Archive for March, 2009

No jobs for sergeants

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

A longtime friend, a guy I’ve known since we were sixth-graders in the same small-town Georgia elementary school, retires today. Another friend, a native New Yorker who overcame that terrible handicap and learned to love the South, will be jobless by the end of April. Both were caught up in downsizings.

The first is of retirement age only technically, and in any other era would be expected to put in at least another ten years at the office. The second is nowhere near retirement age, being exactly in that sweet spot of the career curve where experience and ability have combined to put him at the top of his game.

Instead, both are getting parked on the bench. Such are the times in which we live.

I fear this will be the unforeseen result of our economic travails: the widespread loss of the cooler heads and steady hands that are vital to any enterprise. At almost every American company, the employee with 25 or so years under his or her belt is the business world’s equivalent to a Marine gunnery sergeant — which is to say, the person who stays calm when chaos arises, knows when to ignore a stupid order from higher-ups, saves rookies from mistakes, has an uncanny knack for spotting competitive threats, and can field-strip the office copier in 30 seconds to clear a mysterious paper jam.

For all the slicing and dicing of news about the economy, I haven’t read anything that tells me which age group is being hit the hardest by layoffs. My fear is that people like my two buddies are taking a disproportionate share of bullets. If that’s the case, our economic recovery — which one expert recently predicted will take close to a decade, at least as far as the stock market is concerned — may be made even longer and more arduous by this loss of skilled hands from the workplace.

After all, sergeants run things. If you don’t believe it, ask anyone who’s ever been in the military.