Friday, 31 January 2014

Give the unemployed a break

One of the great degrading experiences in life is to be without a job, apply hopefully for one, and not even get a response. The sense of emptiness, the feeling of no hope, is a low point in life. If you are in a position of being able to hire, at least send a rejection note politely worded and pointing out why they didn't fit your requirements. Call as many as possible for an interview (just the mere fact of being called is a climb out of the pit of despair) . Treat them fairly even if you are not going to hire them. Please.

When there is a clear discrimination against you, it becomes even worse, and really hard to bear. All through the past, gender discrimination was a big issue. It's now still there, but has at least reduced, so much so that its not the biggest discriminating factor I believe. Two other categories suffer worse discrimination

- The "old". If you are above 45, you have no hope of getting a new job if you have lost your current one
- Those with a gap in their CV - either because they lost a job and couldn't get another one for some time or , for women, for taking a career break for children.

The former will be the subject matter of a future post, but this time I want to highlight the plight of those who have been unemployed for some time. A month or two is OK. When it crosses six months, then you virtually have lost all chance of  getting another job. This is especially acute in Europe and the US - research after research has shown that those unemployed for 6 months or more don't even get called for interviews even if overqualified for the job.

Obama has struck a deal with US companies who are agreeing to review their hiring practices to eliminate this discrimination. This is a good move in a country where post the financial crisis, many people lost their jobs and have had great difficulty in finding another one.

My argument has long been that companies should actively seek out such people rather than discriminate against them. Other things being equal, people to whom life has dealt a blow, are invariably better workers than those who have had a smooth time. When you have faced the bitter experience of unemployment, you will value the job much more. You work diligently and try your best to keep it rather than go on strike. You have a rounded attitude to life - you are likely to treat colleagues and business partners with more regard and respect. You are likely to take a more long term view. All extremely desirable qualities in employees. My experience in my working life has invariably been this - people who have struggled to get jobs, or who faced personal tragedies or who suffered on some account or the other were, almost without exception, better performers pound for pound. So much so that I started to positively discriminate in favour of them !!

So here is a plea. Treat those applying for a job with greater sensitivity and care. Even if there are 1000 applications for every job. And do not discriminate against the unemployed. Its a small cost to do this and it's the human thing to do. Especially if you mouth inanities as "people are my greatest asset" and crap like that. HR types - are you listening .

Its also a smart thing to do, for you never know when you would be on the other side of this equation.


Sriram Khé said...

Oh, hey, the key thing here is that in your post, and in your managerial life, you are taking a long-term view (good for you!) that is rarely ever the case in cold business calculations anymore. If anything, business and corporate decisions seem to be based on shorter and shorter time horizons. For various reasons. The hiring (and firing) practices are, thus, reflective of that perspective.

Studies show that for women, while the European system provides a lot more support for child-bearing and taking care of them, the employment market in the US is a lot more tolerant of their absence from formal employment. Which then is one reason why European women feel that much more against having children that has then resulted in ultra-low fertility rates.

But, whether Europe, or the US, or India, the conditions of the long-term unemployed, especially when in a certain age bracket, appear to be similar. Way back, more than thirty years ago, when my father quit his job at 51, we had no idea how much that would lead us down an economic rabbit hole, because of problem of finding a job comparable with the age and experience of the 51 years that he was. We survived and prospered, yes ... Which is perhaps why I am all the more empathetic in this ...

There are any number of wonderful scenes from "Up in the air" that I can bring in here ... but, will leave that as an exercise for any interested reader ...

Sandhya Sriram said...

You have hit a topic that has been shaking me up quite a bit off late. it is still fresh in my mind when someone is trying to help an extremely talented resource underselling himself due to financial difficulties and the Hiring manager being called Biased and compromising the future of the company talent (because of the age profile of the person) to move a personally recommended candidate forward. Is knowing the candidate a sin. is trying to help someone who you know will create definite value but does not traditional fitting into the high performing talent wrong. Are formal evaluation and structured review processes within organisation, killing the very spirit of human - compassion.

there is so much focus on diversity these days. isnt having older resources, resources with different talent profiles not diversity. Why do people not understand that what these kind of people sometimes lack on skill, they make it up with their extreme will and commitment.

Why is the world becoming what it is becoming Ramesh? Probably one of my first depressed comments on your blog - sorry for that.

Shachi said...

It is/was because of this fear - of being unemployed forever - that I don't want to quit working right now. I'd love to take a break for a few years, but a quick reality check tells me I'll struggle more later, so might as well buckle down and struggle now.

Sriram's comment on the US being much more tolerant to absence from formal employment - is this really true? can women find the same level of job with same pay/benefits after the absence or do they have to settle for much less?

Sriram Khé said...

Shachi, the labor market here is a tad more "tolerant" than the one across the pond. But, nope, it is rare for women (or men) to be able to easily slide back in the kind of jobs they would have had before the break. So, same pay/benefits might not be the case after a break, and in most cases might have to start a step or two below, which is also perhaps why women who take a break invariably choose to be part-time instead ...

Ramesh said...

@sriram - Not sure if the situation in the US is any better than in Europe. Look at the "research" that was quoted in the article I linked. When the researchers sent 12000 invented resumes, the % called for interview amongst those unemployed for 8 months or more was 4%.

@Sandhya - That's a tough one Sandhya. If a candidate is "inferior", then should he be preferred because of a hardship situation ?? I think not. However he should absolutely not be discriminated against just because he is 50. One way for the 50 year old to compete would be to lower his "price" drastically. That's a subject matter for a future post !

@Shachi - My heart goes out for such a dilemma for you. This is crazy - when you come back after a break you should at least be able to pick up exactly where you left. Forget the companies milady - take a break , comeback, start a company, succeed and then make a takeover offer to your current employer !

Niraj Kapasi said...


I follow your blog posts since 2009 and find that you have a deep sense of empathy for other human beings that you bring out in a very humorous and humane way.

Also the most of the issues touched upon by you are the ones that show where we as human beings are going in the wrong direction. Whether it is the Wall Street Bank Bonus or the liability for brick kiln workers on a retail store.

Keep it up and let's hope more people, especially the ones who matter read your blog and learn from it.

Sabareesan said...

Ramesh, your post is directly from the heart.

I like your posts for the fact that beyond the point of view, there is a heart and soul filled in them.

A post which stirs up a deep sense of insight and introspection in how materialistic we have become. You are bang-on on this one. Thanks for this post.

Ramesh said...

@Niraj - Honoured to have you as a reader and thanks very much for your warm comments. I am humbled.

@Sabareesan - Thanks for a very kind comment. Trust you are doing fine.

The Million Miler said...

Interesting post Ramesh. In NZ where the median age is in the mid/late 30s and when super annuation is at 65 (and the younger ones are busy fooling around in the UK or Euorpe gaining their valuable "OE" - overseas experienc), it is not such an acute issue. However a marked shift from where it was 12 years ago when I first got here and now is a change in focus- There are no Permanant Jobs. Period. You either come in as a Fixed Term Employee or a Contractor. Generally 'contractors' find a lot more favour if you are older! It is assumed that as a contractor, you get in, get on with the job, immune to office politics, build your network and move on. I call my ilk of contractor the Office Mercenaries. For us the lofty things of corporate vision, mission, values and such other touchy feely HR bull is irrelevant. All that matter is there is a job to be done, another client added, another notch in your contracting CV.

The Million Miler said...

Too many typos, wrong grammar, bad punctuation and poor construction of sentences. Ramesh, this does prove that I' getting younger by the day! The older generation has an impeccable command of the English language. Ha! Ha!

Ramesh said...

@Kiwi - How can the "contractor" be the fundamental employee of a company ?? Strange concept !! You kiwis are a strange lot. But will you please stop thrashing the Indian team !

You are a young kiddo, my boy :):)

The Million Miler said...

Nothing new or innovative in NZ. Indians invented the concept of "contracting" - remember the outsourcing industry that was born circa 1990? In many corporations the outsourced partner is about as important as the employee, if not more! Just that the Indian outsources have 50-500 people working for the main corporation while our scale is modest - 5 or so folks.

Pyjama party is over and The Real Deal starts on Thursday (which happens conveniently to be a holiday - Waitangi Day,our national day) So if you look out for a bunch of teens and an elderly gent(who has seen well over 600 moons) creating a racket in the east stands of Eden Park, you can possibly see me. All excited for the first test and I'm escorting a bunch of boys from Junior's class.

Ravi Rajagopalan said...

@Ramesh: I applaud the sentiment. At various points, when my company was sure to sink, lots of friends like you advised me to stop what I was doing and go look for a job. Apart from passion and belief that helped to stay the course, it is also true I was sure I would never find a job at this ripe old age.

The problem is going to get worse, as technology ruthlessly takes away any kind of information processing from human beings. Us OAPs have to be prepared to ruthlessly retrain to be employable.

It is a cruel world out there my friend.

Ramesh said...

@Kiwi - Why are you guys thrashing the hell of the Indian team. Show some mercy !!

@Ravi - Indeed, its a cruel world. Maybe we old men should get together and start a company only for fellow old men. "Young" Sriram is not eligible to participate :):)

Sriram Khé said...

Maybe you could have titled the post "no country for old men" :(

Here is from today's WSJ:
"More than one in six men ages 25 to 54, prime working years, don't have jobs—a total of 10.4 million. Some are looking for jobs; many aren't. Some had jobs that went overseas or were lost to technology. Some refuse to uproot for work because they are tied down by family needs or tethered to homes worth less than the mortgage. Some rely on government benefits. Others depend on working spouses."

The WSJ piece includes this also:
"Economists who had expected the fraction of men working or at least looking for work to be approaching prerecession levels by now are dumbfounded. "It's looking worse and worse," said Johns Hopkins University's Robert Moffett, who has researched the subject. "It's unexpected."

It is beginning to hit hard those at the beginning of the careers too ... like this 35-year old guy and his 30-year old girlfriend, who is a college grad:
"The couple have, so far, postponed milestones of adulthood. She lives with her grandmother. He lives with his parents.
"When you're growing up, everyone says you're going to get a job, then you're going to get married and get a house," Mr. Miller said. "It never works out the way you think it will."

I worry, a lot, that technological progress will sideline more and more people. This digital disruption in an increasingly interconnected world is unlike any of the economic transformations the world has seen before.

BTW, this year the AARP will send me their letter/package inviting me to join them. Am not the "young" sriram, though I in my mind I am forever young ;)

Ramesh said...

@Sriram - Yes, I saw the WSJ article. Its a tough world out there. By the way, welcome to the AARP :):)

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