Pink-slip party

Unemployment
is no longer a stigma thanks to the new breed of high-tech job seekers –
casualties of the dot-com collapse. Professor Lisbeth Claus reports

These
days the Silicon Valley headlines focus on lay-offs, downsizing, dot-com
implosion and economic downturn. Having successfully crossed into the
much-anticipated new millennium, the high-tech industry was not prepared at
all, just a few months later, for the NASDAQ stock crisis, the rapid downturn
of the new economy sector and recent implosion of many dot-com companies.

This
engendered a chain reaction in many companies that were closely connected to
the meteoric rise and success of the dot-coms. As statistics indicate, since
the dawn of the year 2000, many new-economy knowledge staff have received the
proverbial pink slip due to the demise of their dot-com company or the extreme
cost-cutting measures resulting in lay-offs and high-tech downsizing. Others
workers have left for jobs at more secure, traditional companies.

This
downsizing phenomenon, although reminiscent of economic recessions of the past,
is different from a number of perspectives. It is different because of the type
of laid-off employee, the way in which the terminations are being handled and
the changed perception of potential employers towards the unemployed. In
Silicon Valley style, the dot-com pink slips offer a few lessons for HR
professionals.

For
the first time in employment history, the profile of most of those made
redundant is that of young knowledge worker who has participated in one of the
most exciting technological revolutions and entrepreneurial global work
environment experiments.

While
these workers can be divided into two camps – those with technical skills and
those with general business skills – both groups tend to be highly skilled,
electronically savvy and multiculturally diverse. They have worked on teams,
functioned in a very fast-paced environment and are project-driven. Although
their competency profiles should be an asset for traditional companies, the
autonomy they have enjoyed in their dot-com companies may not easily fit the
more corporate culture of the traditional economy. The lure of foregoing the
24/7 for a more balanced work life and the security of a larger company may counteract
their apathy towards a more structured traditional work environment.  

Dot-coms,
in their demise, are also changing the way in which terminations are being
handled. True to their dot-com creativity, with very little HR expertise, and
often with a three-month severance package (considered generous for fired
American employees with such short tenure) and no union representation,
companies and laid-off employees have resorted to a number of coping
mechanisms. The most notorious one is the now-famous pink-slip party. The Word
Spy (www.logophilia.com) defines pink-slip party as "a party where each
attendee is a person who has recently lost their job, particularly because of a
failed or downsized dot-com company".

Although
the term dates back to the late 1980s, the pink-slip party was introduced to
bring together people who have lost their dot-com jobs (wearing red dots) and
recruiters (wearing green dots) who are still hiring and looking to fill
high-tech positions. At these monthly parties, former staff not only gather to
meet recruiters but also to find mutual support and put their networking skills
to use in the search for suitable employment. Other, more virtual, networking
activities are evident in the many Web sites that have sprung up providing support,
advice and survival tips for the casualties of the new economy. Once past the
shock of termination, laid-off knowledge workers are using their networking
skills to find virtual or live support in making a career transition.

Finally,
this group is changing the perception towards the stigma of unemployment. Their
terminations were in general not labelled as being performance-related. After
all, they were volunteers in a new work experiment. They wear their new-economy
battle scars with the pride of war veterans. Their future employers, HR and
other managers, remember their own lay-off experiences a decade or more ago.

The
essence of HR is to balance the strategic human capital requirements of the
company and the needs of the employees. As the traditional economy is being
challenged to embrace new-economy technologies in order to increase
productivity, HR professionals can be the linchpins in the reintegration of
talented laid-off dot-commers into the new workplace.

Global
HR trivia poser

What
is the origin of the term "pink slip"?

The
term is used in English (companies) to refer to a laid-off employee. When I
have asked HR colleagues about the origin of this Anglo-Saxon term, responses
have varied from "I don’t know" to strange looks (how could I be so
ignorant!) and a multitude of unrelated explanations. Please send your response
to this HR trivia question as a Letter to the Editor (globalhr.magazine@rbi.co.uk).

Since
many of our readers are global HR professionals who are not native English
speakers, I challenge them to share a vernacular term in their language that
corresponds to the English "pink slip" and explain its origins. We
look forward to hearing from you.

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