Tag Archives: recession

Education, Jobs, and the 99 percent. Who Occupies What? Who to Blame?

I’m visiting in New York this week, and yesterday I ran into two different “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrations. And was sent by a friend to this we are the 99 Percent site, an eloquent and disturbing look at that movement. screen shot. I know I don’t know what’s really going on there. And I know that what I see on that site is just one image of truth. But damn, those stories are painful to read. There is real hurt there.

And the recession lingers on. We have all those unemployed people who don’t have money to spend, the economy is still dragging downwards. House prices are still low. Sure, we have bright spots, like the startups.

It makes me wonder about the overriding desire to have somebody to blame. These are sad stories. The underlying theme is people who have followed the rules, gotten the degrees, and ended up having no jobs and no money.

And then they get to the blaming. This is typical:

Now, I struggle to pay my student loans and health insurance, while the criminal bankers and traders who ruined our lives are busy laughing and collecting their bonuses.

There they lose me. I just can’t believe that things are that simple. Because today’s protesting unemployed lawyer might be yesterdays banker and trader. And today’s banker and trader might be tomorrow’s occupy protester. How simple to just blame criminal bankers and traders, but how quickly that idea goes cascading downwards into the nooks and crannies of technology, partisan politics, and the search for the common enemy. There’s the human craving for explanations, combined with the power of simple concentrated ideas, but where does it lead? What, specifically, do they want to change? And who has the power to change it?

I can’t help contrasting the little I know of this with what I remember of the anti-war protests I was part of in the 1960s. I was in the group that occupied the administration building at the University of Notre Dame in the Spring of 1970. How much simpler that was, compared to this seemingly infinite maze of problems today. We wanted out of the Vietnam War, we wanted to stop the draft, and we wanted the university to pull its endowment investments out of the companies we thought were profiting from the war. We had a cause, and we wanted specific changes. Most of us could have explained that in 25 words or less.

And in this case? Not hardly.

It Was Easier to Lay Off 5 People than Fire One

During in the recession of 2001, I let 5 people go in a single day. Our sales were down, but we held on, for too long, hoping things would turn up in time to save the jobs. They didn’t.

Letting people go is the hardest thing a small business owner does.

But from that hard time I discovered something surprising. It was easier to let 5 people go, all on the same day, than to fire one person separately.

When it’s 5 at once, they don’t feel like they’ve failed. They don’t suffer that personal failure that comes when it’s one person at a time. They know it’s the economy.

When it’s one person, there’s no way around the sense of failure. No matter what the circumstances, or what the words, it hurts.

The hardest thing I’ve had to do was fire somebody who was honest and hard working but had to go anyhow, for good reasons. That was way harder than letting 5 people go on the same day.

We went from 36 people before the 2001 recession to 24 at the worst of it. Most of that decline was through attrition, but there was that one hard day.

I’m glad to say that Palo Alto Software seems to be weathering the current recession without laying off any employees, this time around. We’ve actually taken a couple of new people on. That’s a credit to the new management team, not to me.

What reminded me of this was Bob Sutton’s Layoffs: One Deep Cut Versus Lots of Little Cuts, on his blog. He refers there to a fascinating discussion, in video, of his recent Harvard Business Review article on Good Bosses in Bad Times.