My accountant, Earl Yancey, posted an interesting article to his Facebook profile the other day: “Labor Department Reveals More Americans are Self Employed.” It’s about the substantial increase in the number of entrepreneurs since the recession started and considers whether that number will remain high after it’s over.
Having left a corporate job nearly four years ago, it’s a subject that caught my attention. Many current entrepreneurs have found themselves opening businesses following the loss of employment. These consultants, trainers, coaches, virtual assistants, home-based and web-based retailers have made trade-offs in choosing to work for themselves rather than continue to seek another job. Will these people go back to the cubicle farms after the economic crisis has passed?
Many will not. This recession as been like an outgoing tide, revealing as it rolls away the things about companies and organizations that weren’t as visible when the high tide of a good economy kept them covered. What is on the bottom of many of these corporate infrastructures are inefficiencies, poor leadership choices, lack of accountability, failure to make tough cuts early, planning exclusively around short term goals, and ignoring feedback from the marketplace. Wall Street firms showed just how far it is possible to go in pressing the envelope on what is ethical, moral and legal without anyone going to jail. Yet.
Yes, there were some big firms that failed – companies that at one point were thought “too big to fail.” Who will forget the televised images of the Lehman Brothers employees carrying their boxes of possessions out of their New York City office building? That scenario has been played out millions of times since then all over America – and the world.
The curious part about this situation is that while the people on the bottom get the boot, the masterminds at the top are still getting bonuses. Cuts at the top to the people who drove the firm to the precipice? Not likely. It’s much easier to target the people at the bottom and that is de rigeur for most organizations. Middle management took a big hit early on and those early casualties make up the ranks of newly minted consultants these days. Now it’s quite commonly about “across the board cuts.”
People in corporate America are “overhead.” Objectifying employees makes it so much easier to fire them than to think of them as individuals with faces, years with the firm, and a shared investment in the company’s history and culture. Employees as a company asset? Not in this economy. The memo goes out to cut every department’s staffing budget by 20%. It’s a mathematical imperative that doesn’t address how supervisors will pick among their employees as to who gets put in the staffing reduction bucket.
These people will walk down the halls past the doors of the people who will keep their jobs despite incompetence. They will carry their box of belongings through the lobby where the company’s mission statement full of empty words about the company’s integrity hangs unread on the wall. They will walk out the door on a corporate culture that ultimately failed them.
Do I think these people will be back? No. I think a great many of them will discover it’s better to take a chance on your own failure than to put your future in the hands of a entity that is focused on profits ahead of people – as if there is no connection between the two.
Entrepreneurship in America will continue to flower post recession. Many of us have discovered the rewards of something beyond the illusory promise of stability and security that comes with a paycheck. I believe young people in particular will stake out a plot of soil in which to grow a much richer future! Life is way too short to allow yourself to be thrown away like yesterday’s newspaper.