Firm Thrives On Layoffs

February 21, 1994|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,Sun Staff Writer

Just when you thought it was safe to loosen the purse strings and celebrate an improving economy, along comes Bill Morin with a sobering warning.

One in every four workers will lose their jobs by the end of the decade, he says.

The outlook is no better for those graduating from college this June. They, Mr. Morin says, can expect to change jobs seven to nine times during their careers -- four involuntarily.

A lifetime job is almost a thing of the past, he says. "Firings are becoming a way of life. We have a society coming along that [will have to become] accustomed to being terminated," Mr. Morin says.

All of these hard times, however, are good for Mr. Morin.

William J. Morin is chairman and chief executive of Drake Beam Morin Inc., a 25-year-old New York-based company that identifies itself as the largest outplacement and career transition consulting firm in the world.

DBM, as the company is called, is a $215 million-a-year firm in the business of helping laid-off workers find new jobs. It has 186 offices around the world, 87 in the U.S., including one in Baltimore.

Mr. Morin was in town recently visiting the company's Baltimore office and giving talks to clients. One of them, Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., is about to have the first layoffs in its 177-year history.

Despite an improving economy, Mr. Morin said corporate America will continue to seek higher profits and efficiency by cutting staffs.

Even corporate giants, such as IBM, Westinghouse and General Motors, are slashing their work forces and struggling to become less centralized.

But other factors like technology and globalization of the economy are resulting in layoffs, said Mr. Morin. "Take, for example, the banking industry; you don't need as many tellers with ATM machines," he said.

The results of these trends were reflected recently in a report showing that major U.S. corporations announced more than 108,000 layoffs in January alone -- the highest monthly level in the four years since the figures have been tracked, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., an outplacement consulting firm in Chicago.

These cuts will continue to hit every level of the work force from line workers on the factory floor to top executives in plush offices, Mr. Morin and others say.

Stephen R. Gallison, director of Maryland's Professional Outplacement Assistance Center in Linthicum -- an unemployment office for professional, technical and managerial workers -- reports that there has been no slowdown in applicants his office.

He said the office, which opened in January 1993, handled 3,100 clients its first year and now has a caseload of about 1,800. Most of them, Mr. Gallison said, are engineers. Others have backgrounds in finance, public relations, marketing and law.

While the layoffs continue to pile up, Mr. Morin said companies are doing less to help displaced workers. "Corporations used to feel guilty about laying off people," he said. "They would say, 'We've got to lay off these people, let's do something special for them.' "

But as layoffs become more common, companies began "to reduce their investments in time and money to help displaced workers find new jobs." Mr. Morin said. "They have gotten accustomed to terminating people. Their conscience is going away. That's a way of life."

As an example, he said, "For executives, a one-year [outplacement] program has been reduced to six months, and the average guy on the factory floor might expect one to three days."

Mr. Morin, 54, has served 20 years as a career transition consultant to management and written books on the topic. He says he can't remember how many times he has heard laid-off workers say: "I trusted them and look what they did to me."

Layoffs can be devastating, and most people seriously underestimate how long it will take them to land a new job, Mr. Morin said. While most think in terms of two or three weeks, the truth is that they will likely be out of work for six months.

And it will be a difficult six months, punctuated by false highs and deep depressions, he said.

"Traditionally, there is kind of a euphoric false high that occurs around a job change," Mr. Morin said. "At the beginning you are shocked and you're hurt. But all of a sudden you realize you're going to have to deal with your own life, and you have a chance to do so and there is energy that comes with this. You feel really pumped up.

"Everybody calls and says, 'I'm sorry you're changing jobs.' You feel popular. It's not so bad you think."

But this all changes. "It's almost predictable," Mr. Morin said. "Two or three months into a search, people suffer a real dip in self-esteem. All of a sudden the people you call don't call you back. Reject letters start coming in. The opportunities that you thought early on were available, don't materialize."

It happens to everybody, he says: top executives, middle managers and hourly workers.

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