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article imageOp-Ed: Outsourcing your own job? Good idea and bad idea

By Paul Wallis     Jan 17, 2013 in Business
Sydney - A new folk hero has emerged in the improbable world of IT. “Bob” was sacked from his job as a network security person for outsourcing his work to a Chinese company. He did the same thing with other jobs, too, simultaneously.
Admirers are queuing up to pay homage, but the issues aren’t that simple.
Sydney Morning Herald describes “Bob’s” adventures and the issues:
Bob had even taken simultaneous jobs at other companies and outsourced that work in similar fashion. In total he was earning several hundreds of thousands of dollars in return for a fee of $US50k to his Chinese company. Bob is surely, then, the model worker of an age that tells everyone they must be prepared to have "portfolio careers" and exhorts us to admire executives who manage to cut their "cost base" by arbitraging global labour costs. The fact that Bob was sacked just shows that, in reality, the political rhetoric is not meant to be taken seriously, but is a euphemistic sticking plaster for the rapacity of corporate attitudes to "human resources".
Er… Wrong, in a very important way or several. Where you source your work is a big issue. Outsourcing network security to China wouldn’t go down well in many places in the US. There can be serious problems with trusting an outsource with your bread and butter income, too. Quality of work, security of information and expensive little hobbies like plagiarism can be lethal.
The portfolio career is actually based on your work, not somebody else’s. Media is one of the main drags for portfolio careers. Imagine outsourcing high value media content and expecting to get away with it when the outsource figures out it’s worth millions. The outsource goes from asset to major liability, and you get thrown out the window while the real talent gets let in.
You’ll also get a healthy reputation as an idiot who couldn’t keep a good thing under wraps.
Back in the chicken coop of business theory, another issue clucks away-
Labour costs are an absolute myth. I’m so tired of saying this- The real cost of labour is relative to the value of the work done. If you’re paying $X to get $X in return, you’re a duly certified moron. If you’re paying $X to get $20X in return, you’ve got it right. If you’re bitching about your labour costs, it simply means you’re absolutely clueless about first principles of job design.
That said- Outsourcing tasks, not career assets and your personal credibility/genitals/reason for living, is a meaningful option. It’s more cost effective, for sure. The “I don’t see why I should have to stress out spending time doing this crap” motif usually means you think it’s a waste of your time, and it probably is. Outsourcing low value tasks without risks attached is "delegation by other means".
“Bob” has made a point, one way or another. How much discretion should employees have to get things done? What’s appropriate and what’s not? What’s suicidal, and what’s suicide-preventing? Does the modern workplace understand that employees, like employers, are there to make money, not indulge in archaic rituals? The employee is there to get the work done. If the employee comes up with a better way of doing it, how good are the objections?
Would-be outsourcers and outsources please note: This isn’t simple. The world has not suddenly become a safe place to do business as a result of outsourcing. Outsourcers- You can get an outsource who can destroy you, as well as make you money. Nothing like someone in a position of trust to scam you out of your tree. You could be buying stolen work, for example, with identifying codes and intellectual property all over it.
Outsources- Remember the “academic essays” scams, based in Europe. They got a commercial product and simply didn’t pay the writers. The usual practice is to pay you a fraction of what your work is actually worth. Look for better options.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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