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A Cold Wind Blows

Dear Dave
I worked for the federal government for 30 years as a civil engineer/project manager until a recent headquarters reorganization eliminated all civil engineering positions in an agency that uses most of its funding for construction-related grants. (Does this make any sense to you?) In order to keep employed within the agency for the sake of maximizing the retirement benefits that I invested thirty years of my life to earn, I agreed to accept an alternate position as a so-called management analyst.

My engineering supervisors of many years took buyouts and retired, and I ended up working for a newly-hired, glorified financial analyst. Within a short period of time after her arrival she decided everything was "my way or the highway", which included job performance evaluation criteria that included checking all e-mail received, every hour of every day. Frankly, while doing that may be important to some jobs in today's world, I failed to see this as anything more than an unnecessary and continuous distraction that delayed the completion of priority project efforts imposed upon employees to enable management to harass career employees into accepting retirement offers.

Please let me know if I'm wrong and if you believe that imposing such requirements as evaluation criteria for professional employees is other than I've considered it to be. Have you ever heard of other professionals whose job performance was based in part on such "critical" evaluation criteria?

PS: I decided to politely retire without saying out loud "to take this job and ........."
(Name and state withheld)

Dear Engineer
Being of your generation your e-mail weighed heavily on me. Sadly, it is not a question of right or wrong, it’s a simple testament to the times we live in…..the constantly changing world of “what’s happening now”. A world where what was and what used to be is of diminishing import to what matters next. Ask countless displaced manufacturing workers how they feel. Ask the thousands of middle-aged managers cut loose from life-long careers in corporate America what they think. Do I like it? No more than you.

While you and I, my friend, may be too far along to change much, the most honest advice I can give to people earlier in their careers (which I’ve given to my own kids ad nauseam) is to depend exclusively on yourself. It is foolish to trust your future to anything or anyone other than “Me Inc.” You and you alone are responsible for your destiny. Want to stay safe and secure? Then invest heavily of your own personal time, money and energy in a process of continuous re-invention to remain relevant (and therefore high demand) in this rapidly changing world. The re-invention I urge transcends the classic boundaries of professional development, to include social skills, the arts, technology, your physical health, philosophy and politics. In other words, stay edgy – stay young. To do otherwise makes one too vulnerable, and more likely to be shunt aside when the next new wave hits shore.

As old-timers you and I may howl at the moon all we like, but if the current regime determines returning e-mails hourly is the be all and end all for determining value, either you return e-mails on the hour as well or better than anyone else, or take advantage of your investment in “Me Inc” and move on to the next opportunity. If you’ve done the work and have the proper skill sets, there will always be another next opportunity. Fortunately, the basic economic laws of supply and demand are alive and well.

Probably the last thing you wish to do after thirty years in the same position is begin anew, but with the current shortage of civil engineering talent, I would imagine you would have very little difficulty in finding a full or part-time position in the private sector should you someday decide retirement is not to your liking. Best wishes and good luck.

Wahby and Associates