Years ago, I worked with a young writer who told me a chilling story. She had been blithely working for a private company and became pregnant, only to learn that the company had stopped paying health insurance premiums because of its poor cash flow. Needless to say, this was a personal financial disaster for herself and her family.
Stories like these made me acutely aware that writers, who often consider their day jobs only as something they do to eat regular, are particularly vulnerable. I jotted down my personal list of warning signs, and also did a search online. I found an excellent article posted by the International Association of Administrative Professionals that I would advise everyone to read (even if they work for high-flying companies like Apple and Google). Although admins and writers may be plugged into the company gossip network, what a company actually does is far more revealing than gossip.
In this post, I will write about the three top warning signs that even writers and admins will notice.
Early Sign: The 401K Match
If your 401K match suddenly disappears, alarm bells should go off. When this happened at a company I once worked for, the rude new COO told us we needed to have a financial commitment to the company, so in the future we would receive stock options instead of a 401K match. Of course, the stock options turned out to be worthless within a year or so. When I mentioned stock options to the HR person when I was leaving, she just laughed.
I once worked at a private company where the management was always very silent and conspiratorial. The company was in good shape financially, but the CEO chose to pay his managers far more than normal and paid non-managers well below industry standards. The company was a small and pleasant place to work, and many writers chose to stay even when they found out that this was the situation since they only worked a 35-hour week and had flexible hours.
At another company, upper management made an effort to communicate with the rest of the company, and one spring, the COO made a tour of major company locations to talk about why the company had such a bright future. I was telecommuting full-time, and was urged to come into the office for one of these sessions. I declined because I had such a huge workload, but I asked some in-office technical writers how the session had gone. They were very enthusiastic, until they found out that the day after the COO finished his last session, he resigned and left the company. Actions speak louder than words.
Bills Not Paid
Alarm bells should ring loudly in your head if the company you are working for suddenly stops paying its bills on time. In marketing, we were happy to “steal” a very competent and pleasant contractor from our technical writers when their budget was cut. The contractor was a great asset to us for a few years – until the company stopped paying her promptly.
Companies can come back from a temporary shortfall, but if this is something new where you are working, you need to pay attention.