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This Week in the Mayonnaise Clinic: The Two Job Markets
Plus: a Christmas dining tip exchange, gift cards, and the worst song ever.
I am back from vacation! I’ll have thoughts later this week on some of the big news stories that have developed while I’ve been gone, including the arrest of Sam Bankman-Fried, which is also the subject of a fun episode of Serious Trouble that’s coming out today. If you’re not subscribed to Serious Trouble, I suggest you sign up — you’ll like this one.
But let’s start this week on Very Serious with the Mayonnaise Clinic. You have questions, and today, I have answers.
First, Garrett writes in:
I, like many others now have just been laid off... It sucks but it happened. What I'd love to know is what advice you have for people in my position. Not just the typical LinkedIn platitudes of *~JuSt PaRt Of LiFe'S mAgIcAl JoUrNeYs~* but real advice. Should I sign my severance agreement? Where should I not be gracious? Where should I be jerk? And what should I actually do in this time to find something while every industry seems to be willing themselves into a recession?
Garrett, I’m really sorry to hear about your job. But I do want to push back on one element of your letter in a way that I think will make both you and readers feel better about the outlook for the future.
I disagree that “every” industry seems to be willing its way into recession. While layoffs at media organizations and big tech firms are big news, the only sizable sector of the economy that was experiencing elevated layoffs as of October (the most recent data available) was “information” — that is, the sector that includes media organizations and tech firms. Thirteen other large sectors tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics — from construction to finance to government — all showed lower layoff rates than in February 2020, often much lower.
The job market as a whole remains tight. Rates of layoffs and involuntary discharges remain lower than they were at any time in the economic expansion that ran from 2009 to 2020; voluntary quits, meanwhile, remain elevated — a sign of workers’ confidence in their ability to find a new job. The Survey of Consumer Expectations from the New York Fed confirms that confidence: Workers are significantly less likely to report that they expect to lose their job than they were before the pandemic.
So if your industry is currently a tough place to find work — if your employer’s layoffs aren’t just a one-off — my main advice is to consider whether your skills and interests are transferrable to a different industry, because most industries now actually have a pretty good hiring environment.
As for your questions about the best way to leave, I think it’s almost always a good idea to be gracious — you never know whether you might again someday work with the people you worked with until this layoff, and there’s rarely anything to be gained by making them like you less. You may also want them to recommend you to other employers. As for your severance agreement, I can’t really advise on that without more detail, but in general what I’d consider is whether the things the company gets out of the agreement are actually costing you anything — and if so, whether that cost is worth it for the payout you’ll get in exchange.
Chin up, and good luck.
Peter asks about dining out around the holidays:
I am looking at doing a little staycation in New York with my boyfriend for Christmas, and as part of that we want to invite my mother and stepfather to Christmas dinner at a restaurant in Manhattan. What would be your advice for choosing a restaurant for a major holiday? Should I look for somewhere with a special holiday menu, or is that something to be avoided?
Eater has a list of recommended restaurants open on Christmas Day, and the list reflects what I think are the two best ways to handle the issue. One option is to do what New York’s Jews have done for decades: go out for Chinese food. There are a lot of good Chinese restaurants open for business as usual and serving their regular menus.
The other is to go somewhere fancy (often, in a hotel) that’s open for the holiday and serving a special menu at an elevated price. If you do this, don’t think of it as getting ripped off; think of it as paying to have a festive holiday experience in Manhattan.
By the way — I’m going to be in San Francisco on Christmas Day and am trying to figure out where to have Christmas dinner there, so if any of you have suggestions, please send them to email@example.com.
A reader wants a ruling from me on a marital dispute:
I hate getting gift cards. They're just one more obligation I have to keep track of — use it or lose it! But my wife disagrees. She prefers getting gift cards (and giving them when necessary, though not as a first resort). What're your thoughts?
I am not a fan of gift cards. They’re the worst of both worlds: they lack the thoughtfulness of specific gifts, and they don’t have the flexibility of cash. Generally, my preference is to go in one of those two directions — if it’s an occasion where it’s polite to give cash, like a wedding, give that; if you’re trying to express your thoughtful feelings about the recipient, give something specific.
As I wrote a few weeks ago, non-perishable food is a category I think people underrate here — it’s ideal for “the person who has everything,” because food gets consumed and they’re eventually going to need more of it. Alcohol is also a good gift for people whose drinking preferences are known to you. Flowers are great as a thank-you gift, but try to make sure you’re sending them in a way that is convenient for the recipient — in general, you should be sending flowers after an event, not bringing them to an event. I try not to give housewares or clothing — there’s too much risk that the person already has, or won’t have use for, or won’t like, the thing that you give.
TJ wrote in:
Sara, please ask Josh to defend his assertion that "Wonderful Christmastime" is the worst Christmas song ever. Seriously, "Do they know it's Christmas" exists... Or, ya know, answer better questions when you get them :)
To be clear, I did not say “Wonderful Christmastime” — Paul McCartney’s novelty holiday song from 1979, still inexplicably played on the radio — is the worst Christmas song. I said it’s the worst song.
And I regret saying it, because after I brought it up, its annoying synth line got stuck in my head all day. I think the reason this song is so annoying is all the pauses — it’s less a song than it is a jarring collection of sounds.
Upon reflection, though, “Wonderful Christmastime” is only the second-worst popular song ever. The worst song is “Happy Birthday” — an insipid song with boring lyrics made worse by the fact that ordinary people who normally don’t sing are called upon to sing it, off-key and out of time, right at what is supposed to be a moment of celebration. Why we inflict this song upon ourselves is beyond me — I like cake, I like candles, I don’t like the song, and I think we should find a way to phase it out.
That’s all for today. I’ll be back in your inboxes tomorrow.
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