To get the series underway, I am delighted to introduce Lynda Fraser. For many years Lynda was THE recruiter in Wellington for HR roles. There was no one better and, in addition, she was a great team leader and identified and nurtured some great young recruitment talent. A couple of years ago she did something quite radical. She upped and relocated to New York. So what happened when she got there? With a nod to the Pogues finest moment, here are her reflections on recruitment life in the US of A.
Fairytale in New York
New York. Big city. Bright lights. Crossroads of the world. Frank Sinatra sang that if you can make it here you can make it anywhere. People still say that. And I can totally see why.
There is no doubt it is an amazing city. But it is also a city of paradoxes and extremes. Let’s look at the income extremes for example: Manhattan has the dubious distinction of having the biggest income gap of any big county in the country. The mean income of the lowest fifth was $9,635. Compare this to the mean income for the top 5% – $799,969. More than 80 fold difference. For the city of New York (all five boroughs) this figure is 49 fold. With a poverty rate of 21.2% in 2012, 1.7 million New Yorkers fall below the official federal poverty threshold.
The paradoxes and extremes are also reflected in the HR practice that I see. And certainly there has been more that has surprised me than I expected. And I didn’t think I had any expectations when I came here.
There are companies that have sophisticated systems and really great HR practice. American Express is just one that stands out from the crowd. But when I first came here and started working with some companies I expected to be “leading the way”, I was shocked that the reality was more like being time warped back to the 80’s. I am still trying to figure out why this is the case and I suspect there are a multitude of factors: a complex taxation system; a bewildering health system and the associated Benefits plans that accompany such a system; a highly competitive landscape meaning that the bottom line now is always the imperative – forsaking the concept of investing in infrastructure that will cost money in the short term – despite the efficiencies gained and savings longer term; a deep recession that has stripped many, many companies of whole tiers of management and other staff – with institutional knowledge and valuable experience “eliminated”. I hope I never get used to that term. But it is part of the lexicon. Not “my position was disestablished”. Simply “I was eliminated”.
In NZ we are accustomed to many protections as an employee and I do reflect sometimes on that phenomenon of when something is ‘given’ and expected, perhaps we lose a sense of its value. One of the other extremes that you see in the workplace here is that level of ‘protection’. In industries like construction, education, hospitality (hotels) where there are strong and very political unions, the “protection” is extreme and in some cases to the point of being plain ridiculous.
However for those working in corporate America, employment is “at will”. There is no protection. Employment at will means that you can be fired, ‘let go’ at any time. It is not uncommon for people to turn up to work as usual and be told today will be your last day. Just like that. One unfortunate by-product of this – in my opinion anyway – is that many people work in a state of fear. Fear to speak up, fear to speak out, fear to be noticed too much lest they be fired. And fear is unproductive at best, toxic at worst. Perhaps this is also why people here work so hard and such long hours. Doing whatever they need to do, to make a living for themselves and their families.
Just a couple of observations and I hope this doesn’t come across as negative. They are observations and should not be taken as criticism per se. I will be eternally grateful to have had the opportunity to come here and have the experience I have had. And I have been incredibly fortunate to have pretty much experienced the fairytale. I love this city and all it’s craziness and wonder. I haven’t (as yet anyway) had to endure any of the brutal aspects of living and working here. Sure there are frustrations and challenges; but that’s life and you get those wherever in the world you are. The only difference is the nature and degree of those challenges.
So for me? I continue to seize this opportunity I have been given, I have some personal goals to accomplish and I’ll keep that refrain playing away in my head….
If I can make it there
You know, I’m gonna make it just about anywhere
Come on, come through
New York, New York, New York!
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