Depression 2.0: Let’s Cut Teacher Salaries, Please!

This post will start at one place and end at another. I hope you read on to see where it goes.

Teacher in primary school in northern Laos

Today I got a memo from the corporate offices of my son’s school. The management had decided to cut salaries across the board, including the teachers’. Of course, I was angered by this course of action (I even Tweeted it in hopes of contacting a journalist). Teachers, along with parents, are on the front line of ensuring the healthy development of our country’s future. The dark expectations of our economy’s future has hit me personally. It hurts: not for me, but for everybody else.

In my concern, I contacted one of the members of the senior management team. I expressed my appreciation for the corporation’s perspective. Honestly, I understand where they’re coming from. Her response was, surprisingly well-articulated, her voice almost on the verge of teary breakup.

Long story short: we came to an understanding. Enrollment is down across the country and the corporation has little elbow room. Cutting costs and hunkering down through he financial s**tstorm is the standard (and understandable) strategy for preparing for the cycle of doom and gloom.

Still, I think we need a major re-think of how we do business in America. Over the course of the 20th Century a certain model for how we conduct business evolved. Most of that evolutionary process was necessary: academia merged with science which merged with business which merged with mass communication. A whole complex evolved and by the end of the century we pretty much figured a lot of it out.

The basic philosophy of our economy, from the kitchen to the boardroom was this: spend money during a boom and save it during a bust.

That’s wrong. It’s intuitive, but wrong.

What if we did it the other way around? Save (invest) money during a boom and spend it during a bust? Wouldn’t we all be wealthier?

We have lost our discipline. We have followed the wrong gods: consumerism, instant gratification, government. We are going to miss our star, unless we get it right.

For too long, we have aided and abetted a system governed by buy-now-pay-latter. This mentality has infiltrated every single one of our instituions.

And now, my child (even if only in a small way) will be affected by the cost of this childish mentality which my country has accepted as standard business.

So, since I can’t control most of the economy or other peoples’ expectations about our future economy (a nominal value is pure perspective), here’s my response to the paycuts which my son’s teachers will be burdened with (it’s more results-oriented than journalism):

  • Go even further in expressing authentic appreciation for what the teachers do
  • Hold management on the line to do the little things that go a long way for teachers
  • Talk to the teachers personally to express my sadness at what’s happened
  • Pay even closer attention to how my son is doing in school
  • Infect my fellow Americans with (realistic) optimism every chance I get

My anger wouldn’t have gotten me to where I am this evening. In spite of what’s happening, I realize that this is a time for keeping a creative perspective on how we see things. The point here, is that regardless of how hard times might be (or appear to be), there are always ways to change your perspective and create new pathways.

I wish our expectations of the economy were brighter. I wish our economic realites were brighter.

My parents came to this country fifty-seven years ago after spending six years in a Displaced Person’s camp after surviving six years of psychopathic war and oppression and persecution. They were born into, and lived through, Depression 1.0. They loved this country before they even stepped onto its soil.

When my father died over a decade ago, he died believing in America’s status as the last refuge for wrecked hopes. He also believed that Americans would one day find themselves facing the accumulation of their mistakes. He believed that somehow American ingenuity would save the day, but he also understood that nothing lasts forever.

Now that I am father to my parents’ gransdson, I realize just why my parents fell in love with our country, why they came here: America was a model, a hope, a Great Teacher. Sadly: now the Teacher is being taught a painful lesson.

Let’s never again get to the point where cutting teachers’ salaries is a tactic to survive a downturn. Never again.

If you’re reading this post and got this far: please go do something remarkable for the unsung heroes of our dying country. Thank the teachers that you know: the ones who have degrees and work in schools. Also thank the other great teachers in your life: adversities. They’re great teachers too.

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Four Steps to a Healthy Layoff

If you had to layoff your employees, how would you do it? We can blame big companies for being ruthless and uncaring. But for the people doing the actual layoffs, it can be a terrible experience. A layoff doesn’t have to be an evil, does it? Layoffs happen every day and people survive, don’t they? In fact, don’t layoffs give people the opportunity to find  better ways to invest their time? Is there such a thing as a healthy layoff?

Layoffs are often botched by thoughtlessness or by fear of saying the wrong things. Some businesses do better in this department than others. For whatever reason, though, many businesses don’t really understand how to layoff. Layoffs aren’t supposed to happen. But they do. Almost everyday we hear about them. So why not outline a Layoff Action Plan that could help, not hurt, people?

Where the danger grows, so does the saving grace.

Friedrich Holderlin

A layoff can be an opportunity for a company to redeem itself from the tactical and strategic blunders it made that may have led to the layoff. For the people who actually do the layoff, a creative Layoff Action Plan can be the difference between another drink and the happiness derived from helping others overcome adversity.

HOW WOULD YOU SLICE THE KNIFE?

So, how would you do it? How could you make the most of it and turn bad news into a reason to hope?

Would you stealthily order your lawyers to structure the layoff so you don’t have to call it a layoff? After all, that would save the PR fees which qualm your fears of how the word layoff will make you look to the general public. Whatever would Wall Street do with your stock if they discover your secret? Heaven forbid!

Or would you consider these completely different approches?

1. INTRODUCE YOUR EMPLOYEES TO YOUR COMPETITORS

Introduce your employees to your competition and say:

Here are one hundred remarkable employees. We know they’re remarkable because we hired them. We’re having a tough time right now and we don’t quite know what to do with them. Maybe you or your connections do. Please do what you can because we want our industry to thrive and these people are our industry’s future.

2. INTRODUCE YOUR EMPLOYEES TO THE WORLD

Introduce your employees to your vendors, your suppliers, your alumni, you neighbors, your minister, your rabbi, your monk, and your therapist {the risks of depression and suicide increase after layoffs}. Introduce them to your friends or relatives who own businesses thirsty for the remarkable talent that you’re pouring away.

If nothing else, your employees will feel appreciated. They could be energized to find a beautiful land beyond your crumbling empire.

3. INVITE THEM TO YOUR LINKEDIN PROFILE

Invite them to your LinkedIn profile and write them recommendations that will last in their profile for the rest of their careers? Would fewer calls for reference checks lighten your newly weighted workload?

Use the Answers and other features to promote your former employees in creative ways. You should do this selflessly, of course, but could you think of any beneficial side-effects from this approach?

4. PROCLAIM YOUR LAYOFF ACTION PLAN

Instead of playing legal word-games, call a spade a spade and proudly proclaim your layoff to the world. Let the whole world know that you’re liberating enormous talent for hire into the community. Issue a press release on your own terms that outlines that you’re doing #1, #2 and #3. Let the world know how much you sincerely care about the social consequences of your economic misfortune.

Now is the time to invoke the genius of your PR folk. Get them to market your employees to the community. This is a radical departure from the status quo; this isn’t your boiler plate PR. It would be unique and remarkable PR for PR. Imagine how your employees and the community would feel about you now.

What would happen to your company’s wealth if you simply explained what happened and how you intend for your company to thrive in a time of adversity?

Do you think that your customers and the public would LOVE that story? Do you think that Wall Street would entrust your long-term leadership with more of their investing dollars because NOW you look like you know what you’re doing? After all, it’s clear now that you’re not afraid of acclaiming your status as a remarkable leader in your industry. You’re in it for the long-run now, not the short-term speculative nonsense that’s puling our Republic into mindless consumerism.

This post is a Capitalist Manifesto.

WOULD YOU LAYOFF YOUR TALENT USING THIS APPROACH?

So, what do you think? Do think these steps are worth a try? How much psychological and economic depression could our contry avoid if we did things in steps 1 through 4? Since it’s my goal to improve the health care of every child, woman and man in the world, this would advance my cause.

Perhaps some would say: This is too much work! To that I’d say: No wonder you have to layoff your employees! If a business can’t do the hard work needed to get through its Dips, then it should responsibly close up shop and leave it to competitors who know how to work hard and creatively.

Is it possible that so many companies botch layoffs because it’s culturally expected that layoffs are a bad thing, a terminal curse? What would happen to our world if we shook up the bowl, thought and did things in ways we never did before? Sometime we are more programmed for certain responses than we realize.

We are more than the product of our assumptions.

The world’s changing, whether you’re in denial about it or not. Why not make your next layoff remarkable?

If you have ideas to add to this list, feel free to add. Who knows, a brokenhearted CEO might stumble upon this blog. Maybe she’ll change the world and found a novel way to network talent for the 21st Century.

CLOSING WORDS

If you’re in a cog job, find out why. Go bookmark Seth Godin’s blog (he’s not just for Marketing types; in fact I think he’d appreciate it more if cog-jobbers read him as if he were our Poet Laureate). Also, download A Brief Guide to World Domination, print it out and read it.  It will expose that lie you were told years ago.

For those of you who have been laid off, or who might one day end up at the end of the layoff riffle, here’s a little secret I’d like you to keep:

You must change your life.

Rainer Maria Rilke


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