Write your own story

Write your own story
Photo by Art Lasovsky / Unsplash

Today, I read a post that tech companies laid off over 50,000 US jobs in November. An impactful number, indeed. It was also an incredible understatement.  

In this post

Let's look at the impact more in-depth:

  • Considering the average wage in the tech sector at $75,000 per year (conservatively), we have removed $3.75 billion yearly in purchasing power.
  • If we consider the impact on others in the household relying on that income, this impacted 115.000 humans based on 2.3 people depending on that income.
  • Considering that the average consumer is $96,371 in debt, that is $4.8 billion at risk of default.
  • If we consider many companies that laid off workers reported significant gains last quarter, this has undoubtedly damaged the trust workers have in their company and, more personally, their leaders. The damage extends to those who did not get laid off and know they could lose their job any day.
  • If we consider the impact of reduced trust, as stated by Susan Ladika, writing for SHRM, "The consequences of a lack of trust can be significant, impacting employee productivity, engagement and ultimately retention." the need to understand how to restore trust is urgent.

Here is a handy graphic showing references to studies on the positive impacts of trust:

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Of course, not every company has made decisions that impact trust negatively. Some have made an effort to retain talent and to make decisions to ensure the company thrives and provides even more jobs in the future. They do reduce labor, but they have honest conversations with those that are not a good fit for the future. It still hurts, but it is honest.

All this has deepened a culture in which workers wonder if they are valuable enough to stay when the layoff lottery comes.

This is misplaced and empowers others to determine your value.  

It's time you pick up the pen and write your own story.

What can we do to feel valued?

We must consider what we control. Companies make decisions for reasons they cannot always disclose. Most of the time, it is with the intent of a better future for the company. Change is unlikely as long as there are investors. Those decisions are far out of our control.

You control your behavior and its connection to your values. Some examples where you may need to examine this connection:

  • You say you have a strong work ethic, but you are late, miss deadlines, and work toward minimum requirements, often okay with hitting 'most' of them.
  •  You say you value people, but with self-reflection, you realize you value them only to build your reputation.
  • You say that professional development is essential to you. Still, you have little discipline around self-study, experiential learning, and intelligent risk-taking, nor do you engage a mentor or coach to help you figure out the next steps Instead, your approach remains passive, developing when company-sponsored or required.
  • You say you value a collaborative work environment, but when you think of your team, you think of those who report to you rather than your peers and cross-functional partners.

In short, all you control is your behavior. The world will do what it will; your response is yours to own.

An exercise.

Try this.  

Write the resume you wish was true about yourself five years from now.

I know most won't put pen to paper (you should!) but take a few moments to think about it. What is the resume you think would get you the job you desire? Perhaps look up people on LinkedIn who have the job and see their resumes.  

Once clear, ask yourself if your daily work is getting you closer to that resume.  

This is the most important work.

If you are in retail and want to be a programmer, you must invest daily in that future. Sign up for one of the hundreds of free courses and get started, dedicating daily time to that goal. Hold yourself to personal standards, often higher than your current role, that you will transfer to the new role. Rigorous logic, systematic problem-solving, and collaboration are all skills that can grow in retail but require a much stronger competency in programming.

Perhaps you are in your chosen profession but looking for a promotion. Find the position you seek, then find a mentor in a position above that. Fill your reading with topics impacting the skills needed for the next role. Too often, we develop existing skills that will get us promoted. Sometimes this is true, but your leaders often use a very different skill set than the one you practice daily. Find out what makes them different and work on that daily.

You must do the work.

How does this increase my job safety?

This path may not impact your employment with your current employer. However, by digging into your behavioral alignment with your values, you will find that you have greater employability. Your ability to provide for those you care about will feel more certain when your skills are honed, and your competencies are valued in the job market.  

You won't feel trapped or powerless when you have done the developmental work and validated your success with a mentor.

Let's look at this from the company's perspective.

Perhaps there is a perceived risk of attrition when employees understand and validate their worth. Companies should review salaries, job descriptions, and work environments regularly to ensure they are competitive and express value monetarily. This creates an important balance of power. The best companies already do this. And yes, I know this is incredibly over-simplified.

If we look through the lens of potential instead of loss, your talent is looking to up skill, pursue mentors, develop transferable competencies, and remain future-focused; they will offer better performance while with you.  

Over the last decade, there has been a relevant shift here.  Loyalty and longevity used to be synonymous.  As the two parted ways and attrition rose, companies tried to stop the leak by blaming middle management for doing poor work. This was often misplaced.

If we accept that loyalty has changed, which I will get to in a moment, we can start pointing our effort in the right direction.

Loyalty has changed

This is the shift that most are missing, as I see it.  

Loyalty isn't about being with a company until you retire anymore.  Loyalty is about delivering your absolute best every single day you remain.  As long as there is a benefit to both parties, there is no reason to leave.  If the employee doesn't deliver their best work, the company will certainly move to separate, no matter how undercover the effort is. What's changed is that employees figure out that they can fire their company if they don't deliver their best.  

That makes us all better.

Final Thoughts

In the wake of layoffs in recent months, those that remain may feel powerless, dreading the call that sends their entire world into a downward spiral.  

Empowering others to determine your value is common.  

This does not have to be the case.  You hold the pen. Write your story.

Start with the connection between your values and your behaviors. Behavioral alignment with your values is powerful.  Not only is it within your control, but aligning your values to your daily behaviors allows you to crystalize your future around what is most important to you.  

When doing this, you understand your value in the job market.  You can determine your desired destination and the steps to get there based on what is important to you instead of looking for anything 'different.'  This intentional work takes discipline and commitment to your values; if your values are clear, this work will get them in focus.

A shift in how we think about loyalty is important for the company.  There are talent acquisition costs to manage, and attrition is a significant loss, of course, but the place to make that up is a deeper investment so that while people are with us, they do their very best work.  Sinking money into understanding why people leave only makes sense up to a point.  Sometimes, like in any relationship, they lose interest, their circumstances change, or they find a better path for their life.  The company didn't do anything wrong; it just didn't work out.  

What has changed? Employers determine your worth historically. Positive annual reviews, raises, and promotions - these were rewarded to those most valued.

As companies become more accountable, more options become available and accessible, and values move toward better balance and a focus on holistic health, employees look at companies through the same accountability lens and consequence. Just as companies will fire someone not adding value, employees will fire the company for the same reason.  

This means that you, the employee, are writing your story.  If you quit a demanding company and miss the opportunity to grow in an area you value, that's on you.  Perseverance is important.  That's not on the company.

Get started.

Find and write down your values.  Do nothing before creating this living document.

Start with the end; where do you want to be a few years from now? Work daily using your resources to grow toward that clear vision of your future.  Most of the time, it's the terrible boss who teaches us what we don't want to be, the disorganized company that teaches us the human and financial impact of being disorganized, and the toxic environment that teaches us the importance of a supportive culture.  Comparison is a powerful teacher.

Slow down and do the work on your way to being a proven leader. Write your story with care.  You hold the only pen that matters.