Friday, June 25, 2010

Day Minus-75 & Some Day Zeros of Double-barrel Unemployment

As a veteran of four involuntary separations from employers, and the witness to a slew of others, I know that there truly is no good way to do them. It's like breaking off a romantic relationship. Unless both parties are really ready to go their separate ways, somebody is going to get hurt.

I have a degree in business administration and deep-down, I know that a company's need to reduce headcount is simply a business decision. It's not personal, and they'll go out of their way to make sure they tell you so. It has nothing to do with your performance, they say. We appreciate all you've done for us, they say. But we're only human; if you're in a department of six people, all doing the same job, and you're one of only three who get laid off, you can't help but wonder how the selections were made. They can tell you not to take it personally from now until the end of time, but there's just no way - especially in a smaller company - not to, at least a little bit. The bottom line, regardless of the company, the job or the manner in which the termination is executed, is that you are no longer needed there. No longer necessary to the company. No longer - let's face it - WANTED. So yeah - it's unpleasant.

While it's true that there is no good way to tell an employee that his/her services are no longer required, there are definitely better and worse ways to do it. I've seen both. Day Minus-75 at the Vortex of Doom was kind of fun, for me - mainly thanks to my months of advance notice. The acquiring company had been growing exclusively by way of purchasing firms and laying half of their employees off on the first day, so they had had a lot of practice. Individual managers met with the "affected" employees one-on-one and did the actual notifications. (By the way - "affected" is kind of insulting. EVERYONE at the company is "affected;" the laid-off people are LAID-OFF. I hate that.) After that was done, we had an all-hands meeting/conference call with the leaders of the new regime, telling the survivors (and those who would be kept around for the transition period) how wonderful the future would be.

That part is pretty typical, and they executed it very smoothly. The ugly part was the next day, when our new CEO rode into the office on his white stallion and immediately started insulting each and every one of us and our worthless failure of company. It didn't help that he had the demeanor and manner of speaking of a cheesy televangelist. The bit about his 9-year old son "crying himself to sleep" the night before, because "Daddy was going to Maryland to fire nice people" was just galling. For my part, I was relieved. It had been a long time coming. When called in to the CFO's office (Boss Lady was conveniently traveling), I practically skipped down the hallway.

My other forced separations were not handled well. Okay - the one actual firing was, technically. I had been hired to be a customer service manager at this little tech company. Three months later, the owner fired the director who had hired me, and the plan for me went out the window. I floated around for a couple of months before landing in the sales office, reporting to the VP of Sales. My "customer service" job became mostly sales, something I had neither an interest in nor the aptitude for - with a quota and everything. I limped along for several months, selling what I could and making it look as good as possible. At the end of my eleventh month (the first one in which I had exceeded my quota), I was awkwardly called back to the office from a late Friday appointment, sat down and fired. Technically, my boss didn't say a single thing wrong, but he had a smugness about him - almost a smirk - that made it so remarkably easy for me to understand the allure of going postal. It really was for the best, though. I'm no salesman.

The layoff from the tiny gene testing company was not fun. My "department" consisted of just me and my boss - my friend since 7th grade. He was acting very strangely, unable to converse with me that morning. Our receptionist announced an all-hands meeting would be starting immediately in the main conference room. Normally, such meeting announcements came via email several days ahead of time. Odd. On my way to the conference room, I am practically tackled by our HR Manager/Executive Assistant (a great EA, but completely unqualified in HR). "Didn't you get my email?" I had not. "You need to come to the pre-meeting over in the small conference room." I am embarrassed to say that I did not understand what that meant until a few minutes later, when I saw who was in the "pre-meeting."

HR Lady, the company's lawyer, myself, and three employees from other departments, all looking extremely anxious. Our company and a larger competitor had been engaged in a lengthy legal battle over some genetics-related patents. The good news is we've settled all the outstanding suits. The bad news is, we're giving up the bulk of our business to these guys for a big cash payment. Bye, Joe. Bye, sales guys. Bye, a handful of biologists. You're welcome to go hear the remainder of the all-hands meeting, already in progress. Take your time cleaning out your desks and saying goodbye and whatnot.

It felt personal, thanks to the small number of "impacted" employees. (That's another way of saying "affected," and it makes me cringe every time I hear it.) But I got over it quickly, and was working again - at a better, more exciting job - within two months.

The next layoff was the worst, so I think it deserves its own post. Maybe tomorrow...

Thanks for reading. It gets better, really it does! :)

No comments:

Post a Comment