Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Layoffs, Aging and Independence

More than 30 percent of the men and women laid off by Intel were 50 years or older. The semiconductor giant also offered buyouts and early retirement plans, again skewed heavily toward older workers.

Aging workerParing older workers makes sense for Intel as it transitions from just hardware to a software company. Older workers cling to the past. Younger workers are all about the future. It is a reverse Moore’s Law, where the denser the transistors, the fewer older workers.

But severing years of experience from an organization also takes its toll. And sometimes it steals some of the organization’s soul.

The layoffs and buyouts brought back bitter memories for me of my father who got his pink slip shortly before his 20th anniversary working for Martin-Marietta. He started with the company in Omaha where it made warplanes and before he enlisted to fight Hitler in World War II.

My dad hooked on again with the company in Colorado where it made Titan missiles that carried American astronauts into space. His job involved quality control.

If my father would have reached his 20th anniversary with Martin-Marietta, he would have vested in his retirement. When he didn’t, it was if he never worked for the company.

My father’s experience stuck a sharp pin in my consciousness about finding a way to gain financial independence as I inched into middle and older age. That pinprick served as motivation for proposing to leave a dream job at Tektronix to launch a risky spinout.

My boss and my friends advised against it. I spent many sleepless nights second-guessing my decision, especially when payroll rolled around and I had to make sure we had money in the bank to meet it.

But I didn’t waver because my father was a living example of the alternative. Live large for as long as you can in a big corporation, then see yourself tossed out and left to fend for a livelihood in hostile territory.

abc_ageism_090310_wmainThe Oregonian story about Intel’s layoffs include anecdotes about older workers who were laid off and forced to forage for work. The jobs they landed usually paid far less than their old corporate jobs.

That’s what happened to my dad. He endured long spells of unemployment, taking jobs that involved turning around flat-linked companies so they could be sold. When the new buyers took over, my father was unnecessary cog in the machinery. He spent his last productive years hopping from one “fixer” job to the next, rewarded for his success in making companies profitable by being kicked out the door by new owners.

It isn’t a pretty picture of corporate America. In the main, I haven’t let it color my perspective of corporations. They are necessary. They are organisms designed to find efficiencies and make profits. We depend on corporations, whether we like them or not. But we don’t have to like or even condone how they behave toward their workers, especially older workers.

My father found his independence by filling his “down” time through designing and overseeing construction of a new church sanctuary, school and college campus. He always wanted to be an architect, and unemployment ironically granted him his wish.

Dad died more than 30 years at the age of 60. He was tired of job-hopping and ungrateful bosses, For him, there were no more sanctuaries, schools or college classrooms to design and build.

The company I co-founded 26 years ago has given me the independence and sense of self-worth my father yearned for, but never quite realized. I regard his accomplishments as legendary and exemplary. He would regarded mine as smart.

I also know he would have been proud of my decision to forego the easy life of corporate America and put my destiny in my own hands. If I failed, I knew who to blame. If I succeeded, it was because of my own enterprise.

Watching older workers scramble to manufacture new lives after their corporate dismissals reinforces my judgment that I made the right call to leave when I could walk out the door instead of being booted out the window. I volunteered my pink slip.

hlg_older_workersDisposing of workers because they are older strikes me as senseless and self-destructive. Companies may save money, but they lose something they never can recover.

Some disposable older workers do just fine in their work after-life. Too many don’t. Just because corporations don’t want them doesn’t mean they have lost their usefulness. Nonprofits can benefit from their experience and savvy. Civic organizations can land board members with much to contribute. Small startups can tap bundles of energy and knowledge in people who have been bottled up in corporate America for too long.

Getting laid off isn’t the end of the world. There is still plenty of the world to see and conquer. But getting laid off when you’re older makes the world seem a lot smaller.


2 comments on “Layoffs, Aging and Independence

  1. Dana Tierney
    June 6, 2016

    Well said, Gary. I’ve seen both sides of the coin but like you have been an entrepreneur at heart.

  2. Monica Pittman
    June 8, 2016

    Excellent post! I can relate too well :\

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