result in many more
people in the unemployment line. These companies cut jobs because
they have to.
Other companies cut jobs in a down economy because they can. That
doesn't mean that they don't worry about the down economy and see
a lighter payroll as a way to ease their worries, but these companies
also see the down economy as an opportunity to improve themselves.
They are going to cut unnecessary positions and problem employees
or employees whose performance is sub par.
With this reality, it's a good time to review the employer-employee
relationship. For the employee, understanding and optimizing this
relationship just might help you avoid a pink slip. In the very
least, strengthening this relationship will result in mutual benefit
for you and your employer in good times, as well as bad.
Ideally, employees would have made themselves an important part
of their employer's company, and their plans for the future. However,
if they haven't or haven't done a very good job of establishing
this value, there is no better time than the present to start.
There are exceptions to every rule, but most employees have a job
because they provide a service that their employer needs. As an
employee, do you understand what that is? I'm not talking about
your job description; if you're an accountant, it's obvious that
you perform an accounting function. Do you understand how that accounting
function benefits the company for which you work? Maybe, as an accountant,
you ensure profitability for a division or a product line. Maybe
you minimize your employer's tax liability. How does your job function
help the company?
Although unfortunate, it's entirely possible that you're unclear
about how your job fits into your company's strategy. Some people
don't have a clue, and that's not necessarily their fault. In these
cases, companies and their management have done a poor job of communicating
with and planning for their employees. Because this isn't as uncommon
as it should be, the office environment is often the subject of
spoof comedies in the movies and on television. The Emmy-winning
television program The Office, and the cult classic movie Office
Space come to mind.
Hopefully, you are not working for such a company, and that your
manager is competent. Either way, your manager is the logical and
best first stop for this discussion. Seek him out and strike up
a conversation. Start by asking about your performance, and if it
meets expectations. Ask about how what you do is being used by other
departments in the company.
Listen carefully to the responses to your questions, and then probe
deeper. By probing, you can make sure that you understand your role
and how to best perform it. Also, probing these responses shows
your manager that you take your job seriously and that you are truly
interested in optimizing your performance.
It's not enough that you provide a service that your employer needs.
That service must justify your employment costs. Too many employees
look through their paycheck all the way to the bank. They don't
see what their job costs their employer. Even an employee's salary
is only part of their total cost to their employer.
Employers must also match their employees' Social Security and
Medicare taxes up to a limit that most salaries will never reach.
Likewise, health care insurance and unemployment insurance premiums
are costs on top of salary. Lastly, any supplies, equipment and
reimbursements add to an employee's cost.
Savvy employers frequently review the expenses associated with
their employees, and stand those expenses against their employees'
value in a cost-benefit analysis. If an employee's cost is out of
line with their value, the company loses money by retaining that
employee. The employer must either realize more value from that
employee or make moves to bring the value more in line with its
Knowing the essential role that you serve in your company and matching
that against your cost could tell you if your job is in jeopardy.
At the very least, it will give you the chance to improve your performance,
and by extension your value, before that becomes an issue with your
Lastly, it doesn't hurt for any employee in any economic climate
to make sure that they are meeting the basic requirements for employment.
In these tight times, it's even more important to make sure that
you are showing up on time, being productive during the entire work
day and not interfering with the productivity of your co-workers
through negativity or other distracting behavior. As one employer
told me the other day, "It's a bad time to be a bad employee."
Just because 2009 is the Year of the Employer, that doesn't mean
that employers can sit back and leave the task of self-improvement
to their employees. Employers can benefit from understanding the
employer-employee relationship and leveraging this understanding
to optimize the performance of their employees. By helping employees
understand the importance of their role within a company, employers
can further ensure that their employees' efforts are focused on
the company's success.
If employers and employees can work together to improve the overall
performance of their companies, the challenging economic times might
not be as challenging, and both parties will be better positioned
to take advantage of the upcoming economic turnaround.