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Mommas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Commodity Labor...

When it comes to a furlough, not all furloughs are created equal in this economy.  Here are the two kinds:

1.  The "feel good that the news isn't worse" type of employee furlough.  To get you warmed upFourlough on this one, here's a clip from a John Hollon riff over at the Business of Management:

“Furloughs are really coming under much greater consideration by employers,” says Julie Gebauer, managing director at human resources consulting firm Towers Perrin, in a recent USA Today story. “Historically, industries such as heavy manufacturing, retail and airlines have furloughed employees when demand for their products or services slowed,” the story adds, “ but a growing number of other sectors have put this option on the table when analyzing ways to slash expenses.”

For example, the nation’s largest newspaper company, Gannett (corporate parent of USA Today) did so well in saving $20 million in the first quarter of the year by requiring unpaid employee furloughs, that the company “mandated a second round of unpaid furloughs for most of its 41,500 worldwide employees, this one during the second quarter,” according to the independent Gannett blog.

That's right - the unpaid furlough is the one that's been forced on someone you know.

2. Then there's the "maybe you should do a budget vacation of Europe" furlough.  If you've had friends or family laid off in this economy, be prepared to vomit in your mouth a little bit.  From the New York Times:

"This year may be a disastrous one for the global economy, but it’s shaping up to be one of the best that Heather Eisenlord has enjoyed in a good long while. Granted, that might not be saying much: For the past five years, Ms. Eisenlord has been an associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, a notably grueling place for a lawyer to work.

But even by more stringent standards of fun, the coming year looks pretty good. Ms. Eisenlord, 36, who works in Skadden’s banking group, will be buying a plane ticket that will take her around the world for a year, and she’s been stocking her apartment in Brooklyn with Lonely Planet travel guides.

Although she’s not yet sure exactly what she’ll be doing on her trip, she has some ideas. She would like to teach English to monks in Sri Lanka and possibly help bring solar power to remote parts of the Himalayas. She’ll probably hit 10 to 15 destinations around the world, most likely practicing not-for-profit law wherever she can be helpful.

The best part of all: Skadden is paying her about $80,000 to do it.  For a sixth-year associate at a New York law firm, $80,000 isn’t exactly competitive pay. But for someone cruising around the world, doing good wherever she sees fit and, let’s face it, probably hitting a beach or two, the pay is excellent.

Only in a financial world turned upside down would an arrangement like this one make sense. Looking to cut costs like everyone else, but not prepared to lay off associates, Skadden has chosen instead to offer all of its associates — about 1,300 worldwide — the option of accepting a third of their base pay to not show up for work for a year. (So far, the partners have no equivalent arrangement.)

Good work if you can get it. 

Mommas, don't let your babies grow up to be commodity labor.  Make 'em be lawyers at firms that can afford to do a smart financial hedge in a down economy, resulting in your offspring taking a year to give back.  Of course, giving back is always sexier when it's done in the third world rather than in your own metro area.  Travel benefits and such...


Creative Chaos Consultant

Is that a note of sarcasm I detect in your voice, Kris?

Unfortunately, this illustrates to me what people consider important when it comes to their employees. Newspapers are so 20th century, so let them be happy that they still have jobs. But a lawyer, especially one that practices in a profitable field? "Too big to fail," so to speak.

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