On ESPN, Layoffs, and Life’s Lessons…

Yesterday, ESPN laid off a bunch of people you’ve heard of. For those people who lost their job, yesterday is likely the worst day in their professional lives. Nothing is worse than being let go of a job with likely great pay and benefits and the chance to work with some of the best people in your industry. The unfortunate truth is that the same could happen to any of us anytime at our place of employment. I’ve spent time on both sides of buyouts and layoffs – involuntary separation in corporate speak – and I can tell you it isn’t fun for anyone. I’ve had people threaten me, my family and promise they’ll harm themselves or other people.

This will sound harsh, but the reality is, the day of your termination is the best day of your life.

Being let go gives you another chance at life – personally and professionally – and allows you to put everything into perspective. It reminds you that friends and family are more important than the paycheck you receive and how long you likely been living high on the hog.

A few things about losing your job, or something to think about if you haven’t lost your job: the company you work for is loyal only to its bottom line and if there’s a significant chance something will hurt that, your bosses will do whatever within reason to rectify that.

Bill O’Reilly – ever heard of him? He made hundreds of millions of dollars for FOX News; so much FOX was willing to pay out his victims of sexual assault, keep him around and extend his contract before firing him. Why’d they fire him? Because he threatened the bottom line.

ESPN laid off about 100 people that you’ve heard of yesterday, not because it wanted to, but because those people were affecting ESPN’s bottom line. Bob Igor, CEO of ESPN’s parent company Disney, basically told ESPN to shore up the books or, we’ll replace the people at the top. So, when faced with the prospect of losing one’s executive job or letting go of a bunch of probably over-paid people, what’s the obvious choice: protect yourself and let go of a bunch of people.

Remember, loyalty to the bottom line is all that counts.

Pure speculation here: ESPN probably needed to cut about 300 of its most expensive positions to help make up for the millions of cable subscribers its lost. As a mid-level manager at a company with a couple hundred thousand employees I can tell you easily how this works: attrition where people leave on their own, get fired, die, or retire. In the past year, you can probably name all the high-level ESPN on-air people who left the company through attrition. If you’re a company of any size, attrition is your best friend.

ESPN also (probably) needs to downsize another 100 current contracts this quarter to take the fiscal hit one quarter. It doesn’t matter that some of these contracts are for many years and some are likely guaranteed or have some type of buyout clause. Because when you terminate 100 people you’re not only getting rid of salary, you’re getting rid of benefits. Think insurance, retirement, etc. That shit is expensive also.

[Merenbloom: ESPN’s Sagging Ratings are Reflective of the Network’s Hard-line Liberal Views]

ESPN probably still needs to dump another 100 or so people and will do so through restructuring of contracts and will replace some of the highest 100 earners with kids who will do that same work for a fraction of the cost.

The next question everyone has: why not Stephen A. Smith or Dick Vitale? Because they contribute far more to the bottom line than Jayson Stark and Brett McMurphy. I wouldn’t even want to be in the same arena with the Smith or Vitale, but I’d have steak dinner with Stark and McMurphy and I hate steak.

Again, none of this is said to make anyone feel good, but think about it this way: all of this could happen to you tomorrow. Any one of us could be fired, laid off, whatever from our jobs and there’s likely nothing we can do about it.

So, what’s your backup plan? Do you have enough money saved to cover expenses for six to 12 months? Do you have an alternate source of income?

If you don’t, instead of worrying about highly-paid journalists who lost their job, think about what you would do if you lost your job. That’s the real lesson of this week’s layoffs.

The only person who’s loyal to you…is you.

E-mail Damien at damien.bowman@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @damienbowman.com.