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  The Herman Trend Alert

November 5, 2003

The Disposables

Over the past few years, as employers have struggled to control costs, they've reduced overhead by removing from the payroll people who might be described as "disposables." They have discarded people in a similar fashion to the way we throw away soft drink containers or food wrappers. The attitude seems to be that no one individual is really that important; everyone is replaceable. If one employee leaves---voluntarily or involuntarily---there are plenty of other people who are quite suitable to take the places of the departed workers.

People are not disposable. They resent the treatment they receive when employers regard them as replaceable commodities. All workers have a personal pride in their capabilities, performance, potential, and value. When they are treated badly---or even just perceive that they are treated badly---by an employer, workers remember. On the job or off the job, they remember. Ill treatment by a company owner, an immediate supervisor, human resources, or anyone else in the company builds dissatisfaction, disappointment, anger, contempt, and occasionally explosions of temper that result in workplace violence.

The non-caring attitude exhibited by some employers over the past few years of the slow economy is a strong memory for many workers. In some cases, workers experienced bad treatment personally; in other cases, they heard about their friends, relatives, or neighbors who were not respected and appreciated. These workers feel betrayed by employers. They feel that they cannot trust employers. Unfortunately, this feeling spreads to affect attitudes toward practically all employers, even those who have been careful to do the right things.

As we enter a transition period back to the sellers' market in labor that we experienced in the late 1990s, workers will be wary. They will be hesitant to return to companies where they worked if they were not laid off in a caring manner. They will ask some tough questions in employment interviews to learn how employees are treated and cared for.

The resentment over disposable attitudes will haunt many employers for the next few years. For many employers, their remorse will come too late.

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