It’s December 2001 and America has only just begun its war in Afghanistan. I’m working in a human resources department at an insurance company. I’m the HR leader for “capital development,” which is shorthand for mergers and acquisitions.
I’m responsible for providing HR support to companies who are acquired by my organization. These are mostly insurance technology companies, and I’ve never heard of such a thing. I ask the CFO to explain it to me.
Well, it’s a new genre. I’m told that, in the future, people will use the internet to buy personal and business insurance. And when big-ticket items like MRI machines and chemical reactors break, we’ll use the internet to manage repairs and claims.
I’m not sure how this is possible. I have AOL dial-up at home. I call people from my Nokia. It’s a much simpler time.
But I don’t ask a lot of questions because I’m too busy putting new executive leadership teams on our payroll, getting them apartments in Chicago so they can come to town for meetings, and leaving their old benefits in place. I’m doing that while simultaneously learning how to do layoffs for the people who used to work for those executives.
That’s when it all started for me, December 2001. It’s when firing people became my core competency.
Back then, I needed my job and tried to keep my mouth shut. But my world didn’t make sense to me. How could we dole out million-dollar-plus bonuses every spring to our corporate leadership team while we were laying off so many people?
It turns out, I bore witness to a great tragedy: the rapid widening of the wealth gap and the systemic dismantling of white men in the American middle-class.
Not that executive pay wasn’t out of control and that women and minorities weren’t compensated fairly. That’s always happened. It’s just that the 21st-century meant that things moved faster, including the rise in executive compensation.
I was there when it started to go south for everyone, including corporate white dudes with a director title or below. I was the one who made it happen like it was my job because, to be fair, it was my job. When I quit my job — and my HR career — because my leaders weren’t leaders and it was too distasteful to continue, someone else took my place.
So flash-forward to 2016. You know what conditions I see in the average HR department? Reports of a widening wealth gap like they’ve never seen before. Corporate bonuses that invert the pyramid and reward for loyalty and the longevity of relationships. And layoffs.
Small pockets of layoffs. An office here. A department there.
Layoffs are my HR prediction for 2017. I see them coming. More than big data, more than the internet of things, more than any other HR trend on the horizon. If you work in HR, you’ll be tasked with laying off employees because your company needs a 21st-century workforce with new skills.
I don’t know what else to tell you about 2017. Good luck working in HR. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.