This recession will end sometime in 2010. Unfortunately, it's hard to be more precise than that. On the one hand, there’s good evidence that the economy isn’t getting worse and, as many have observed, a few green shoots are emerging from the rubble of the economic crisis. On the other hand, looming deficits and proposed government actions dampen our optimism about the recovery’s scope and pace. Our forecast, then, will have to be a bit vague.
However, we can be much more concrete when predicting what companies can expect when the economy finally improves: a whole different hiring game. Changed, and harder.
Look, this recession has really shocked people. The bottom fell out fast and affected so many people so deeply, leaving virtually no organization unscathed and causing ubiquitous layoffs.
A year ago, a job in business meant promise and payback. Now, working in business is flat-out scary. You just don't know what bad news awaits when you arrive at work in the morning.
The result? Many people don't want to work for “the man” any more. They want to work for themselves or someone they know and trust. A marketing specialist in Chicago told us recently: “My husband was fired. My hours were cut in half. As soon as we get on our feet, we’re starting our own business. We're never going to let ourselves be vulnerable again.”
She’s hardly alone. A tidal wave of emotion is sweeping from coast to coast—see the hundreds of messages sent to us via our website and Twitter. To be someone else’s employee, people are saying, is to be subject to someone else’s whim.
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The ultimate impact of this phenomenon could be profound. When the economy recovers, many companies might, for the first time ever, have to deal with a candidate pool that’s not particularly excited about working for them. As if surviving the recession wasn’t challenging enough!
Fortunately, companies can start preparing now for this changed hiring dynamic. All they have to do is, well, stop acting like big companies—bureaucratic and impersonal—and start creating an atmosphere that’s fast-moving and vibrant.
Working at small companies and entrepreneurial ventures has a real upside, and big companies will need to mimic it. Teams must be smaller, organizations flatter, and the values of candour, informality and innovation an integral part of the culture.
People throughout the organization will need to feel that what they say really matters, regardless of rank and title. And perhaps most important, companies will need to understand that when the recovery arrives, many star employees will stop waiting to be given the authority to make decisions or to be promoted for good performance. The alternative—running your own show—will have too much appeal.
Now, we’re not saying that big companies haven’t faced competition in this arena before. In the go-go 1990s before the dot-com bubble burst, MBAs flocked to Silicon Valley in unprecedented numbers. Promising new industries always attract talent.
But the coming dynamic won’t be a short-term trend. This recession has left a deep scar on the workforce’s psyche. Previous recessions seemed to come on more slowly, with layoffs occurring more gradually. And previous recessions didn’t leave people blaming business, especially big business, for what went wrong in the first place.
Something fundamental has changed, and it will be seen in how people choose their next jobs.
Is that a bad thing? Actually, it may be just the opposite. Our economy will only be helped if more people become entrepreneurs; if the proposed capital gains tax increases don’t take a toll on them, those entrepreneurs will be an engine of job creation. And big companies will only improve if they change in ways that appeal to entrepreneurial employees. In the economy of the future, speed, flexibility and innovation will be more crucial than ever.
So, no, we can’t be precise about when this terrible recession will end. All we know is that it will eventually happen, and then the brave new employees will rule the day. And only brave new companies will entice them back.
Write to Jack & Suzy
Jack and Suzy are eager to hear about your career dilemmas and challenges at work, and look forward to answering some of your questions in future columns. Jack and Suzy Welch are the authors of the international best-seller, Winning. Their latest book is Winning: The Answers: Confronting 74 of the Toughest Questions in Business Today Mint readers can email them questions at email@example.com Please include your name, occupation and city. Only select questions will be answered.
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