Human Sacrifice

April 11, 1995|By JOE PISANI

GREENWICH, CONNECTICUT — Greenwich, Connecticut. -- As the sun crested over the edge of the train station, a dozen or so commuters huddled on the concrete platform. These were the much-envied corporate survivors, the ones still standing after the cataclysm called ''downsizing'' swept the workplace like the plague during the early '90s.

They even looked like survivors, clutching their morning papers and the tattered briefcases that had served them well throughout the mergers and acquisitions of the '80s. They were conducting their Monday-morning group-therapy session for disaffected bankers, brokers, computer programmers, attorneys and human-resources personnel, all of whom were suffering from the modern malady called ''job dissatisfaction.''

They grumbled and groused, they said, because downsizing always seems to affect the lower levels and never the inner sanctum, because corporate America continues to buy out and acquire and put thousands and thousands of employees on the streets every day.

They exchanged gossip about whose bank or firm was rumored to merge and converge and submerge next. About whose office would be consolidated out of existence. About who was losing medical benefits, about whose co-pay had risen, and about whose salary was frozen.

One fellow grumbled that people on Death Row had a better survival rate than America's middle managers -- and he had the statistics to prove it.

What's wrong? Why are so many people unhappy all at once? Sure, there's been a lot of downsizing and rightsizing and cost cutting and salary reductions and wage freezes and benefits reductions. And sure the troops are disgruntled because the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies continue to get hefty raises that are incomprehensible by stockroom standards, ranking right up there with professional athletes and super models. But isn't inequity in the name of greed a fundamental principle in America despite what our Founding Fathers told us?

The system, the commuters grumbled, seems to be doing everything possible to squeeze every last ounce of misery out of the average worker in the cause of the bottom line -- that old-fashioned profit motive makes the world go round.

The commuters were consoling each other with the notion that the future lies in small business -- take your cuts in salaries and benefits but one way or another, get out. What you lose in your gross adjusted income you'll make up in stress reduction and longevity.

One woman said she wanted to quit her job in banking and apply for an opening as assistant town clerk. She was willing to take a 50 percent pay cut to stop the pain. Another said she had become so fed up with department meetings and cost cutting that she was willing to withdraw her 401K savings and take the consequences so she could buy an arts and crafts store.

''Going it alone'' is a popular daydream on the commuter platform.

One middle manager said he was sick and tired of hearing about ''managing change,'' which is the corporate buzz word for learning to endure more pain in the cause of expense reductions. He was so fed up with ''total quality management,'' ''performance-based management,'' ''restructuring,'' and ''leveraging resources,'' that he started working on his own ''succession planning'' so he can leave the company and buy a bed-and- breakfast inn in New Hampshire.

It doesn't take a Gallup poll to tell you there's a lot of job dissatisfaction in America and that all the seminars on managing change in the world aren't going to make a bit of difference.

What is the corporation doing to inspire so much enmity? Worker loyalty is at rock bottom, and Americans believe greed is the sole motivating factor in management decisions. How did things go so wrong so fast?

It's hard to find employees who are happy about their careers, and you know something is seriously wrong when so many people in the 28 percent tax bracket are so irredeemably miserable.

Joe Pisani is a columnist for the Greenwich Time.

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