Disposable people

One of the laments about modern living is “we live in a disposable society”. Disposable fast food containers that take centuries to break down. Electronic gadgets that cost more to repair than replace. Diapers and baby wipes delivered en masse to the landfill. But there is something even more insidious in modern culture: disposable people.

There are many good and sound business reasons to hire a temporary worker or contractor for short-term help. The problem is that many corporations have bought into the concept of “permatemping”, keeping those positions as temporary permanently. For publicly traded corporation, the biggest advantage of permatemps is hiding headcount in financial reports. Full time employee (FTE) and part-time employee (PTE) counts are listed in quarterly (Form 10-Q) and annual (Form 10-K) financial reports. Layoffs are reported on Form 8-K when they are part of a press release. Contractors, temporary workers and permatemps are considered operating expenses assigned to cost centers. Most companies do not allow permatemps to attend staff meetings. Other companies allow permatemps to attend for part of the meeting but dismiss them for the remainder. Permatemps do not get severance or paid time off and are often tasked with the work no one else wants to do. As such, a permatemp is oftentimes thought of as a commodity or an object rather than as a person. When a CEO makes a multi-billion dollar set of blunders and receives tens of millions of dollars to “go away”, we hear about the thousands of FTE and PTE layoffs. We do not hear about the disposal of a greater number of permatemps, contractors or temporary workers.

Businesses are not the only entities guilty of creating disposable people. Some people are serial daters who are merely looking for their latest sexual conquest, or think it is humorous to ditch a person on a date, since there are so many fish in the sea. We have all seen movies where a clique of cool kids allows a nerd into the group solely because they have a need for that person; once the need is satisfied, dumping the nerd happens. Other people make a game out of harrying a waitperson or clerk for sport in order to feel superior. Each of the acts dehumanizes the victim by making the victim feel like she or he is disposable and unwanted.

I am not against temporary workers or contractors. I have many friends working as contractors, some on long-term contracts, and they greatly enjoy working for themselves. But in a way, employment is like a relationship with a significant other: if the parties are in it for the long haul, they should make a commitment. They must pledge to treat each other with dignity and respect, and look out for each other’s’ best interests. Much of the blame for shoddy products is that workers lose pride in their work. They are making quotas and not recognized for their work. A pervasive atmosphere of everyone for one’s self stymies innovation because ideas are no longer shared.

Be kind to one another. If we could embrace that simple piece of advice, our society would be better off. If you have a special friend who is there for you through thick and thin and asks nothing in return, do something special for her or him. I am lucky to have friends who let me know how much I am appreciated and wanted, and I let them know how much they brighten my life. If you are lucky enough to be in a committed relationship, do not take it for granted. Never miss an opportunity for a hug or to tell that person how much he or she means to you. Every person has a story to tell and every person deserves to be treated humanely, even if they are temporarily in your life. No one should ever feel like a disposable person.

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One Response to Disposable people

  1. Anonymous

    I have actually heard that phrase “you are replaceable” at work within the last week. I have worked so many weekends and not appreciated with 55 hours on my timecard this week. I am looking forward to my new assignment in April.
    Ken, you are appreciated and love having you in my life! Love you!

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