Anatomy of a Layoff: Day 1

I was laid off from my job of, oh, eight years today. As a kind of geek social experiment, I’ve decided to chronicle the experience.

Day 1
Actually, it all started yesterday (well, actually it started about 18 months ago, but I’ll limit the discussion to the immediate events). In the afternoon an email came from the GM (general manger, and I’m not going to include names of individuals or companies involved), marked urgent, about a staff meeting at 9:30 this morning to discuss ‘restructuring’. And in addition, that the GM would be meeting with “smaller groups” before that meeting. If ever an email screamed layoffs, this was one. I spent an uneasy night, knowing I was in a very vulnerable position.

So this morning, my IM (immediate manager) came around at 9 am and said “Can I talk to you for a few minutes.” DEAD MAN WALKING. I knew this was it. She opened the door to a small, windowless meeting room and the head of HR was sitting there, like the headsman, smiling the most artificial (though I’m sure, well intentioned) smile you’ve ever seen.

She had a folder with my name on it, but first the IM had to say a spiel which I’m positive she was coached to say. I thought she was going to start crying…I found myself feeling bad for her. She said what she had to say and fairly ran to the door, leaving me with HR.

I smiled at her. It was all so artificial and ludicrous. I was a dinosaur at this point. I knew it, she knew it. She started to go over terms of our termination agreement, what benefits I could expect, severance package and so on. I suddenly realized I wasn’t hearing a thing she was saying. My mind had just stopped processing information.

Next stop was a representative of the company that does something which is no longer called placement services. I guess because they don’t actually help you find new work, but they help you to develop the skills to find new work. This woman cheerfully told me she’d been laid off three times. Presumably that was supposed to make me feel better?

[I should note that I’ve been a member of the workforce since I was 14 or 15 — that’s a bit over 30 years — and I’ve been fired one other time, in my early 20’s; a termination that lasted two days before the person who fired me asked me to please come back. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but I think to have been laid off three times you’d have to be either very unlucky or not all that valuable an employee.]

From there on out, one more stop to visit another HR person, who I’ve known for some time, and who was, I believe, genuinely sympathetic. Bless her. She told me I could come back later to get my stuff, or that they could box it up, or whatever I wanted. Since most of the hardware in my cubicle I’d had to provide myself, I had a lot of stuff to move: servers, hubs, keyboards, mice, my laptop, books… I told her I’d rather get it over with. I started packing.

During this time the rest of the staff was in a meeting getting told about the termination of myself and one other person. The two people in our group who’d been there the longest, and presumably, who were making the most money. One solace for those of you getting paid below scale: it isn’t worth it to lay you off.

So I’m packing and I look up and the meeting is over, and suddenly I’m surrounded by people staring at me. I’d become a sad curiosity. I felt like the guest of honor at a funeral, only I wasn’t laying down. This was probably the hardest part of the whole process…saying goodbye to the people I’d been working with, some of them for many years, and most of whom I genuinely liked. I’d had some really good times with these people. And now it was time to say goodbye.

I was doing fine until, just at the door, I ran into a young lady from another department who is my ‘media buddy.’ She and I lend each other genre DVDs and stuff. For some reason, she triggered something inside of me and suddenly the emotions started welling up. I think it was just the feeling of empathy coming off her. Anyway, I had to get out.

So that was Day 1. I’m not sure what I’m going to do next. I think…nothing. For a few days, at least, I think I’m just going to veg out. Play World of Warcraft and pretend the real world doesn’t exist. I find the reality of my situation goes away, then suddenly rears up before me and I stagger, feeling totally disoriented. I have no wife, no kids, I’m not close with my family. My work was in some ways the central pillar of my life, and now its gone.

The oddest thing is, I’m not really angry at anyone. I was giving a decent severance package and frankly, I totally understand the business reasons for letting me go. But I’m disappointed in a few things. The GM, who I’ve never quite clicked with, but have shared enthusiasms with — for TV shows like Lost, for instance — the GM didn’t bother to say goodbye or wish me luck. If anything really stung, it was that. Was I so horrible an employee that it was too much to ask for a simple “Good bye and good luck”?

The other disappointment is that I predicted this would happen, and I was assured, over and over, that it wouldn’t. Please, if you’re in a position to manage people, don’t lie to them. Or, as was the case here I think, don’t make promises that you’re not able to keep. We’d just finished making a change to a new technology that rendered my skills obsolete. I had voiced a concern that now I’d be superfluous and I was assured that we’d all be provided the training that we needed to become proficient in the new technology. That training was delayed and delayed and as far as I know, is still being delayed.

It’s just business. It’s a lot cheaper to lay me off and hire someone younger and with more experience in the required technologies for less money.

So here I am, 3 days past my 46th birthday and unemployed. My strongest technical skills center around an all-but-dead ‘language’ (Tcl). My prospects are, to put it mildly, not encouraging. Perhaps I should start practicing now: “Do you want FRIES with that?” “Do YOU want fries with THAT?” “How about some FRIES to go with that?” Hmmm, I’ll work on that.

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