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Public Lay Off

Adding to the post topic, here’s what happened this week with the round of lay offs from a publicly-owned corporation.

Back in July, the company announced, first internally and then in a public press release, that they would be laying off around 2,000 employees (out of around 12,000 globally). No date was given, no locations were given, really no information other than that it would happen was given. This announcement was all the talk of the offices for a couple of weeks, but then it seemed to fall to the back of everyones’ minds.

A month later, another internal announcement was made basically just saying the restructuring is still being worked on. The only new, and semi-solid, information given this time was something would happen in the “October time frame.” The way the announcement was worded, it wasn’t clear if the something would be the lay offs or just another announcement.

Then the Friday before the first week of October, an “all hands” meeting was announced for Monday at an off-site location. Having it at an off-site location (a hotel auditorium) was not unheard of, but it was rare. It really didn’t seem unnatural, as it would be difficult to find room to fit all 800 employees in one space in our offices. At least the meeting invite was descriptive and suggested that the executives would be explaining the new company structure.

Monday morning came and we all went to the hotel for the meeting. There was lots and lots of speculation about everything, but no one knew any real information about anything. We all filed into the auditorium and took our seats.

The meeting began and it turned out that the president of the company, from Japan, had come to our location for this meeting. All the other global locations were having this same meeting, at the same time, but the president came to ours. That could be a good sign, or that could be a bad sign.

The slide show presentation showed all kinds of hierarchies, groups, and departments, but I couldn’t make heads or tails out of all the abbreviations and acronyms in the information. I’d been at the company for nine months, but still all the letters thrown about during any meeting often left me bewildered. And the numbers given for the various lettered groups didn’t really tell me anything. The only piece of information that made any sense to me — and it was a startlingly sense — was the -400.  “Holy crap.” Half the people at our US location would be let go.

We were not told at this meeting anything about the other global locations, but I learned after that some locations were closed completely, and another location, where one of my counterparts worked was being hit with a 75% reduction. “Holy crap on a stick!”

At the end of the meeting we were told to just take the rest of the day off, and go home. The office was closed for the day. But as the meeting was at 9:30, and I had gotten to work that morning at 7:00, I had stuff left open on my computer and desk. I had work to do — I hadn’t been laid off, yet. So I went back to the office and the security let me in.

Actually, many people came back to the offices, but most only stayed a few minutes and then went away. I worked for a couple of hours and my local manager told me to just go on home. So I did.

The next day, Tuesday, nothing happened. I, and I guess everyone else, just did our jobs. The meeting was of course the main topic of cubicle talk, but we still didn’t know anything specific about our individual positions. Most of us could immediately think of reasons why the company couldn’t let us, personally, go.

For instance, in my case, only about 5% of my work came from my local office. 95% of my work was from the other global sites. Heck, my functional team and manager were in another country. I even asked my two managers — functional and local (host) — which site I was officially attached to. I mean, if my local site was closed completely, my workload wouldn’t be noticeably affected. So I held out hope (that I thought was based on logic) that I might not be laid off.

Wednesday morning came, and the first hour I was there seemed normal, although, of course there were some people still talking about the big meeting. Then while on my way to and from the break area to refill my water bottle, I noticed someone was setting up tables and chairs at the employee exit from the building. “OK, that has to mean something.”

There was obviously something about to happen, but how was it going to happen? How would we be treated? How would we find out?

One of my coworkers came to my desk to talk for a minute, but before he said much of anything, my phone rang. I didn’t recognize the name on the display, and neither did my coworker standing there. I answered the phone and was told it was time for my “discussion.” I nodded at my coworker beside me, and he knew what that meant. I hung up and picked up my backpack. My coworker said bye, and I went off to face the executioner.

I hate not knowing what’s going to happen. For instance, would we be allowed to return to our desk to send emails to our coworkers (local and global)? Would we get to say goodbye to our friends, personally? Or would we be kicked out the door immediately? It was only around 9:30 a.m., so it looked like I was one of the first to get the call.

I arrived at the caller’s office and was given the news and my packet of information. The company had hired a placement agency to work with all laid off employees to find a new job. And we could go back to our desks and departments to use our computer and phone and say goodbye to anyone. As far as lay offs go, the company was being respectful and helpful. I can’t complain about how it was handled when it actually started happening.

When I went downstairs to the next step in the process — to meet with the placement agency — I found out that I was not nearly the first one to be called that day. Everyone who was being laid off had been given a distinctive red and white envelope with our paperwork, so when you saw someone in the halls or at their desk, it was pretty obvious who had been let go. I saw these envelopes everywhere. People from all up and down the corporate hierarchy were carrying this paperwork.

I did my agency meeting and then went back up to my department. I spent an hour talking to my coworkers face to face or on Instant Messenger. The offices in other parts of the world were surprised by how it was happening in the U.S. — different cultures, different laws, different experiences.

Although the private lay off five years ago was not bad, this one was much better in how the company was treating us at the moment, and following, the lay off. There’re lots of people who are angry, bitter, stunned, and confused, but having been through a “go home now” lay off, with no official warning it was coming, I must say that this time was much easier, at least for me.

Having experience and connections now that I didn’t have then, the process of looking for another job is a bit easier. In fact, within 48 hours of being laid off, I’ve already been scheduled for an interview with another company.

This is the end of this series of lay off posts.


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