Magazine article Management Today

Middle Managers an Endangered Species: Managers Are Being Laid off in Their Thousands; Computers Are the Cause and the Recession the Catalyst

Magazine article Management Today

Middle Managers an Endangered Species: Managers Are Being Laid off in Their Thousands; Computers Are the Cause and the Recession the Catalyst

Article excerpt

MIDDLE MANAGERS AN ENDANGERED SPECIES

On the guided tour of Drake Beam Morin's elegant St James's office apologies are whispered that the executive wing is looking a little stark. |The pictures haven't been rehung since the decorators left,' explains marketing executive Michele Cozzi. A few miles outside London in the offices of Focus, managing director Bridget Litchfield is in similar circumstances, |It's a good thing you didn't come last week,' she declares. |The whole place was being repainted.' Back in the centre of town, it's the same story at Sanders & Sidney: |We're doing up some group seminar rooms,' says director Derek Edwards as we glide past the notice board, where people sign up for a session entitled |How to dress for success'.

These offices all belong to outplacement agents - companies that specialise in helping people, who've been made redundant, to find another job. The outplacement world is thriving, as this recent spate of refurbishments suggests.

It's not surprising. One need only glance at the papers or TV to hear yet more stories of lay-offs and closures; unemployment has surged above 2 million again and shows little sign of levelling off. But the big difference this time round is that management is cutting back its own ranks too. While the last recession saw manual labour ruthlessly slashed, the headlines today tell of qualified professionals and experienced managers being shown the door.

No one can assess the true scale of departures. Government statistics on unemployment do not distinguish between white- and blue-collar jobs. And many executives never become statistics at all since generous pay-offs (not to mention pride) keep many away from the dole queues.

But the highly publicised management lay-offs - 5,000 at British Telecom, 4,500 at Philips, 1,000 at BP - are merely the tip of a growing iceberg. All over the country, managers are being quietly laid off, a couple here, or a dozen there from thousands of companies of all sizes and sectors. |It's an invisible process,' says Carole Pemberton, research consultant at Sundridge Park Management Centre. |There's a lot of leakage and natural wastage.'

The recession, moreover is just part of the reason. (Steve Rowlinson, managing director of Sanders & Sidney, reckons recession-related redundancies account for 20-25% of current business.) Underlying the recession, and in essence, quite independent of it, is a growing trend towards restructuring management and demanding the same sort of productivity improvement from paper pushers that is routinely demanded from the blue-collar workforce.

Cutting costs and improving efficiency are a constant preoccupation. In the run up to the single market, companies all over Europe are desperate to cut costs - and with them jobs - in order to remain competitive. In the UK, the high value of sterling in the ERM and against the dollar puts even more pressure on British companies.

A situation like this means that everything comes under scrutiny, including management. Paternalistic attitudes, with cushy bureaucracies offering cradle-to-grave employment, are becoming a thing of the past. |Companies will have to build a shelf-life concept for their employees rather than jobs for life,' says Bruce Reed of the Grubb Institute. In the 1990s employers can no longer afford to make the sort of traditional pact of |do-your-job-reasonably-well-and-we'll-promote-you-every-two-or-three-years'.

New technology has played a central role. The introduction of computers means a great many functions traditionally carried out by armies of accountants, stock controllers and data processors, can now be done by machine. So companies can afford to axe these jobs on a massive scale and still function perfectly well. Says Rowlinson at Sanders & Sidney, |New technology has changed many jobs both in terms of making people redundant, but also in terms of whole departments, like logistics, say, going out the window. …

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