It's a Living

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November 26, 2002 // UPDATED 1:33 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Elana Centor
Elana Centor

The name's changed, but the song remains the same

Welcome to the New Work Order Or, how to look for a job when there are none to be had

In November, Celia James started earning nearly twice as much for doing the same job she had been doing for the past two years. How did she pull that off? She got laid off.

At the beginning of October, Celia, a 40-something communication specialist, became one of more than 114,000 people in the Twin Cities metro area who have been laid off this year.

Celia had been on the job six weeks shy of two years. She is not surprised, bitter or panicked. It's become old hat. Celia has been through the layoff drill on three other occasions--a four-star recipient of corporate mergers, downsizings and reorgs.

What is different about this lay-off is that for all practical purposes she is doing the same job she always did -- only now on a contract basis. On the advice of her out-placement counselor (thanks to her generous severance package), Celia is now charging her former employer three times as much as they paid her as a full-time employee. By working just 20-25 hours a week, Celia doubles her former salary.

Forget about the New World Order; it's time to focus on a New Work Order -- where all the rules for getting and keeping a job are changing.

Celia is no fan of the New Work Order. Despite what she describes as a temporary financial windfall, she wants a full-time job.

"The problem with this arrangement is I don't know how long it's going to last," she said. "There's still talk of more layoffs."

Wanting the security of a job and finding a secure job in the current environment are two very different things. For starters, there are about half as many job openings in the Twin Cities as there were a year ago. That's an amazing statistic, and one that Jay Mousa, Research Director for Minnesota Department of Economic Security, doesn't see changing anytime soon.

"The labor market is at a standstill. We're not seeing any new jobs being added. There is not much hiring happening," said Mousa. "The recovery is too slow and too weak to breathe life into the labor market."

So what's a woman like Celia supposed to do? Celia wants a job. But, if the experts (that's code for outplacement counselors) are right, Celia may need to rethink that strategy. Instead, say the experts, Celia should be open to "different options" (that's code for contract work, project work or relocating to another community).

"Two years ago, only 15 percent of people were willing to look at 'different options.' Today, that number is closer to 60 percent," said Patricia Berg, general manager for Career Management Systems, a specialty business of Personal Decisions International.

Take Will, an executive Berg has worked with for several years. Will was laid off 17 months ago.He was out of work for nine months before landing a job. Eight brief months later, he was laid off again.

"The first time, Will would not have even considered looking for a job outside of the metro area. Today, he's willing to relocate." said Berg.

"Isn't he nervous about uprooting his family when he has had back-to-back layoffs?" I asked.

"He won't be bringing his family. They will stay here, and he will have to commute."

That's life in the New Work Order -- where people no longer have enough confidence in their new jobs to move an entire family cross-country.

Celia, meanwhile, is still optimistic she'll be one of the lucky few to land a job. "I'm not completely ready to be put out to pasture. I have some valuable skills. I have a lot of experience. Someone is going to recognize that and hire me."

But she adds, "Next time I probably won't be a fully engaged employee because of what has happened in the past."

And that too is part of The New Work Order -- where the people who have jobs must constantly think like someone who is about to lose their job.

If you have a good workplace dilemma or just a good story to tell, please contact Elana Centor at ecentor@mn.rr.com. You can remain confidential, as can your company.