Supply and Demand Imbalance

My Oct. 6 column, "Attitude Adjustment," generated a lot of reaction. In it, I chastised those technical people who treat employers and prospective employers with disrespect, and I told a few stories about my experience as an employer. I want to thank all the readers who sent me e-mail. I enjoy the dialogue.

Many of you sent thoughtful responses, and most of you came down on the side of the employees. Here is a sample of what you had to say.

The employers now decrying the difficulty in finding and retaining good workers were, after all, the same employers conducting outsourcing studies in 1989, hiring accounting firms to conduct a re-engineering studies in 1992, selling their companies to retain executive stock options in 1995, and abandoning internally developed projects for package systems written by foreign software companies in 1997. Hardly actions to inspire loyalty.

Other comments were more blunt:

How many times have they been a fish on a hook going back for a third interview just to beg for a subsistence job only to not get called back without any explanation? You don’t have to be involved with a body-broker to be dog meat for a bunch of corporate Dobermans. Personally, I like the tables being turned.

Some were more balanced. This is my favorite:

When folks were chained to their employers, they had the opportunity to mature and learn how to be engineering professionals. Now, they can stay spoiled brats as long as they can still support themselves. It’s almost like the entertainment business. They’re talent and they know it. Having said all that, there’s another side to the story: How many companies have relied on the fact that programmers and engineers are passionate about their work and will put in long hours for little reward? How many times have we had our compensation capped by salary management plans or applied for positions and been forced to go through often demeaning qualification processes.

I was fascinated by many of these letters, as well as a recent article about "Chainsaw" Al Dunlap in a recent business weekly. The article was an excerpt from the new book called Chainsaw by John Byrne. The article chronicled Dunlap’s disastrous reign at the helm of Sunbeam Corp. and how he ran the company into the ground. One paragraph in particular made me chuckle.

"Coopers [Big-Six firm Coopers and Lybrand] also urged Sunbeam to fire its computer staff and outsource the entire information processing function. Dunlap axed technicians making $35,000 a year who quickly discovered they were worth $125,000 a year elsewhere. To replace them, Dunlap had to hire contract workers at far higher rates, some of whom where people he had just let go."

According to the article, Dunlap now lives near a golf course in Florida and commands big bucks for participating in lectures about leadership.

I guess from my perspective it comes down to supply and demand, balanced by integrity. Want to stand out in the crowd? As an individual, develop a reputation for integrity and excellence because when individuals treat employers with disrespect, managers remember. As an employer, do the same thing because when employers treat individuals with disrespect, they remember. It goes both ways and, judging by your letters, we all have long memories -- especially concerning negative experiences.

It also seems that both sides -- employees and employers -- will exploit imbalances between supply and demand if given the opportunity to do so. When talent is scarce, many workers exploit employers by job hopping, demanding outrageous salaries, and delivering sloppy work. When talent is plentiful, corporations jerk people around by cutting salaries, ignoring job applicants, and generally treating workers like resources instead of people.

With 20 years in this business, I’ve been on both sides. I didn’t lay anybody off in the late '80s or early '90s. I never brought in an accounting firm to re-engineer anybody’s operation. On the other side, I, too, was a victim of some of those salary management plans and a layoff statistic. Yet, as an employer, I still have to pay for the actions of people like Dunlap.

It’s not fair, but I can live with it. Like it or not, good old-fashioned economics are alive and well. Although harsh, cruel, and unfair, our system is still better than any other in the world.

This is the last issue of ENT this century. Try to enjoy Y2K when it arrives. --Greg Scott, Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE), can be contacted at gregscott@scottconsulting.com.