We're All Replaceable - Are You Prepared?

I recently read an opinion piece in the New York Times by Dan Lyons, who worked at a software company where it was a matter of routine to . In the article, he details how involuntary turnover (i.e., getting fired or laid off) was the norm. The fact that you could be fired on any day for any reason was routine.

Rough and tumble corporate cultures are nothing new. There was an article last summer, also published in the New York Times, about the bruising culture at Amazon, where they detailed the employees' tears that seemed to be the norm, at least at the time of publication. I myself have worked in an environment where the management model was capricious, to say the least.

While not every company is a meat grinder, the truth of the matter is that deliberately tough work environments exists, and employers aren't necessarily selling themselves as best-in-class places to work. They demand results, and the agreement is simple: We give you a paycheck, you work in the environment we choose to foster.

Websites like Glassdoor will show you reviews of companies' work environments by former and current employees. My guess (and it's just a guess) is that this increased level of transparency has led some companies to embrace the fact that working there isn't going to be a Shangri-La. It's kind of freeing for executive leadership, in a way -  if people know you're not too worried about employee engagement, you can focus that energy on producing results.

Going back to the opinion piece mentioned at the beginning of this post, the detail that really caught my attention was that Lyons' employer evaluated employees in their appraisals with a metric called VORP - value over a replacement player.

This is a baseball statistic that general managers use to decide when to trade or cut their players. In other words, if there's a second baseman on the market who can do the same jobless, or deliver better stats for the same pay, it tells the GM that they may want to make a change at second.

This, according to the article, is transparent to employees, they can tell immediately how much the organization values them. What's scary about this, in my opinion, is that Major League Baseball is a truly elite work environment - at any given point, there's only 750 positions available at the highest level. And these players are paid elite money to deal with the uncertainty - and the level of performance they are expected to deliver.

The average MLB player knows the odds - there are hundreds of thousands of people competing for his job. And his career averages 5.6 years in length. Longevity isn't necessarily part of the equation.

But the fact that this practice has entered the mainstream should serve as a wake-up call to employees in general. We are all replaceable. There is always somebody ready to come along and do our job.

The best thing to do, is to be prepared.

  • Be self-aware. Are your skills up to date? How about your soft skills, do you get along well with others? Your employer and coworkers are aware of your strengths and weaknesses, and you should be, too. If you realize you're lacking in a certain area, work on developing your skill set. Make the time, it's worth it.
  • Know where you stand. Have regular touch-bases with your manager. Engage in open dialogue about your performance and expectations. Make sure you're both aligned.
  • Keep your resume current. And your LinkedIn profile, too. Change may come faster than you anticipate, and not necessarily on your terms. You need to be ready in case opportunity knocks.
  • Always. Be. Networking. The worst time to start building up your connections is when you need a job. You should have that network in place and give it some TLC. Pay it forward - help people in your network when you're in a position to do so, so that others have a reason to give you a solid. Be nice to people, it pays dividends.

Scott Singer is the President and Founder of Insider Career Strategies Resume Writing & Career Coaching, a firm dedicated to guiding job seekers and companies through the job search and hiring process. He is a Human Resources professional and staffing expert with almost two decades of in-house corporate HR and staffing firm experience, and is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) and Certified Professional Career Coach (CPCC).

Insider Career Strategies provides resume writing, LinkedIn profile development, and career coaching services, including a free resume review. You can email Scott Singer at scott.singer@insidercs.com, or via the website, www.insidercs.com.