It's a Shame that We Allow Wall St. Analysts to Dictate Employment and Work

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This week, a Bloomberg News article revealed that the 62,600 jobs slated to eliminated by U.S. companies is the biggest two-month figure in two years. These losses include significant cuts by Ford, Colgate-Palmolive, Dow Chemical, and others. Most telling is the article's revelation that "the reductions coincide with a majority of U.S. companies missing analysts' third-quarter revenue estimates." John Challenger, chief executive officer of a Chicago-based human resources consulting firm, is then quoted as saying that these misses are "a sure prescription for layoffs starting to heat up as companies take immediate action to show their shareholders how responsive they are." True. Very true. But such a shame.

It's important to remember that these announcements follow three years of record profits--profits that resulted from aggressive cost-cutting (that is, layoffs) and minimal hiring. In other words, workers and their families have already borne the burden of the recession, and now comes more bad news for them. So why more cuts? Because the companies are failing to meet Wall Street's sales expectations. Colgate-Palmolive's latest earning report included $654 million in quarterly profits, up from the same period last year, but a decline in sales. At Dow Chemical, profits exceeded analysts' expectations, but sales fell short.

So profits are up, but analysts want even more. Since Wall Street continues to see workers as costs, companies respond by shedding more jobs. Economists, in turn, continue to see work simply as a source of income so as long as these workers have alternative income sources such as savings, spousal income, and unemployment insurance, then no big deal.

Unfortunately, all of this significantly misses the true importance of work. Workers should be seen as an organization's source of competitive advantage, not costs on a balance sheet. Work should be seen as a deeply-rich human activity with numerous rewards beyond income. The real costs to workers, their families, and their communities that result from the existence of lousy work and from an absence of work need to be fully recognized. On a broader level, the true purposes of corporations should be questioned, and their responsibilities should include deeper concerns than simply meeting the short-term expectations of a never-satisfied Wall Street. In other words, work is simply too important to let it be dictated by the narrow, short-term focus of Wall St. analysts.

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About this Blog

Whither Work? is a blog about work created by John Budd. I am a professor of Work and Organizations in the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management, and the author of several books including The Thought of Work. Follow me on Twitter: @JohnWBudd.