Corporate Mushrooms

January 09, 1991|By Clinton C. Glenn

NEW YORK — New York. THE VAST MAJORITY of people who lose their jobs as corporate America restructures are the business equivalent of ''mushrooms,'' the term applied to innocent victims of drug-related street shootouts. They have been hit by shootouts on The Street -- Wall Street, the symbolic and actual place of corporate America's need for profits and means of attaining them. The weapons on The Street are not guns, they are sharp pencils. They do not ''do drugs'' there, they ''do deals.''

And when a deal goes bad, innocent people get hurt. Sometimes in high-level shootouts on The Street people like Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky get blown away. They are not mushrooms, but combatants in the shootouts.

The ''mushrooms'' are the nameless people people buried in numbers like ''4,000 Laid Off At Chase,'' or ''15,000 Likely To Go From City Government.'' These are people who were simply doing their jobs, saving their money for the kids' schooling, planning for retirement. They include managers, supervisors and assistant vice presidents -- all good and innocent people who did not even know that a deal was made much less that one went wrong. They got hit and they got hurt.

They feel like victims. They believe they are victims. They are victims. They have no way of knowing who ''hit'' them. They do not know why it happened. All they know is they are victims of some remote and powerful force and they are now hurting.

If you read an article in today's newspaper about a merger, an acquisition, a leveraged buyout, some bad real-estate loans or the default of a developing country's debt, you have just read the prelude story to a lot of pain and fright. It will be a few months before the ''corporate mushroom'' story appears, but it will appear, because the transaction will produce workplace redundancies. Redundancies mean wasted money. Wasted money means lower profits. Can't have that. Downsize. Headlines: ''300 Laid Off,'' ''700 Jobs To Go At . . .''

When those people, the mushrooms, are eventually identified, they will be introduced to the reality of a new and scary work culture. In the outplacement offices to which some of the lucky ones will have access they will be told: Change and transition are the order of the day. Stay ready for both. The work place is inherently unstable. There is no job security.

If they read any of the futuristic literature, they will read about the rapidity of change in the work culture. They will see an article by the futurist Daniel Burros who says: ''If you have learned to do something well in the workplace, consider it obsolete. It is your responsibility to remain employable, which means stretch to go beyond where you are.''

If they have access to a speech that Robert Jones, assistant secretary of labor, made recently, they will be admonished to adopt a new work motto: ''Ready to work. Ready to commit. Ready to leave.''

One can appreciate the full emotional trauma of these admonitions only from experience. Someone once said, ''Nothing real until it is local.'' Corporate mushrooms know the reality of these words.

''No job security'' is a gut-level message. It lodges in the pit of the stomach and does not go away. It is something like the older generation's experience of the Great Depression. Unforgettable. Something as emotionally profound as unwarranted job loss is bad enough, but then to be told ''welcome to the new world, this is the way it is going to be and more so'' is too much for the ordinary person to handle. People feel vulnerable, impotent, fearful.

What to do? We can't look back. Redundancies are redundancies, no matter how you look at it. Somebody has to go. It is true. My point is not to deny present work reality, nor to try to thwart change. It is to urge another way, one that is inherently safer and healthier for all concerned.

Corporations and businesses, government officials and other leaders must foster a work culture of stability, predictability and wholeness. The work place should be a place where change is welcomed, not feared. Work is so basic to human life that we cannot accept random, rapid, threatening change to be the norm.

Some corporations are already committed to the high value of their employees. They have strategies and policies to insure that employees are not sacrificed for the expediency of profits. They have incentives and opportunities for employees to learn. They promise security within a changing environment. They help manage internal career change through active planning. They help employees develop work objectives and career objectives. They encourage internal movement and provide the necessary information and opportunity to do so. They make positive statements and credos about the value of the individual workers. They consider each employee an asset.

Managing change so that employees feel challenged yet safe should be our goal. We need corporate role models, and we need to encourage them with rewards and awards.

Mr. Glenn is president of Bell Redford Glenn, a placement firm for business executives.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.