The Wages of Downsizing

Contrary to popular myths, downsizing does not necessarily make companies more profitable, more productive, or even smaller. As former downsizer Alan Downs reports, however, it does drive down wages.

I made my way to the front of the auditorium where 100 or so current and prospective members of Congress were filling the seats. The Democratic Caucus had invited me, along with other political, academic, and business experts, to participate in a panel discussion on what promises to be the key question of the presidential election: Has the average American worker benefited from the economic gains of the past several years?

Joseph Stiglitz, chair of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, spoke first. Freshly armed with an election-year report that suggests the economic anxiety workers feel is largely a figment of their imagination, Stiglitz implied the media and ambitious politicians have fooled American workers into thinking their jobs are in jeopardy.

As Stiglitz beamed over the creation of 8.5 million new jobs since 1993, I shuffled through my notes, which included these facts: More Americans have been laid off since 1993 than in any previous three-year period since the government started counting in 1979, and workers' salaries have remained stagnant for the past 20 years. I was dumbfounded that an administration elected with the help of organized labor would try to put a positive spin on the plight of working Americans.

Is a corporate layoff lurking in your future? Ask yourself these 10 questions:

1. When you get up the guts to say "promote me or lose me," does your boss show concern, or a sudden fondness for counting ceiling dots?

2. Does your paycheck remind you of that old Led Zeppelin album The Song Remains the Same?

3. Has your boss asked, "What kind of future do you see for yourself here?"

4. Do you feel your company's product is an eight-track cassette in a CD world?

5. Are you merging with another company whose CEO is nicknamed "The Guillotine"?

6. Did you get a memo saying your performance review has been "canceled until further notice"?

7. Does your Christmas bonus give you visions of Bob Cratchit?

8. Are you the highest-paid person in a department where business isn't exactly booming?

9. Have your job responsibilities been trimmed back to the point where you've got time to rearrange your desk accessories -- daily?

10. Do executives repeatedly cancel meetings you've scheduled because of "time constraints"? Do you then see them outside, playing lawn volleyball instead?

If you answered yes to several of these questions, your job may be headed for the chopping block.