June 2002

Volume VIII  Number 2                  jimborland@att.net

Job Security:

            Another Remnant of the Past?


We have all heard the word security in the past few months. My dictionary lists the following six definitions:


  • 1.      The state or feeling of being free from fear,

        care, danger, etc.; safety or a sense of safety.


  2.   Freedom from doubt; certainty.


  3.   Overconfidence; carelessness.


  4. Something that gives or assures safety; 
        protection; safeguard.


  • 5.      Something given as a pledge of repayment,

      fulfillment of a promise, etc.; guarantee.


  • 6.      A person who agrees to make good the failure

      of another to pay, perform a duty, etc.; surety. 



I was somewhat surprised that there are so many ways this one word can be interpreted. I want to consider how each of those definitions impacts career counseling in post-9/11 New York.


First, the issue of safety is very much a present- day concern. I see it having two aspects: safety from actions taken against our society, and indi- vidual safety. The fear that “something else will happen” is a very real fear, but, as Mayor Bloom- berg said on this Memorial Day, we have to do what we can do in our lives, focus on what control we have, and continue to focus on our careers.



There is an increased concern in the workplace about safety. A human resources colleague in a large bank recently told me about an employee who was inadvertently misdirected in the process of obtaining college tuition reimbursement and who then returned to the HR office in an agitated and belligerent manner. He was told by his supervisor to stay in his office, where she and another manager defused his anger. His department experienced a heightened sense of employee agitation, developed and implemented new policies, and is now training managers. The initial feeling of unity and “we-ness” post tragedy, has, I believe, been replaced with a pervasive anxiety that needs to be acknowledged.


The second meaning of security is certainty. In this past quarter, many of our G&S career transition clients have been referred by companies that are moving out of New York, closing operations entirely, or -- like our client Global Crossing -- filing for Chapter 11. Many folks we see have experienced a sense of certainty that they will in fact lose their jobs. With few exceptions they have been at that worksite less than three years. They are very aware of the need to have transportable and transferable skills and are quite reassured by their sense of personal skill security.


“Overconfidence” as a definition for security remains the most difficult for me. It comes closest to the way Edgar Schein, in his Career Anchors test, defines security: “Security/stability anchored people…are willing to give responsibility for their career management  to their employer…. Because of this, they are sometimes perceived as lacking ambition.” When I first became a career counselor in the early 1980s, the middle managers who were my clients often projected disbelief at being told they were leaving; but today, although some degree of shock is almost always present, virtually no one articulates the belief in job security in an overconfident way.


“A safeguard” is the fourth definition. All of us need to protect our own career security by staying current with the latest trends and by upgrading skills. Although the Red Cross had trained me in aspects of disaster relief and recovery, I have completed a certification course in Critical Incident Stress Debriefing and will take a formal course at Columbia on Post Traumatic Stress Counseling this month. At G&S we encourage our clients to be protective of their career skills -- and keep learning.


Related to safeguard is the fifth definition, a guarantee. Some career transition clients want us to provide a guarantee that, at the end of the process, they will have a good job. While most people do “land” successfully, the security is in their own efforts in the search process, as it is in the job itself. There has been a rise in the number of clients who negotiate either an employment contract or an advance severance package, which fits the definition of  “fulfillment of a promise.”


Finally, the dictionary tells us that security is a person. This person makes good the failure of another, which is, taken to a national level, what all of us are trying to do. Many of our career transition clients are explicitly hired by their new employer because it is perceived that they will do a better job than the previous incumbent. Most politicians campaign on a pledge of performing more securely than their opponents.


So, in the end, it would seem that our concept of job security, like that of security itself, has not become a remnant of the past. But it has changed. Our definitions are both broader and deeper than I originally thought; and I hope this exercise will provoke your thoughts on your own career security.




Economic Outlook


Career transition clients are still struggling with higher unemployment rates in the New York metropolitan area, but in the second quarter we have seen a definite increase in people inter-viewing and in placement. The trend is also back to major “name” employers, like Bear Stearns and J.P. Morgan Chase, as well as to clients’ decisions to start their own businesses.


It would seem that the dot com’s pendulum is also mostly swung and that those who were precarious have disappeared. A weekly reading of Crain’s new job announcements shows both more entries and more appointments at major firms for many whose last job was in the economic sector.



Books I’d Recommend


1001 Ways to Take Initiative at Work by Bob Nelson, Workman Publishing Company, New York, 1999, $10.95, paper.


One of my colleagues turned me on to this recent work by a well-published business writer. His work takes up the recent iVillage.com survey, which found that initiative was identified as most important for getting ahead in the workplace by a majority of the 7760 respondents.


Nelson collects detailed examples in chapters with titles such as “Making Improvements,” “Taking Action,” and “Managing Up.”


“Initiative is personal: the individual controls when, where, and how much initiative to take on the job…. By taking initiative, all employees can elevate their visibility within an organization. The biggest mistake you can make in life is to think you work for someone else.”


This book is a quick and easy read, with a message that would be well delivered to recent grads starting their first “real” job as well as to those changing jobs.