Friday Rant: Re-thinking Company Loyalty — and vice-versa

We're bombarded everyday with news about massive layoffs and increasing un-employment. Some take the schadenfreude position of "thank God it wasn't me" and feel a certain pleasure in having avoided the axe. Others, hopefully, perpetually assess their value to the company they work for, think and act proactively and constantly look for new and better ways to hedge the economic climate.

The personal trauma of this climate hit home for me last week upon hearing that just such a person as the latter -- an old friend who went to work for a national paper merchant straight from college -- was laid off after 33 years of extremely loyal performance. Ed (not his real name) was a middle management poster boy for this merchant house. He always rolled with the punches. As regional purchasing director, inventory manager, inventory analyst and IT wonk, Ed mentored well over half of the staff that remains on board. This man was the most up-beat, committed and can-do person I've ever met. He was unceremoniously dismissed without notice and a meager severance package. Ed's position was not eliminated, he was replaced by a young grad at half his salary.

Like many 50 something's in the work force, Ed's pension was virtually trashed a few years back when the merchant house was taken over by an international consulting firm, and his 401K lost 50% of its value in the past year. Now we can say that perhaps he shouldn't have stayed so long. But his dilemma is a raw example of an impending problem that we all need to think long and hard about.

It has been forecast that Ed's generation, the 50's baby boomers, will need to work well past the age of 65 in order to afford a minimally comfortable retirement. It's also safe to say that this will hold true for everyone else in the U.S. workforce. In our current economic climate and the changing paradigm it will inevitably engender, what are we going to do with an increasingly aging middle management workforce that can be displaced at half their accumulated salaries and for whom replacement positions are becoming increasingly scarce? Not to mention how we will sustain and nurture commitment, creativity -- and yes, loyalty -- throughout the employment life cycle.

- William Busch, Spend Matters Columnist

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