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What's really happening in the job market.

Session participants included: Connie Eckard, ABC (Dallas); Gloria Gordon (San Francisco); Rick Gray (Chicago); Bob Kelley, ABC (Avondale Estates, Ga.); Kathi Kraft (Atlanta); George Lambert, ABC (Montreal); Cliff McGoon (Palm SpTings, Calif.); George McGrath (New York); Mike Quane, ABC Long island, N.Y.); Bill Swank, ABC (Miami, Fla.). Also participating were the following members of IABC's Employment Services Task Force: Lee Hornick (New York); Moses Kanhai, ABC (Regina, Sask.); David Kistle, ABC (St. Paul, Minn.); Sharon Larkin, ABC (Dallas); Sigrid Tidmore, ABC (Tampa, Fla.); and Marcia Vaughan, ABC (Mission Viejo, Calif.).

Restrucing of companies and even entire industries, downsizing and flattening organizations, products that don't sell, companies that can't compete --there are a lot of factors putting communicators out of work. Some communicators have been laid off more than once. Others have seen their colleagues dismissed find wonder when it might be their mm. The result is often pain, anger, confusion, uncertainty, bitterness, hope and/or optimism.

Who's most affected? How do you protect yourself? CAN you protect yourself? Where do you go for help? What's the future for the profession?

The 1991 IABC international conference, "Power Moves," looked at all kinds of power. One session examined how communicators felt and what they did when they lost power - through sudden unemployment.

IABC members candidly shared their pain, their hope and, in some cases, their eventual triumph. They talked about a new recognition that the rules of the game have changed, that careers must be managed to allow for reversals as well as successes. And they talked about what IABC can do to help.

It's a New Ball Game

Quane: When I found myself in the job market, I got "instant guts." That's when I learned, as the Marx Brothers said, There ain't no Sanity Clause." And no corporate security anymore, either.

Hornick: How you get the news is important. When I was at J.C. Penney, the news media picked up the rumor the company was planning to move from New York to Texas. My reaction was, "They're not going to dump me. I'll get a job." I think IABC members should understand you should always have your resume ready, have your directories updated. Don't wait until you're let go.

Tidmore: What does that do to corporate loyalty?

Hornick: Corporate loyalty is dead. Communication departments are on an as-needed basis. Companies now hire consultants when they need more staff.

Lambert: Corporate loyalty is like modem marriage: Love, honor and obey as long as it feels good. People need to realize they're buying into a job only for as long as it lasts. There's always the possibility you'll get kneecapped even when things seem to be going well. I lived through three layoffs, and then the fourth manager didn't like my face.

Larkin: The higher you get, the more vulnerable you are. Be prepared. Even assume you'll be laid off.

Tidmore: I heard that if you make more than US $40,000, you're 50 percent more likely to be laid off.

Vaughan: There's a trend toward managers being replaced by lower-level people with less experience. I should have noticed.

Quane: It's a new ball game. Before, if you did a good job, you stayed.

Hornick: We're talking about career management. Your overall strategy should be to control your destiny. Map out a career with a company; do media relations for a while, then publications. Stay for three years, then take off to another planned career step. You can go with an employer, or go out on your own, but there's more risk on your own. You have to choose a fork in the road.

Kistle: There's risk with agencies, too. If they lose a big account, they let people go. I think IABC can fill a gap by telling people how to recognize the signals. I bet a lot of members think that when you're making $40,000, you re secure.

Kraft: There are major warning signs and I ignored them. There were two rounds of layoffs before mine. Company positions get restructured. Investors conduct an internal audit. Sales drop. Staff is cut.

Tidmore: You hear lots of horror stories. Another survey said there's a 12 percent unemployment rate among communication professionals. That's well above the US average. It's not just the recession. What is it?

Quane: We've been working for companies where communication is not their business. Communicators will never be on the CEO track. So they can cut people from staff positions.

Tidmore: Why is communication so expendable?

Larkin: They can get it from the outside.

Quane: It's not their business. They don't understand it.

Eckard: We don't understand them. It's the top positions, the people around this table, that are being eliminated. CEOs today have a better understanding of the value of communication.

Kistle: Ten years ago I worked for 3M. There were 75 people in the communication department. Today there are 33 people. There's just as much communication, but technology does more. CEOs are enlightened, and as a result, communication is diversified and spread out. There's also a surplus of communicators, especially with schools producing more.

Larkin: Companies are flattening out, too. They're looking to cut expenses and we're at the level where we're expensive.

Kanhai: Managers are more aware of the communication component of management, and are becoming good communicators-or think they are.

And communication is what they say it is. If they decide their communication is satisfactory, they don't need me. They can shop for a consultant when they need one.

How Can IABC Help?

Lambert: We're naive about what's a fair level of layoff compensation for people at our level, and especially at a nonbankrupt company. An IABC database on what constitutes fair treatment would be helpful.

Kelley: After two years of good performance, I got three weeks' severance. My boss wanted me to get nothing. I called a lawyer, but Georgia is a right-to-work state and I had no real recourse.

Vaughan: It would be valuable to offer some kind of information on what companies offer. I was in a state of shock. I didn't know what to ask for.

Lambert: If you don't ask, you don't get.

Eckard: The package I received was the same as an accountant or lawyer would have received, based on age, time with the company, and job grade.

Tidmore: The Employment Services Task Force could collect any information members have and see if an IABC book or other service is possible.

Larkin: There are about 50 books out there now. We could recommend some or adapt one for communicators. That would help people learn the basics, tell them what they need to know.

Tidmore: What I hear most is about the loss of self-esteem. What can our organization do? A suspension of dues for unemployed members? A telephone support network?

Eckard: I was called in Tuesday, ironically, the day after I had talked to a chapter about surviving the recession. That same afternoon I went to a Dallas chapter meeting to network. Later, when I went to an outplacement class, they asked, "How many people know you're laid off?" I said 60 or 70. I can't say enough about the love and support from the IABC family.

Gray: I don't believe in suspending dues. IABC should be your best resource, the most valuable $200 you've ever spent. There's a dollar value to it. If we incorporate a program that addresses people's employment needs, you'll get more people using IABC. IABC falls short when it comes to supporting members in business for themselves: psychologically, financially, in marketing and niching. We've barely scratched the surface for them, and it's an increasing percentage of our members. We need regular programming for business owners.

Tidmore: I did a session on that for the 1990 conference in Vancouver. We expected 40 people and got 120.

McGrath: Lots of people say they're in business for themselves and they're just getting by. We can't mislead people into thinking that self-employment is the answer. It takes entrepreneurial ability like Lee's [Hornick] to succeed. And don't forget, some people lost their jobs not from downsizing but because of job performance. We shouldn't encourage everyone to keep at the profession. We should encourage some life assessment. There's a trend to people switching careers in mid-life, too. The people who'll be successful in this business are the ones who'll really be excellent at it.

Kraft: Even though it's a terrible time for communicators, I'm not interested in ditching 10 years of work to run a pet store, like a friend of mine is threatening to do. My first priority was to find another job in the same line. I always have my eye open for new opportunities, but my priorities now are stability and staying with the same company long enough to be vested.

Larkin: We can develop a package that leads you through the outplacement process. Ask, is communication right for you?

Kraft: Give the package to chapters. Four of the I I board members of the Atlanta chapter have been laid off since December. We're forming an informal job network group. We're also in the final stages of arranging for an office that members can use when they need to make copies, have messages taken, and so on.

Eckard: We did it in Dallas. We meet once a month, with speakers on career management, personal finances, and such. It's doing quite well, with eight to 10 members, some from WICI and PRSA.

Handling Emotions Is Part of the Process

Tidmore: I have a question about senior communicators. For junior and mid-level people, life goes on. But for those in their fifties, I imagine there are lots of different problems. Their lifestyle's more expensive. It can be quite a shock.

Eckard: I went through this in 1984, too. It's deja vu. I feel that I'm a valuable commodity. I'm a communicator, and looking for a job is getting in the way of being a communicator. It's a pain in the sit-down, but I have to do it. I try to keep up about it, but I'm making mental notes about how debilitating the search can be. You have to watch out for the mind games. My mind tells me,

Yeah, but you're not on the payroll."

Swank: You go through the whole gamut of emotions. It's a real roller coaster.

Hornick: You have to manage your career. The US Department of Labor says that in the course of a lifetime, you'll have I 0 different jobs.

Larkin: Oh, good. I'm done.

Kraft: That's logic, but there's a lot of emotion.

Kelley: There's fear.

Lambert: And let's face it, we're not all entrepreneurs. What do you call an out-of-work communicator? a consultant ! Swank: You can take a fork in the road, but sometimes there's a bridge out.

Kanhai: There's a loss of security.

Eckard: It's like a death. There's a grieving process: anger, grief.

Larkin: IABC can deal with a lot of dimensions: career management, making yourself known, skills in finding a job. But there's also the personal part, the relationships. I didn't call anyone in IABC, I didn't return calls, didn't manage the emotional side. Then someone from the intemational office called-Norm Leaper-and I thought, "Why didn't I call these guys before?" It felt good. But it had to be forced on me.

Gray: There's such a wealth of knowledge available through this network, all these people to access for comfort, to hear "I'm OK." Networking is the most powerful thing about an association. Unemployment is tough because it's all about self-esteem.

Quane.- Those who have been through it and come out stronger are a tremendous resource.

Hornick: There's a lot of pressure: mortgages, tuition. Lending companies can be very understanding. I wonder how many people contact lenders to ease the pressure?

Vaughan: I was inundated with support from IABC. What helped me most, though, was when my good friend Sharon [Larkin] wound up in the same boat. I had someone to commiserate with and strategize with. A buddy system is great.

Gray: Typically when you're employed you might get up to 10 calls in a day from recruiters. Maybe we can build an incentive for people who know about available jobs and don't want the jobs to call local chapter presidents.

Kraft: The Jobline should list jobs geographically.

Tidmore: Our Jobline is not a highly rated member service. We don't know what we'll do with it.

Larkin: We need to teach members how to market themselves, how to find jobs. A Jobline isn't necessarily attacking the right problem.

Kanhai: Put Jobline to rest. Help chapters develop referral services.

Kelley: My local IABC people were supporters, and now they're clients who know my work.

McGrath: IABC can look to the future for members-five to 10 years down the road-and get them geared up for it. Get them ready for the employment trends, the impact of technology, the threats and opportunities. That can be our greatest service. In 1988, Kathryn Kane, Ph.D., ABC, APR, quit her job to take the summer off and explore new career directions. Six months later, she joined L.C. Williams & Associates, where she is vice president for client services.
COPYRIGHT 1991 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Kane, Kathryn
Publication:Communication World
Article Type:panel discussion
Date:Aug 1, 1991
Previous Article:Working without words: the need for work-place literacy.
Next Article:Hanging loose in a bureaucracy.

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