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The Vanishing American Window Seat Tribe

116In Japan there’s a corporate subculture called mado-giwa-zoku employees or window-tribe. They are middle managers stripped of all subordinates and responsibilities – a kind of “in-house retirement.” Instead of laying off managers, large Japanese companies shame them into retirement. This is a way for Japan’s corporations to gracefully eliminate well-paid managers through generous payouts, generally two years salary and accrued pension if they refuse to accept the retirement package. Those who remain essentially look out a window all day collecting their paycheck.

We have something similar in the US when a manager is suddenly and unceremoniously assigned to “Special Projects”, a euphemism for inevitable elimination and a period for him to “get his affairs in order” to look for another job. This is corporate purgatory, shipping you off and dropping you on an island – hopefully tropical – with provisions (buyout) for a month or two.

Like Japan, America’s window-tribe consist of middle-age workers who are deemed “too old” to even be considered for jobs elsewhere. They’re at the dead end in their careers, well-paid, but with no hope of advancement, no raises and fewer benefits. They’re not looking out the window, rather they’re hanging on the outside window ledge by their fingertips. Or sometimes, like those gangster movies, the corporate goons are holding the manager upside down from the top floor threatening to drop him unless he accepts a measly buyout.

This is all too late for Boomers but these are powerful lessons to be learned by Millennials for the present going forward when their jowls begin to drop and their thinning hair turns gray. Sadly Millennials probably will have more consistent continual career stress than Boomers because a long-term uncertain future requiring the constant need to upgrade and acquire new skills – a permanent hustlers’ life. Rapid change sounds quite exciting when one is in their 20s and perhaps 30s with no or little responsibilities and good health, but once middle age approaches, one yearns for a more predictable and secure working environment.

As society and business undergo tectonic shifts the ways things were will never return even when the next economic boom returns. The old ways of comfortably working for a corporation for 3-5 years before moving up or moving on for better opportunities are over. Forever. No matter how good you are – even if you’re a prodigy in your field – you’ll face the inevitable corporate rejection. Special Forces intense exercise, clean living and Botox can forestall middle-age for only so long as you inexorably creep towards expendability regardless of your skills, talents, contributions and achievements. There’s not enough Botox and hair coloring to hold back decrepitude and prevent age discrimination, something that is hard-wired in our society. My elders always warned me “don’t get old,” a piece of advice in which I’ve failed miserably.

With the increasing wave of Boomer retirements, this window-seat tribe will vanish to the point of extinction to make way for the new époque of corporate musical chairs that will have Millennials scrambling every day of their careers. It’s a new and scary world fraught with unpredictable rapid shifts that require a fundamental mindset change by the younger generation to cope.

Copyright Indo-Brazilian Associates LLC 2014. All rights reserved.

Indo-Brazilian Associates LLC is a NYC-based global advisory service and think tank with connections at the highest levels. We provide you the tools to successfully negotiate cross-culturally in your global business endeavors. Tell us about your challenges. We’ll get on the “Short List”.