There’s a great blog post over at IT Toolbox, on the Original Thinking blog by Dennis Stevenson on The Myth of Job Security- Employer Version, with a promise for a follow up giving the employee’s point of view. I was going to comment, but because my comment was so long, I thought a separate blog post was more appropriate.

Job security is largely seen as old fashioned these days. People are downsized as soon as their salaries get too large and the business feels they can be easily replaced with a cheaper and less expensive worker-widget. Likewise, employees are just as likely to jump ship as soon as a more attractive offer comes along. But what is the fall out from all this movement, seeking out the better, cheaper and faster ways to accomplish everything?

I think the interesting contrast here is when there is no longer any “job security”, there is no reason for employees to have any loyalty to the greater mission or goals of the enterprise, no matter what the size. Therefore, their only core motivation has to be what is best for them and their families- a mercenary “available to highest bidder” mentality. And why should it be different? With no social contract between the employee and employer anymore, other than that of health care and any remaining employee benefits, there is no reason to stick around and keep your money on the table, so to speak, with your employer, since they are just as likely to terminate you without any warning at their earliest convenience. And should you bother to “do the right thing” and provide notice? Why? The favor is rarely returned in kind. The social contract is (has) disintegrated over time- there are no more rules as to what is appropriate.

I grew up in Rochester NY, a company town with Kodak, Xerox and more for many years. The decline of “cradle to grave” job security has changed the nature of the community, now making the town more transient than ever before. People go where the job is more and more rather than stay in their current situation if a job is terminated. Families rarely live in the same town where one or both parents grew up. The social ties of living in a place where everyone knows your name is becoming an anachronism more and more.

This means less long term investment in social infrastructure in real life communities, like museums, art galleries, churches, charitable organizations, etc. Why should people spend their precious time and resources supporting the community when they are just transient residents in nature, and will never personally benefit from any of the good they are doing? Regular towns and cities are becoming mere way stations along a pathway of jobs, and people have no more incentive to make a long term investment in the success of schools or civic organizations than summer time residents of beach communities do in making sure those towns are sustainable 365 days of the year. They only care that their needs are met at a price they can afford during their brief stint to pump some money into the local economy, and then their contribution is over.

This is true just about everywhere- we are seeing the same transition happen in Wilmington, DE now that MBNA has been bought out by Bank of America. The lack of job security means lack of loyalty on both the part of the employer and employee, and people speak of just doing what they have to to get by, not investing in any sort of larger sense of contributing to a company- they are just collecting a paycheck, nothing more.

I agree businesses can’t necessarily be job charities, but by totally forgoing the social contract of employment, they gain no loyalty and thus the same people who businesses have invested time and money to train and educate have no reason to stay in that position if they can get a better deal elsewhere. I’m not sure this is necessarily a long-term success strategy for helping all boats to rise, so to speak, but it does create cut throat competition where people become more isolated and only concerned for themselves. You can’t expect people to “take one for the team” and act altruistically if the team is unlikely to return the favor.

What do you think? How do we balance efficiency and economics with the importance of building sustainable communities for the long term? Is it possible?