Monday, 1 June 2009

Teach Yourself Resilience

I am working as a freelance at a trade magazine. I've worked on and off there for years. The staff have changed a lot over those years. I am one of the longest serving members!

It used to be a cosy, family firm, we knocked off for a glass of wine or a bottle of beer in the office at 4pm on Fridays. It didn't make a lot of money, but it was respected in the industry, and the family when they sold the company (boo!) made a million pounds.

They sold it to a multinational. "Bean counters!" as our editorial manager said. She was made redundant soon after, along with a few other long-standing (ie, more expensive) members of staff.

The cuts and rationalisations have gone on ever since; each time I go back I know fewer and fewer people, not just because of natural wastage, but increasingly because more and more people have been made redundant. Two more went this week. At least in the public sector you have some warning if you face redundancy; often in the private sector they can just tell you not to come back next week.

Each time it happens it as though someone has died; there is a gap where there was a person. Everyone spreads out a bit more, the computer equipment they used is snaffled if it's better; everyone has to work that little bit harder.

The IT staff were 'let go'; the company now has a contract with Tata. If you want some help with your IT you have to email Tata. If the request conforms to Tata's service level agreement, they will email their staff member and tell him to leave his office down the corridor and come and help you.

I understand there are hard-hearted business books that attempt to teach us that we should all have resilience training in order to withstand and deal with the shocks that are 'natural' in today's job market and the modern economy, but I think they have it wrong. The resilience training we need is that which will teach us to stand up for ourselves and say that this is a crazy way of organising things.

P.S. A well-wisher has pointed out that I might sound rather chauvinistic mentioning the name of an IT consultancy based in India. I too roll my eyes when I hear people going on about Indian call-centres as though they threatened British civilisation - after all, the fact that we have British civilisation at all has a lot to do with the subjugation and massive exploitation of the Indian sub-continent. And much that we take for granted as British has been lifted from imperial conquests. Moreover, I am in favour of the development of India's economy and more people there getting jobs, as everywhere.

My aim in this case was to demonstrate the increasingly absurd workings of capitalism when someone in the next room is not allowed to help me until someone geographically very distant tells him that he can, based not on my need or his ability, but on a piece of paper haggled over by my management, based in the US, and his management, based in India.

On a personal note, not only are some of my best friends of Asian origin, but I once made a memorable trip to a Tata factory in Bihar, northern India, and actually harbour an absurd personal affection for the brand.

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