This economy is starting to remind me of a Sopranos episode. You’ll remember that one feature of the popular HBO mob drama was that a central character was unceremoniously killed off each season. In that sense, it was unlike any program of its kind. What lent the crime series a particular brand of edgy suspense was the fact that no one was ever safe. So it is in this economy. Given the severity of job cuts occurring across all sectors of U.S. industry, no worker—no matter how gifted, hard-working, or stacked with degrees—can consider himself a “made man” (or woman). No one is safe.
This morning’s news crystallizes that cut-throat atmosphere. Construction equipment-maker, Caterpillar, said it plans to cut 20,000 or 18% of workers from its payrolls. Sprint-Nextel announced layoffs of 13% or 8,000 of its employees, and Home Depot said it would cut 7,000 staffers. Caterpillar’s layoffs are a perfect example of what’s happening in today’s economy. The world’s largest maker of mining and construction equipment says it will eliminate factory workers, support staff, and management positions. Economy bellwethers like Microsoft, Intel, Pfizer, and Boeing have made similar proclamations in recent weeks.
Since Jan. 1, U.S. companies have announced elimination of some 185,000 jobs, as diminishing demand for products and services is forcing companies to cut costs. Today’s job-cut announcements will serve to boost unemployment numbers to new history-making heights when the Department of Labor releases its next report in early February. In December, unemployment hit 7.2%, the highest in almost 16 years. Many economists insist that rate is likely to reach highs of 8% or even 9% before the end of 2009. In all, companies “whacked” 2.6 million jobs in 2008, the most in 63 years. 2009 could top that.
Not all companies are responding to the recession by slashing workers. On the brighter side, Challenger, Gray & Christmas released a survey that suggests nearly half of all U.S. companies are attempting to avoid permanent layoffs by finding creative cost-cutting solutions such as hiring and salary freezes, forced vacations, reduced travel budgets, and bonus eliminations. One company in Challenger’s survey, auto parts supplier Visteon Corp., reported that it cut workers’ wages by 20% and instituted a four-day work week. In December, FedEx announced that its CEO, Frederick Smith take a 20% pay cut, while the company shaves 5% to 10% from the salaries of some 35,000 other executives and workers. FedEx also eliminated its 401k matching contribution to all 140,000 workers who participate in the company’s retirement savings plan.
So, what does all this cost cutting mean for those of us who still have jobs? Is there any way to make ourselves indispensible? What can we do other than cower under our desks? Career coach, Bob Rosner, with Workplace911.com says you should, “be able to do more than one job. Cross-train. The more holes you