The Politics of Being the Boss

A disturbing dinner sheds some light on one man's mindset.

I hadn't intended to write about this, but it's been on my mind a lot this week.

I was having dinner at a counter the other day, when a businessman noticed me eating next to him, and struck up a conversation.

"How's business,"  I good naturedly inquired, not sure who this guy was, or what he did.

"Not so hot, I may have to lay off some people," he replied.

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that," I replied, and wished that I hadn't asked.

"Oh, it's not so bad," he explained, "It's how I get rid of some of the older workers and trim the budget."

I started to wince inside, as I thought of families and people put out of work.  "Oh, that's got to hurt", I said, thinking of the families.

"Not really.  I'd rather can an older worker and save more money in the long run," says this guy.  Now I begin to realize that he's had one or two along with his dinner.

"Why do you think that's better," I query, "Don't you lose a lot of experience that way?"

"Oh yeah, but those young kids... they're so eager to have a job in their field and keep it that they're willing to do just about anything to keep it, you know what I mean.... ANYTHING," he emphasizes.    Now I'm really getting uncomfortable with the conversation, as I begin to imagine what he might mean.

"Yeah, the enthusiasm of the young.... they'll work harder for less... put up with more... and think that they're going to be able to climb higher on some other job later in life," he explains. "They haven't figured it out yet."

"But aren't you losing a lot of on-the-job knowledge that keeps your business going smoothly when you lay off your long-term employees?  What about loyalty?  People who have sacrificed to stay with you through the hard times?"

"Yeah, ain't that something," he says as he takes another swig of his brew.  "But the bottom line is: I'm the boss...  I know my business inside and out... and that's why I'm still here," he boasts.

"But what about the people that are left," I ask, "Don't they see what's going on?"

"Yeah, that's the beauty of it.  They work harder than ever, hoping to hold onto their job," he says as he pushes back his chair and stands up.  "That's why I keep the younger ones on, to keep the older ones in line."

He walks away to pay for his meal, and I'm left sitting staring at my plate.  I'm not hungry any more.

"Don't mind him," says the waitress as she comes to clear his place. "He's had a few, like most nights." 

"Boy, I'm glad I'm not in his business," I confess.

  "He's been in business for years," she says, "but it's only because his employees have been keeping him afloat.  One day he'll let the wrong one go,  and that will be it.   In fact, I hear from some of his people that he's been running it into the ground."

"I wonder whose fault he'll say it was," I muse.

"Oh, just tough times, you know," she says as she walks away.  "You know, times are tough all over."

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