Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Me Incorporated vs the statistics

I was unfortunate enough to be unemployed a few years back, though fortunate enough for this to be when the economy was still growing. Being unemployed was bloody awful, like I remember being that embarrassed I used to wait for my neighbours to leave before I went out to do the shopping or some DIY. But, dear Christ it does teach you some life lessons.

One was the transitory nature of work and all it entails. Going from complimentary booze and nibbles in an airport business lounge to queuing up in the broo within the space of a coupla months I learned all the associated status markers belong to someone else and as such should never have much value attached to them.

Another was just how bloody awful unemployment is and how it's so obvious the vast majority of those signing on really, REALLY don’t want to be there. I remember watching a guy come in just so he could thank everybody for helping him get a job. And while his obvious elation was catching, what struck me most was his new sense of freedom and self-worth.

Yet another thing was the realisation that there really is a something for nothing benefits culture. Every fortnight I sat there ducking some nutjob bouncing about on chairs txting the gaggle of neds and nedettes congregated outside in between coming up with bullshit excuses as to why he couldn't attend the recruitment fairs various employers where then organising at the broo head office i.e. back in the day companies were actively hunting people to employ and some people where saying "naw yer alright pal".

Then there was the broo i.e. public sector staff themselves; about 40% of those I directly encountered amounted to no more than different flavours of cock (the figure would probably have been higher except c. a fifth were always gassing by the printer the entire time I was ever in so I never encountered them).  The worst was one lassie who left me stuck in front of her for 20 minutes while she phoned her boyfriend to tell him about a job she’d just found for him. He obviously wasn’t that keen because she kept telling him to “stop it” before eventually putting the phone down. Finally, I thought, I could sign on and f’off. Or not because now it was my turn to “stop it” because, as she then informed me, she was off for a coffee break.

So yeah being unemployed was - and with all the skivers and strivers bollocks, still is - a humiliating and humbling experience tempered only by my being lower middle class. Now by this I don't mean my lip was any stiffer than the next man’s, rather I had an all important chunk of cash in the bank plus my (former) employer had paid for me to be outplaced.

Blessed with the "management" grade package no less, from memory this meant 2 one to one sessions with a consultant, some group sessions plus unlimited access to a room full of computers and printers. Apart from some half decent CV advice the rest was essentially bollocks, but it did mean I had the option of somewhere to be during the week plus psychologically important “meetings” to put in the diary. And I got to limit my contact with well the “unemployed” to help preserve my lower middle class sensibilities.

It’s the “bollocks” though that matters here. When I was unemployed this meant how to access the “hidden” jobs market that never appears in job adverts because it consists entirely of contacts and networking through which 80% of people, I was reliably informed, actually find jobs. This was what the consultants were being paid to alert me to and guide me through. Thankfully, in a time before linkedin and facebook, this didn’t entail any associated mince about social networking “strategies” (i.e. electronically pestering people you only vaguely know in a needy fashion).

More importantly I was also spared the latest thang of setting up my own company as a “vehicle” for my consultancy expertise. So yeah, I never got to be the director of my own, new business. Instead, I stayed unemployed until a slimey, but ultimately half decent recruitment consultant whored me out enough times for me to get a job. Lucky me.  

These days folks appear less lucky judging by the number of people I’ve worked with who’ve subsequently set themselves up as consultancy businesses after being made redundant. Oh, but in this new era we all have portfolio careers not organisational careers you might say and yeah, if you’re an IT consultant i.e. have obviously transferable skills, that may well be the case. For plenty of other folks though it just isn’t, rendering many of the Me Inc.s being set up for the most part little more than spare room based distractions. Like outplacement itself they provide a middle class means of managing the psychology of unemployment. And its in line with benefit rules where if you’ve much cash left after 6 months you don’t get any unemployment benefit so what the hey, sod signing on, lets set up a business.

Whereas this would provide the French with the basis for a film detailing the existential angst of petite bourgeoisie life, here the consequences appear more statistical than cultural in ways that have obvious political ramifications. Like one of the noticeable things about the economy right now are the lower than expected levels of unemployment with this touted as evidence that the current government’s increasingly psychotic fixation with austerity isn’t as destructive as it actually is. Except, a contributory factor here is the number of redundant middle managers and latterly junior staff setting themselves up as consultancies to pass the time until they get an actual job. And besides unemployment, these new firms also boost business formation rates, again seemingly legitimising the current lot’s economic policies.

Me Inc. also goes some way to explaining the productivity puzzle where if so few people are unemployed, why is economic growth so pants? Because so many new company directors are spending all day tinkering with company letter heads waiting for some blerk they met at a conference three years ago to replay to an unwanted email is (part of the reason) why.

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