I’ve Got a Lot To Ask for This Year, Santa!

Dear Santa, Has it been a year already? What a difference a year makes! This time last year I was ducking phone calls from my clients and hiring managers because there was not enough time in the day to handle all the work. Assignments were like paperclips, there was always one laying around somewhere whether you were looking for it or not. Candidates acted like job offers were actually “offerings to a god.” Everybody knew it couldn’t last forever, but everybody acted like it would. It was a period of “damn the profits, full speed ahead!” Then it stopped. 2001 was not all that good. As a matter fact, it was terrible. Remember how I wanted a box of resumes two years ago? Well, you can forget about it this year. I could wallpaper my office with unsolicited resumes. I went to a career fair a few months ago to interview HR/staffing folks and candidates, for sort of a “Then and Now” piece I was doing. The organizer, an old friend, showed me a stack of resumes at the registration desk 18 inches high. He said, “Last year I would have kept these under lock and key to make sure some recruiter didn’t take off with them. Now they’re just something else to pack.” Last year I asked for good software tools to assist in automating and controlling the staffing search and the interviewing and hiring process. Well, you can forget that as well. HR/staffing departments and budgets have been slashed, reduced, or dismantled. Teams built up over the “boom years” with a investment of time and money were dismantled in the flash of an eye, or a memo. This year we’re reduced to fighting over budget line items like copier paper, white out, and postage. New software, training, or process upgrades in many places have been set aside “for now.” I am sure you read the papers and get CNN up at the North Pole (or maybe you don’t, which might explain how you stay so jolly.) This year, the economy, speaking professionally, went into the hopper. It began its slide in late 2000, but in the spring of 2001 the downward spiral accelerated right up to the present. Unemployment is up, the stock market is down, and people are too nervous to spend money they fear might not be replaced by another paycheck. You know what they say, “When Ma and Pa don’t buy a new refrigerator, computer companies ultimately have to lay off firmware engineers.” Then there was September 11th. We have a whole slew of names for that place and day:

  • Ground Zero
  • 911
  • The Attack on America
  • WTC Disaster
  • Second Pearl Harbor
  • Assault on Freedom
  • Loss of Innocence
  • The Day That Changed Everything
  • and more…

I think the more terrible and difficult thing to comprehend something is, the more names we give it, the more we hope that one of them might somehow make it all less terrifying. This was not a good year, Santa, and we need a good holiday to make us hurt less. I feel bad bothering you as the holiday approaches. Really, by now you must feel like an HR/staffing professional facing simultaneous EEO/AA, ADA, FMA and OSHA compliance audits at the same time as you are being deposed for an employee’s wrongful termination lawsuit by a lawyer you knew in college whom you called “lard butt.” As I sat here thinking about what I wanted for Christmas, I couldn’t help but feel a little selfish. I woke up today in good health, safely surrounded by the ones I love. I cannot help but believe that, compared to so many, I have already received a significant gift this year: the intelligence to realize that the above is the only gift that truly matters, and the realization that it is not an entitlement to be assumed or taken for granted. Like it did for so many others, this year hurt economically, but that is something I can deal with, budget or fix. So in the true spirit of the holiday, I want to think of others and what I might wish for them:

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  • For the survivors of that terrible day: Please give them the ability to someday forget what they experienced and what they witnessed, and the horror that surrounded them. Give them the ability to see life again as the wonderful thing it really is and can be for so many of us. A tall order, I know.
  • For the families and friends who lost someone that day: Please give them the ability to remember fondly those persons and what they meant in life. To seek comfort in at least having known them, no matter how short the time. To keep the memories alive in their hearts as a joyful event and not a sorrowful thing so it can uplift, not destroy. To know that we share their loss and will not forget, today, tomorrow, and for all time to come the lesson we learned that day, that we must never take our time together for granted. All the things lost that day can be replaced, but not the people.
  • For the fire, police and EMTs: Give them the knowledge that we do appreciate them, and that all those years of taking them for granted are over. They walked in our midst and we failed to see them as the true heroes they are, until the walls came down. There is honor in all honest work, but in some work there is greater honor. Now that we have been reminded, do not let us forget.
  • For those members of the armed forces working today to make us safe: Give them the knowledge and the skills to fulfill their mission, and please let them return home as soon as possible to their loved ones. Let us not forget the debt we owe them for protecting our freedom and our safety. Give comfort to their families at this difficult time, and to those who face loss, give the knowledge that we are grateful and humbled as a people to be served by such as these.
  • For those of us on the home front, working to repair our way of life both spiritually and economically: Give us the commitment and the energy to do the job right. Make us productive and innovative. Give us the enthusiasm and optimism to realize that life can never be more than we are willing to sacrifice to make it become. We have started to smile and say hello to each other again. We are a little less “in your face,” and show a little more consideration for each other. Do not let us lose that.

You know Santa, as I read all these wishes, I realize I am committing one of the mortal sins of HR/staffing: I am giving you responsibilities that do not match your job description. Your job is giving children happiness and instilling in them a belief that true joy comes from giving to others. You do your job very well. I don’t have the right to ask for more. Getting a gift by simply wishing for it is a right granted only to children. Everything I asked for is really a job for the grownups to accomplish. Maybe that is one of the problems we always seem to have; we keep asking for what we want as if it is merely a present we were owed. We feel entitled to things we are not willing to work for or sacrifice to archive. The realization that you have to be willing to commit to a goal as the first step in achieving it sometimes gets lost. We are the ultimate “download society.” We forgot that knowledge is not merely a function of space on your hard drive. Success first requires a commitment to making something better, be it a process, a report, a company, a culture, or a life. The era of “quick fix” thinking in life and work got us in the mess we are in today. If we learned that lesson this year, maybe we all have already been given our present. But at such a terrible cost. I hope we do not forget it. Ernest Hemingway quoted John Donne in the preface of one of his novels, “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” He already knew the importance of all this in the 1930s. What happens to one of us, happens to all of us. So we must stand together, or fall one at a time. Well, sorry to bother you at this busy time. I hope all goes well for you on your hectic night. Someday you will have to reveal your project planning process, four billion deliveries in one night! FedEx would pay a fortune for your project manager’s planning manual. Although, you still forget to include the batteries. I like writing to you, even though it appears that I may have outgrown you. There is in all of us a little bit of the child that just does not want grow up and stop believing in Santa Claus. I guess it is we who are diminished when we stop believing in you, and not the other way around. I hope you don’t mind if I keep in touch. Who knows, if we all roll up our sleeves and get to work instead of worrying and whining, next year I could well be begging for resumes again. Besides, I am an HR professional; networking is my way of life. Yours truly,

Little Kenney Gaffey Have a great day recruiting and a great holiday season!

Ken Gaffey (kengaffey@comcast.net) is currently an employee of CPS Personal Services (www.cps.ca.gov) and has been involved in the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration project since its inception. Prior to this National Security project Ken was an independent human resources and staffing consultant with an extensive career of diversified human resources and staffing experience in the high-tech, financial services, manufacturing, and pharmaceutical industries. His past clients include Hewlett Packard, First Data Corporation, Fidelity Investments, Fleet Bank, Rational Software, Ericsson, Astra Pharmaceutical, G&D Engineering, and other national and international industry leaders. In addition to contributing articles and book reviews to publications like ERE, Monster.com, AIRS, HR Today, and the International Recruiters Newsletter, Ken is a speaker at national and international conferences, training seminars, and other staffing industry events. Ken is a Boston native and has lived in the greater Boston area most of his life. Ken attended the University of South Carolina and was an officer in the United States Marine Corps.

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