Getting a Critical Mass Reality Check

Different company. Different industry. Same problems.

The age of people staying with companies for decades is an idea I think my generation (and those succeeding) will have a hard time grasping. With the hi-tech sector the way it is, a person with two years at a company is a veteran — those with six months are sometimes senior. It’s rare when a company can really latch onto its employees.

Critical Mass and Radical Entertainment have both done a good job of inspiring its employees, and making them want to stay at the company. So needless to say, when the word "layoff" starts to circulate, it affects morale quite hard.

Today, that word started floating around Critical Mass. But not in the same way that floated around our competitors. Almost all of them have laid off huge numbers — one company laid off over five times Critical Mass’ entire staff.

Today, Ted called a very impromptu meeting to give everyone a reality check. He showed us what had happened to our competitors, and read a letter that had come from a former employee (who had gone off to start his own company only to have it shut down due to funding cuts) just to illustrate his point.

The interactive/online marketing industry (which Critical Mass sits in) is taking a beating — a hard one. Most of the companies in our field made fortunes and grew insanely with the dot.com boom. And when the bust finally came (really, did anyone think it wouldn’t??), they found their endless revenue started to dwindle. The bloodletting has been severe — among six of the top companies, there have been over 7,000 people laid off.

Today, Ted told us that Critical Mass won’t be shedding one single person due to revenue shortages. The purpose of his speech was to put an end to all the incessant grumbling about all the "bad things the company does". Just for the record, I’d like to review a few of them:

  1. Possibly the coolest work environment I’ve seen.
  2. An employee-only Bistro that could easily rival some of the better restaurants in town. (We work on a tab system, which gets deducted at the end of the month.)
  3. For $20 a month, we get fresh fruit and muffins for breakfast everyday, and all the juice, coffee, and tea we can drink. (This was a recent increase from $10, but only because we eating/drinking more. Still, you can’t beat $1/day...)
  4. A rather nice Christmas bonus.
  5. An all-expenses paid trip to the Okanagan for a weekend of whatever you want to do, so long as it’s not work-related.

Now, I ask you, does that sound fair? Of course not — I feel sorry for those who work in crap jobs. But we still have people who constantly complain — "Why do I have to pay $20 for breakfast??" "I don’t like the company taking money off my paycheque" "My desk is too small" "My bonus wasn’t big enough"

It’s annoying, to say the least. People here didn’t know that they had it that good. At least until Ted let them know that while we’re sitting in our Ivory Tower (okay, so it’s only four stories), other companies are haemorrhaging. The ol’ "I can leave here and get a better job" doesn’t work anymore. In fact, some of the people who had said that are back ... and in a list of 4,000 people also looking for a job here.

It was a reality check. One I think a lot of people here needed. I’ve had a number of people tell me that Ted’s speech didn’t apply to me, but even if it didn’t, I still had that hollow feeling prior to the meeting. The same feeling I had at Radical when they were recovering from Disney suddenly retracting funds. I remember those days well, feeling like there was a sniper scope trained on me for days. I honestly thought I would be on the short list — how many companies like Radical need a technical writer? Now I know better, but it didn’t change that feeling.

I’ve been here nearly 10 months in total. I’m a Senior Web Developer. I volunteer for task forces and company-wide functions. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not expendable. So yes, I felt like there was a contract out on me for a while.

After Ted’s speech, I felt a lot better. I knew what he was saying. Frankly, I was a little surprised that we weren’t laying anyone off. Heck, I respect Ted for doing that — we’ve got more people and less revenue than last year. He’s even willing to hire more if we really need the “new blood” (as he put it).

Next year will be a different story. New administration in the White House (which means turmoil for the American economy, which affects Critical Mass’ bottom line), and a supposed “economic downturn” are here. Probably within six months, I’ll know if I need to start considering a parachute. Unlike in the darker days at Radical, I doubt we’ll hear “Option D” buzzing around in my department. (Sorry, a bit of an in-joke for my friends back at Radical...)

Well, enough for now.

I’ve got work to do.

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