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Private Lay Off

Following my post from yesterday, today I’ll tell you how a lay off went when I was caught in it while at a privately-owned company.

2003. We all knew the company (of 200-300 people locally) wasn’t doing well financially. Things weren’t totally in the tank, but there was a definite slump in sales, and expenses were too high. Even knowing and feeling this, I don’t think anyone had mentioned the idea of lay offs. We were all just going along, doing our jobs to our best ability, as normal, thinking things will get fixed. There were eight of us in our department of editors and graphic designers.

It was Thursday morning, in March. I don’t remember who, but someone came into our office area and said that such-and-such had just been let go. “What!?” was our response. All work ceased in our department. We were all standing around together talking about what, why, and how things were going on. Our manager was the only one not in our room at that time. That should have been a warning sign.

After a while, less than an hour, one of our group got a phone call from the head of HR. She was to go up to the 5th floor, to the HR department. “Oh no.” Our group was also in the crosshairs of this thing. We shook hands, hugged, and said goodbye to her, and she left our office. We were all distressed.

But I had to go to the restroom. As I walked through our floor, there was no work being done. All the other departments were acting pretty much like ours: just standing around talking, fretting.

When I came back from the restroom, to our office area, one of my coworkers was gone. “Holy crap.” She had received the phone call to go to HR. And I had missed the goodbye. “Damn.”

We all continued to stand around, barely talking about anything, and then my desk phone rang. I looked at the display and saw the head of HR’s name. “*&%$.” I had been at that company almost five years. I shook hands, hugged, and said goodbye to everyone, then grabbed up my backpack and shuffled on up to HR.

In the HR conference room, I sat down with my manager and the HR head, and they told me the news. HR explained the severance package, and all the legal stuff. I turned in my pass keys and was then escorted by my manager to the elevator. We shook hands and I went down and left the building.

When I reached the parking lot, I turned around and looked back at the building. “I’ll never come back here again,” I accepted. I stood there for a minute, just taking in all the sights and sounds that I’d never see again on my daily routine. I had to sigh at the thought that I’d never see the inside of that building again, I’d never ride that damned slow elevator again, I’d never see those cubes, pictures, and break room again. And there were so many people, faces, personalities I’d probably never see again. I’d miss the people the most. They gave the building, elevator, cubes, and break room life. Then I went to my car.

When I reached my car, and started to get in, I realized I had left my information packet on the counter up in the HR department. I dropped my head, “You have got to be kidding me.”

I closed my car door, hefted my backpack back up onto my shoulder, and marched back to the building. (I didn’t need my pass key to get to HR. An interesting loophole, that.) I got on the elevator and rode it back up to the 5th floor. When I walked into the HR department, and the couple of women saw me, the guy they just kicked out, standing there with a backpack, I could sense the tension. I pointed to the counter, “I just forgot my envelope,” I said.

The tension eased as I took my packet and turned around and left again. Thinking back on it now, that was a damned funny moment. I’m sure the HR women had a moment of fear — “Why’d he come back?” — and I didn’t mean to give them that, but I hadn’t thought of what my return might look like before I walked in.

So I eventually made it back to the parking lot. I repeated the whole, “I’ll never come back here again,” sentimental routine. Three months later, the company called me and offered me another job — making more money, ironically — and I accepted, and went back. Never say, “never.”


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