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Treat Your Young Employees Well, and Maybe They Will Stay With the Company

August 20, 1995

Philip Quigley's "Sunday Forum" ["If You Want Better Employees, Be a Firm They Want to Work For," Aug. 6] notes the cynicism of his students regarding re-engineering and the need for American companies to stop breeding passivity and fear in their employees through constant and sometimes massive layoffs. In doing so, he tends to perpetuate some misconceptions and to breed some cynicism himself.

First, re-engineering is not the same as downsizing. It involves a fundamental redesign of business processes--or an aspect of the business--in order to produce the best possible outcomes from the customer's point of view. This may or may not involve reductions in staff and can be undertaken with the commitment of no layoffs.

Second, it is plain wrong to imply that it is simply greedy executives that are driving this revolutionary change. It is international competition, automation and the increasingly demanding and pampered customer (which includes all of us) who wants everything better and faster and cheaper than yesterday.

Third, Mr. Quigley's employer, KPMG Peat Marwick, as one of the Big Six, has attempted along with the other "Five" to jump on the re-engineering and "change management" bandwagons in a very big way in the past few years.

"Change" projects that cut costs by putting tens of thousands of people out of their jobs can earn consulting firms fat fees of millions of dollars. If corporations are showing little concern for their human resources, this might be attributed as much to greedy consultants and cold-hearted CPA firms as to greedy executives.

Some 70% of re-engineering projects are judged to be failures, and downsizing often leaves companies anorexic rather than more competitive. But by the time anyone notices, the consultants who orchestrated these changes have disappeared, along with their lucrative fees.

The dark, ugly secret is that American industry is being taken for an unprecedented ride by the unscrupulous part of the consulting profession, and the grass that is being trampled is the average working person.

Instead of preaching to corporate executives, Mr. Quigley might more properly inform us as to measures he is taking to help ensure that Peat Marwick does not profit by contributing to the already high level of insecurity, overwork and unemployment of the American work force.

I suggest a good first step would be voluntary public disclosure by "downsizing" and "change management" consultants of their fees whenever a layoff takes place upon their recommendations and a refund of those fees when the promised results fail to occur.

ANTHONY J. MULKERN Ph.D

Director

Mulkern Associates

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Re: Philip E. Quigley's column:

The salient characteristic of Generation X employees is that we want quality of life more than we want to get ahead. We place value on family and outside activities.

We saw the toll that the overwork of the '80s had on our families. Many of our parents who sacrificed time with us for their companies are now being forced into early retirement or facing layoffs. And most of us in our early careers have already been laid off once or twice ourselves. (see my letter in Newsweek from the end of 1991).

Employers are already aware of the cynicism of young employees. I would say, however, that employers should be able to find some hope in the counterpart to cynicism in the Generation X mentality.

Generation X employees, although cynical, are also responsible people who crave permanence. We grew up in the latchkey environment and were often shuttled between the homes of our divorced parents. This forced us to be responsible for ourselves.

To us, the implied job contract with an employer means that we will do responsible work during regular working hours and be strongly interested in a career. But to us, having a career in one field doesn't mean you expect to be with one employer the entire length of your working years. If an employer treats us decently, we will be pleasantly surprised, and we will think of staying with that employer for a while.

"Treating us decently" includes allowing us to be responsible for ourselves by being assertive about the time we need after working hours.

JULIE HARRISON

West Los Angeles

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