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Howard Tullman
Never mind ‘quiet quitting.’ Companies are moving toward stealth personnel reductions. Make sure your skills are up to speed.

21-Mar-23 – With all of the noise about workers’ reluctance to return to the office, the end of the five-day work week, and all the folks quietly quitting without leaving, it’s easy to overlook one huge slice of the population that has exactly the opposite problem.

Not that these people don’t want to come back; it’s that they’re not wanted or needed. I call this the “don’t call us, we’ll call you” problem because employers mostly never do. Companies are taking advantage of the pandemic’s disruptions to make one-time, substantial changes – mainly reductions – in their fixed personnel costs.

Millions of Americans are just waking up to the frightening reality of the new normal and the harsh hybrid world where if you’re a certain age – 50 and up is a good benchmark – and your skill set is not well-suited to the digital economy, you may simply no longer be required by your employer.

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Outliving your economic value has been an issue for decades as technology has kept advancing, but the acceleration of the disruption in the last five years has been even more substantial, particularly for mid-level white collar jobs.

It’s especially disturbing when the morons in Congress keep yapping about raising the age for Social Security while employees just a few years from the retirement goalposts – and after a lifetime of contributions to the fund – now face being abruptly and unceremoniously unemployed.

Whether you’ve been replaced by younger, cheaper folks, outmoded by automation or AI, or outsourced to the new WFH labor force willing to work from anywhere for less and with fewer benefits, your relative value, negotiating strength, and leverage have all likely diminished. Which means your continuing employment prospects aren’t looking that great. Let’s just say that the employers are “feeling their oats” these days and see the pendulum of negotiating power headed back their way.

Employers in every kind of traditional industry learned two crucial lessons throughout the pandemic and the growth of the “gig” marketplace:

• They could get by with a lot less of almost everything, especially people.

• Having an on-demand and variable workforce instead of a locked-in, full-time, and fully funded group was an amazingly effective way to closely tie their operating costs to the real-time demand for their products and services.

As a simple example, the insurance industry has determined that it no longer needs thousands of adjusters because some of the most time-consuming tasks they performed – like physical inspections of damaged property and vehicles – can now be handled directly by their insureds using mobile apps.

Adobe Stock

Call centers across the country that used to be staffed full time are now largely empty due to new technology and are being replaced by foreign boiler rooms as well as by people working part time, for peanuts, at home.

Unfortunately, these two lessons – fewer folks and flexible employment – really stuck, while the difficulties we all faced with just-in-time inventory strategies, supply chain collapses, and little or no system resilience or redundancy seem to have already started to fade.

We’re sadly back to the “save me a dollar today and let the future take care of itself” approach as public companies concerned with quarterly results try to offset the very slow rate of returning revenues by “saving their way” to success. Especially with substantial headcount cuts, which never work in the long run.

Let’s be clear as well that ageism is a serious concern and an active driver of a portion of these shifts. I’ve described some of the affirmative steps that every smart older employee should be taking to increase the likelihood that he or she will make the latest cuts. If that describes you, it’s time to recalibrate and realistically reassess where things stand for you since the game and the goals have shifted pretty dramatically in the last six months along with the balance of power between employer and employee.

Here are five things to consider as you plan out your next moves.

1 The worst lies are the ones we tell ourselves. Everyone tells themselves, from time to time, that they’re irreplaceable. Convincing yourself is easy – the world, not so much. If you’re going to be prepared to deal successfully with the new challenges that you’re certain to face, you need to be as realistic about your shortcomings as you are proud of your skills and accomplishments. And you need to be smart enough to know when you shouldn’t trust yourself. Get a second opinion from a trusted friend before you jump off the cliff.

2 Experience matters less and less every day in tech-centric businesses. In a world where change is constant and new technologies emerge weekly, whatever got you through and made you valuable in the past is worth exponentially less today, because no one has experience doing things that have never been done before. Don’t judge yourself by your prior results; no one else will and, in fact, a fairer question is not what you did, but what you could have done with the resources and opportunities you had. In today’s business world, your history and prior behaviors may actually be impediments to progress, adaptation, and agility going forward.

The worst lies are the ones we tell ourselves. Everyone tells themselves, from time to time, that they’re irreplaceable. Convincing yourself is easy – the world, not so much.

3 You need to leave the “rocket science” to the rookies. At best, most of us over-50s in the workforce are digital immigrants and, across the board, we’re matching skills and trying to compete in the new digital economy with millions of younger, faster, digital natives. This is simply no contest; you won’t win. Trying to explain generative AI to most grown-ups is tougher than trying to teach a fish to ride a bicycle. Stick to your knitting and don’t try to pretend you’re something you’re not.

4 It’s probably not the right time for you to start a new business. It’s never been easier to start a business or harder to build one that’s successful and sustainable. You can easily convince yourself that you have the skill set, the endurance, the passion, and the perseverance to make a go of it starting from scratch, but nine times out of ten, startups fail. Not a good bet or a good use of your savings to try.

5 You may keep your job, but the job you keep won’t be the same. If you’re lucky enough to be kept around, you should be mentally prepared to make some attitude adjustments. The job is to do what needs to get done now – not what or how things used to be done – and not how you think they should be done. In the new normal, they have to pay you, but they don’t have to thank you. And you don’t have to like what you’re doing; you just have to do it.

The healthiest and happiest folks I talk to these days combine practicality with confidence. They say that there’s no task that’s beneath them and none that’s beyond them. These are the long-term keepers in every company.