The Corporate Curtain Comes Down

The Corporate Curtain Comes Down

The corporate scandals of the early 21st Century began to weaken employers’ ability to dissemble with their workers. Strategic blunders of monumental proportions in the auto industry, inept and even corrupt leadership in the insurance and healthcare industries, and breathtaking arrogance and misjudgments in the financial services and investment banking industries have pulled down the curtain behind which America’s corporate leaders have long operated.

Today, the country’s workers no longer assume that these executives know what they are doing or that they can be trusted. They no longer believe there is anything positive for them in the negative experience of traditional corporate staffing practices. These organizational behaviors are most accurately described as “staffing bulimia.” And all of a sudden, the rank and file in corporate America sees binging on workers when times are good and purging them when times are bad for what it actually is: a bargain with the devil.

This staffing bulimia may have provided employment for awhile, but it produced no enduring certainty or security. It may have predictably produced reemployment after relatively short recessions in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, but since then and today, workforce reductions happen more frequently and last much longer. The new norm is a “jobless recovery” that blends the periods of unemployment into a seemingly endless experience of individual pain and family disruption.

This perpetuation of economic misery affects white collar professionals as well as blue collar trades people. It afflicts Millennials and Gen Xers as well as Baby Boomers. It hurts managers and executives as well as staff members, associates and even trainees. And, that much more universal sensibility has changed the perception of corporate America’s staffing practices.

Today, a large and growing segment of the workforce sees the gorging and purging of workers as a perverse form of human resource management. In their view, it may be legal, but it is also unconscionably harmful to those whose lives it affects. They believe it transforms the land of opportunity into a wilderness of rapacious organizations.

This tectonic shift in perception means that staffing bulimia is now as risky for employers as it is for their employees. It sullies their product and service brands in the marketplace and their corporate reputations in the media. It doesn’t make them look cagy or smart, benevolent or “employee friendly.” And, it obliterates their claim to good corporate citizenship and social responsibility (no matter how sweet the words of their CEO).

Only among the isolated analysts of Wall Street is such behavior still celebrated, and while that may provide corporations with access to financial capital, it leaves them begging for human capital. Indeed, binging on and then purging workers now establishes those employers that practice it as the “worst places to work.” And in today’s interconnected world, that kind of rap quickly becomes viral and throttles their access to the top talent they need to succeed.

Thanks for reading,

Note: The above post was drawn in part from my new book, The Career Activist Republic. To read more, get the book at, in many bookstores and on