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I'm Just Sayin': Being forced to start over

August 05, 2010

About a month ago, my sister got laid off from her job with one of the country's largest telecommunication corporations. After more than 20 years it was, "Thank you very much, but your services are no longer needed."

Actually, there was no thank you. Her immediate supervisor may have expressed some regret, but that was it. To the larger megacorp, she was just a name on a list and a dollar amount on a spreadsheet.

She now has two choices. She can look for another job, which will likely pay significantly less than she was making and may or may not have health insurance, or she can "retire" in her early 50s and wait more than 10 years to collect Social Security and tap into her 401(k).

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When I was a kid, I remember my dad getting a clock with a plaque noting his 25th anniversary with the same company. He felt valued, and he knew that the years he had spent working hard were recognized. Do any companies give away clocks or gold watches anymore?

Studies show that the average working American today will have three to five careers and between 10 to 12 jobs during his or her lifetime. In my dad's day, you found a good job in your 20s and stayed there until you retired. You could count on having a job as long as you worked hard, and the company knew that they had loyal employees and less turnover. It was good deal for both sides.

I'm not saying that this was a perfect situation. Changing jobs can mean career advancement and more challenging positions, but it also means a lack of security and stability.

I've had many jobs over the years. I worked at an ice cream store when I was in high school and at a big-box retail store in my early 20s. After I moved to California, I was employed in the accounting departments of a national motel chain and a large Orange County development and property management company. Finally, I worked as a systems administrator for a foundry before getting married and having kids.

Each of these positions was a learning experience and a stepping stone to the next. Would I have been happy working for years in retail? Absolutely not. And I certainly wouldn't have wanted to be an accounting manager for the rest of my life. Yet leaving every one of these jobs, either voluntarily or involuntarily, was a leap into the unknown.

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