Friday, 24 September 2010

Jobs for Life

Jobs for life ?  A quaint and obsolete concept ? Not even dinosaurs would think of such an idea ; Right? Don't snigger. No less a company than Siemens has done just that in Germany.

My first reaction was, of course, what on earth has Siemens done. Has it simply bowed to the pressure of the mighty German trade unions ? The power of trade unions in Germany is well known. The country has adopted a model for a cosy relationship between workers and managements. Confrontations, when they come, are often less intense than might be seen in other parts of the world. Wages are high. Its not easy to lay off workers.And yet Germany remains a massive industrial success; it remains the largest exporter in the world neck to neck with China. 

The arguments for flexibility with work force are well known. But why has Siemens opted for giving jobs for life - and that too in high cost Germany ? There must some arguments on the other side of the debate as well. There surely are.
If we turn around the people question to say that employees are "customers" and the employer must give the customer what she wants, then we start  from a different point of view. In the India and China  of today, the employee does not want lifetime employment because of the opportunities that abound. Its a moot point that 30 years ago, in both these societies, lifetime employment would have been a very attractive proposition.  But there are many societies today where lifetime employment would be a very desirable proposition. Worth taking a smaller salaray for the promise of a lifetime employment.
The workforce is not a homogeneous mass. Just like we segment customers in marketing, we must segment the workforce population too. There is a segment that will trade off higher wages for stability. If attracting that segment is interesting for the employer, then why not ?? Take a combination of lifetime employment, lower wages, long notice period for employees quitting, employer ability to lay off on grounds of non performance or indiscipline, and you have package not to be sneered at. It will also force employers to take long term views on manufacturing - all too often these days companies set up factories knowing fully well that they will shut them down in 5 years. World supply chains are not all that dynamic - witness the continued manufacturing might of Germany for the last 60 years.

Human motivation is not driven solely by fear. Its not just the threat of losing one's job that makes you work harder. Life gives you a perfect example of this. Its called parenthood. Every parent (alas, bar a few exceptions) would make seemingly irrational sacrifices for his child. Commitment and permanency are not dirty words in life. Neither should they be in business.


  1. It is not just opportunities that drives people to other jobs! Comparing parent hood and companies? Definitely i love my parents and my parents do love me. But my manager?????

  2. Anonymous24/9/10

    aaha..permanent job!! in seimens!!! avvvvvvvvv....anga yarachum aal teriyumaa?

  3. for me, leaving my company would be like breaking a marriage. like every marriage, there are compromises but there is happiness and if the overall quotient is satisfactory, i see no reason why someone should break his marriage.

    But life always puts every relationship at a cross road. and only the person who stands at that cross road knows the pain. some relationships choose to seperate for the mutual benefit of each other.... the only place where there is a problem is when one partner is financially or emotionally broken down after the seperation..

    Commitment and permanancy are not dirty word - i completely agree with you...

  4. @zeno - We have been lucky to have come into the workforce in India at a time when jobs are plenty. But in the 80s and even in the 90s, you could be highly educated and not have a job. In the US and western Europe today, if you get laid off, the prospects of a job have been bleak. What it does to people and families is brutal. Under such circumstances, even your manager might seem like a cute cuddly thing !! I believe there is a vlue to some security of employment.

    @gils - you have to start blogging in German before you qualify ....

    @Sandhya - Totally agree.

  5. I might agree with agree with many things you say, but my mgr being a cute cuddly thing, hmmm no comments ;)

  6. @zeno - This manager of yours, I have to meet !!!!

  7. A job for life is a perfect thing to happen. But just like Sandhya mentioned, the motivation behind sticking to a marriage/committment shouldn't be insecurity, but a mutual need [the cliched love if you may :)].

  8. Ahh, but in a manufacturing unit, with respect to the the technical staff who are into the operational functions this indeed is a good arrangement. One can retain good technicians for life and the technicians in turn, can grow skill-wise too. (Now the tubelight lit!)

  9. Job security is something that becomes so irrelevant in today's scenario while switching the jobs at least in India and China. There are plenty of jobs and supply of good quality personnel is still less than enough compared to jobs on offer. There are varied reasons of breaking the association with the employers either personal or professional. Perhaps the employer employee relationship has found such connotation for itself. It is assumed to be perfectly ok (from both the sides) when someone walks away from a company. And like Sandhya says they choose to seperate for the mutual benefit of each other. A son or daughter would not walk away from his/ her parents' home for any reason whatsoever in our society. Even breaking a marriage is also that easy when it comes down to that. Altogether a different set-up I think. Don't know why.

    Having said that, jobs for life is a very very justified proposition. Like marriage and other relationships, it also requires its share of adjustments/ compromises.

  10. @Deepa - Yes, a trend towards longer tenures, traded off for lower wages is a good thing I believe, atleast for a certain segment of the work force.
    Incidentally you're supposed to be star struck and dewy eyed and all such other similar objectives in love. A few more decades to go before cliches come to mind !!!!

    @Vishal - The Indian and Chinese situation is very recent. When I cam into the work force, getting a job, any job, was a tough task. In the business school where I graduated from, not every graduate got a job !!! Today placement closes in 5 days.


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