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Monday, August 4, 2008

The Downside of Permanent Employment

I used to think that having a permanent salaried position is the best thing you can get in the world. You concentrate on your job, and your employer takes care of you. You are not worried about downsizing, staff trimming and the employer isn't worried about losing you as a worker. Life is peaceful, what could be better than that?
But somehow my friend's experience shattered this illusion. I won't want to elaborate on what happened to him. But it is suffice to say that his experience woke me up to the fact that a secure position is not as glamorous as it seems. He needed a platform to voice his frustration. In all generosity I delicate this post to his ideas.
Here are what he said about the myths that are usually associated with a permanent job:
  1. Job security. No, you are not. You can still be laid off if the employer finds that keeping you around isn't generating profits. 
  2. Although you won't earn as much as the business man on average, you won't become poor as well. Not strictly true. Although it is virtually impossible for a person with a secure job to go bankrupt, but it is increasing hard for him to maintain his livestyle under high inflation pressure, unless, of course, he hops around for greener grass. But wait, if you can hop around then you don't really need a secure job, right? On the other hand, business do get burst from times to times, but does that affect the businessman in terms of his living? Not really. In Malaysia there are a lot of "broke" businessmen who are still driving big cars and living in lavish houses. Just who are the ones that are affected most by economic downturn? Not those big bosses, but ordinary folks like you and me.
  3. If you are sick, then your medical bills are fully covered by insurance. Depends. I don't know about the situation in other countries. But in Malaysia the company insurance does not cover for major operation or life-threatening disease such as cancer. So if you get sick in a big way you better have your own insurance to cover your ass. The company insurance is meager compared to the medical bills you need to spend.
He's working as a freelancer now. According to him, freelancing is just much better than a salaried job:
  1. The pay is higher! Obviously, since the job is uncertain, the pay is higher. Higher risk and higher returns! Employers are willing to pay 2 times or 3 times the salary to a contract staff or a freelancer because as far as the employers are concerned, the risk associated with taking a freelancer is considerably less than a permanent staff. In some country, firing off a permanent staff is a protract legal issue, whereas dismissing a freelancer don't have all the messy consequences.
  2. More chances to learn new things! If you freelance, or if you take contract gigs, chances are that you will learn more new things for every round of new venture. If you take a secured job and stay in the same company forever, chances are that you will be exposed to one or a limited amount of technologies. New knowledge translates into marketability directly.
  3. Flexible time! OK, this applies for freelancers, but not for contractors. As long as you can deliver on time no one cares how do you spend your time. You can adjust your working hours according to your taste by sleep late, wake up late.  You can even attend a movie at the middle of the day without apply for leave. There is no company in the world that can give you this perk.
  4. What about the the perceived risk in freelance/ contract jobs? You know, it is possible for a freelancer to sit at home with no business flowing in. But isn't that's what higher pay is for? The rate you charge for freelance is higher than what you can get if you work as a normal cooperate developer. These extra pays are the premium you get for bad times. But if you are really good, and your business keep flowing in, then you simply keep all the premium to yourself!
  5. Freelance/ Contract jobs are not for everyone! Doing freelance/ contract jobs means that you are always exposed to the danger of being out of job. Your future is never secure. But this insecurity actually drives you to improve yourself to stay on the cutting edge of the technologies. On the other hand if you sit in a corporate chair for too long your skills may become rusted or grow obsolete. Sure, the corporate chair is much more comfortable and secure than a temporary gig, so not everyone can become a freelancer or contractor by choice. Now, does the ability to do something other people can't makes you feel better?
  6. Freedom to choose job! You can choose the jobs you want if you are a freelancer. But in a corporate environment you don't have that flexibility.
Guys! I am merely allowing my friend to voice his frustration here. I've never freelanced before, so I don't know how true my friend is. My friend could be suffering from the-grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side symptom. If you disagree with him, do indicate why on the comments section or in your blog!

I'll be glad to hear a second opinion.


Fabio Cevasco said...

I've been working full time for an international company for over two years, and I virtually have no complaints concerning my job security, my workplace, my collegues, health benefits etc. etc.

Unfortunately, I also work in Italy, which means that I'm earning about 1/2 of what my German/English collegues get :-/

Soon Hui said...

Hi fabio, thanks for your comment.

It's nice to hear that you have no complaints about your current company. I also don't have any complaints about my current job. But my experience is just, well, my experience. There are people who're not so fortunate as us so that might explain why they ended up with a less desirable company.

Given this, I think it's always good to hear about the other side opinion. My friend's experience was really an eye opener for me :)

Anonymous said...

"You can even attend a movie at the middle of the day without apply for leave. There is no company in the world that can give you this perk."

I wouldn't say that. There are plenty of companies that have flexible arrangements for permanent staff. A member of my team regularly goes to the gym for a couple of hours at 3pm - going to a movie would take about the same amount of time. As long as you do your 40 hours per week, nobody really cares (provided you don't miss any meetings or anything else where you promised to be present).