Changing work forceBusiness is miserable, so you shed...


October 21, 1991

Changing work force

Business is miserable, so you shed workers like water and rely on your trusted old-timers. In most cases, that means sticking with middle-age, white men.

But such an attitude will result in firms isolating themselves from the new work force of women, minorities and immigrants, says researcher William B. Johnston. And firms that cut themselves off from such workers will have serious trouble adjusting in the '90s, he adds.

Firms that become isolated, he said, will be unfamiliar with such issues as child care, family leave and sexual harassment, which will become more important as women account not only for the majority of new employees, but also for more key jobs.

In the '90s, the U.S. work force will grow by less than 1 percent, and growth may halt altogether at the start of the 21st century, he said.

At home, companies that ignore population shifts, he warned, will face the risk of relying on an older and more rigid work force, one without much promise of dynamism.

Coping with layoffs

As corporate America sheds as many as 2,200 workers a day, tensions are racing through the nation's offices and factories. But most companies ignore the survivors: unhappy workers whom the downsized companies must rely on.

Carrying out a layoff without dealing with the employees left behind is like treating an alcoholic parent but ignoring the family, says Thomas P. Jandris, a management consultant from

suburban Chicago.

"There are only two kinds of firms who hire us," explains Mr. Jandris, whose firm, EnterChange Midwest Inc., helps companies get through unsettling layoff periods.

For those whose jobs may disappear, Mr. Jandris' programs point out the realities of the job market, and whether or not they want to go into business for themselves.

At AT&T, which has shrunk from 373,000 workers in 1984 to 270,000, officials realized the need to assist workers as deregulation forced the company into a new and less predictable situation.

"Insecure managers like to give as little notice as possible, and that inevitably leads to more problems than if you are a little more secure and humane and give people as much notice as possible," said AT&T spokesman Burke Stinson.

Another lesson: workers' denial of reality.

"There is a large number of people who deny that [a layoff] can happen," he said. "They say, 'Look, this place is profitable, and the company is going to change its mind.' All of the programs that you offer for retraining and transfer go begging."

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