The numbered people

November 25, 2023

These are challenging times; layoffs are regularly announced dramatically, as in the TVA group, sometimes soporific among the major IT players. Many smaller companies are doing so out of the spotlight. Four or five employees here, a dozen there.

In all cases, the event is felt as a bloodletting, a tear in the tenuous social fabric of a company. Mourning can be abrupt or silent, depending on your side. Some stay, and some leave. The consequences may or may not make the headlines for a while, but then, you move on.

It's a bit like war. Some tears and tragedies will take an eternity to heal on the battlefield. Still, on the evening news, after a few startling images, it's already just statistics on collateral losses.

"I was just a number," "I'm just a puppet," "Despite all these years, I'm being thrown in the garbage," and "Will I be the next victim?" one can hear moaning.

For those who stay and those who have to leave, the future is dwindling, and the road is uncertain on the workers' path.

Employers often take exception to accusations that they see their employees as objects to be discarded at a moment's notice. They are in business to win, not to lose employees. Laying off staff is never the first resort either. You do it to save the furniture. It is better to throw the passengers overboard than let the ship sink.

And that's how the great teams we've loved turn into payroll. The perspective changes. It's time to "rationalize," to put some sense into things, to cut through the fat of habits and processes that have become too cumbersome. We take the opportunity to get rid of people we think are lazy or unfaithful to the cause.

Employees become columns of numbers in a spreadsheet. Rows are subtracted, tabs are moved, and the abacus is reinvented. Then the axe falls, and we stick to the signed contract terms. Then, you must harden your heart and clothe yourself in legal formalities. There are standards to be respected, and whether or not you proceed humanely depends on the company's "culture."

Here, too, we can boil things down to statistics. The numbers, the cycles studied, tell us that one age group will find a job, and another will struggle. A small number will be silenced or hastily pushed into retirement. The wheel turns; the grain macerates.

For the lucky ones, this will be a beneficial turning point. Things had to change! It was time to plant one's garden elsewhere. For the others, it would be a more chaotic journey, with the bitter taste of having been exploited, then left on a quay that would only welcome longboats. Gone are the tall sails, the oceans and the promising islands.

I'm not a specialist in either Marx or Keynes - to name but a few - nor have I read. So, I can't elaborate on the fate of workers or what the ideal world should be. I know that there are cycles, horoscopes and destinies. Apparent chaos is order in disguise, as Providence will tell you.

Nevertheless... I'm getting on in years and feel increasingly fragile in economic turmoil. I've been neither a cicada nor an ant and don't have the correct numbers in the bank. In short, me and numbers...

I know I'm not a number when I look in the mirror. I may be an emptiness to those who don't know me, a probability to the doctors or insurers who consult my file. But I am a human being to those who respect and love me. That's worth a little something.

I hope it's worth it, that I'll never be cannon fodder, and that my little lap around the ring will be more than a sideshow act in the fading memory of those who take my place. But then again, who's to calculate?

Source : Bing DALL.E