Now that corporate America has weighed me in the balance and found me wanting, I've had the luxury of retrospection. One thing I've noticed: I'm a lot healthier and happier, even though I'm earning far less money as I ramp up my own little business. I don't have that sword hanging over my head every day, wondering whether this will be the day I - or my colleague - will get tossed into the volcano.
I keep in touch with a few folks, those who were, as it turns out, my true friends. They tell me that all employees are now on a "quarterly review". At first, that sounded positive, as a major complaint was that performance feedback was only provided once a year. But this isn't "that kind of review"; it's a review of whether the company should keep you for another quarter. You see, you're never home free. You're only worth your potential to generate revenue and ensure that your long-suffering boss gets their all-important bonus.
Fear permeated the place while I was still there, and word is, it's gotten worse. It's clear that, for some folks on the management team, keeping fear alive is part of their approach to keeping costs down. Nobody dares ask for a promotion or a raise in an environment where the message is "hey, you're lucky to have a job at all". Even the upcoming holidays are no guarantee that your manager won't choose the week before Christmas to lay you off and send you packing.
This shameful tactic only works in a "down" economy, when employees fear that they won't find another job, or that a new job won't provide the health care benefits that they and their family rely upon. While things may be dark and depressing, some reason, it's better to stick with the devil you know than to take chances in the scary world outside.
To get the maximum "mileage" from this fearmongering, it's important to set the employees against one another. This works very well indeed in a shrinking-backlog environment. If there's a scarcity of work, it's inevitable that more people will be laid off. To save yourself, you need only stab your office-neighbor in the back. This can be done by hoarding work (even if you're not suited to performing that work). I witnessed this behavior over and over, with the hoarders being "saved" from layoffs, even in cases where they weren't getting the work done, and customers were screaming mad.
Managers also play this game, rewarding their preferred employees with work, while letting those they don't care for twist in the wind. Currying favor is elevated to an art form. You can forget about any sort of teamwork. Nobody's willing to put in an extra hour to help anyone else meet their objectives.
Everybody's a team of one. Nobody else matters. When a company can engineer this level of fear into everyday proceedings, they've got the employees on the run. While that may do little for productivity or quality, it prepares folks for the inevitable. Nobody can claim "Wow. I didn't see this coming" when the Grim Reaper calls them up to that tucked-away conference room on the second floor.
Until things pick up and the "war for talent" begins again in earnest, those - as Jimmy Durante would famously note - are the conditions that prevail.