Fight back, go on record or just go – What do you do after a lay-off? 4

You lose your job.  Actually, you didn’t lose your job, your job was taken.  Lay-off, economy, recession, poor performance evaluation, importance to the bottom line, whatever the reason. (Reasons can be spun, actions can be justified.)

Do you exit with a shrug of your shoulders, pack up your stuff, say goodbye to those co-workers who allow themselves to make eye contact?   (After 11 years a guy is terminated.  By the time he gets back to his office after meeting with his boss, his computer access has already been cut so he can’t say goodbye to his student-clients or get files, phone #s, etc..)

His termination allows one of his co-workers, my friend, to breathe, if only for a minute.  She thought she was going to get the ax but dodged the bullet although the boss has a meeting with her scheduled next week.  She knows her turn is probably coming.  This is underscored by the fact that the president of the national organization for which she works, announces, in an electronic meeting on the afternoon of the morning lay-offs, that there will be more downsizing coming and that they should all “redouble their work” with their clients.  His message is not likely to inspire “redoubling of work” from anyone but the most naïve.  The troops are weary and demoralized.

I used to think that escorting a worker off the premises was the cruelest thing that an employer could do (no matter if severance pay was offered).  Now, I’m rethinking that it may not be.

I’ve watched a couple of people be in the position of being dead-men walking.  Their positions have been  eliminated but they are working for the remainder of their contracts whose endings are months away.  This seems the cruelest way after-allYes, they get to say goodbye.  Yes, they get to tidy up their affairs.  And, yes, they get to sit in meetings like ghosts while:

* hearing about initiatives they are not part of,
* having to decide whether to pretend to participate in/care about discussions about “the future”,
* having to interact with colleagues whose jobs weren’t cut,
* having to roll over and over in their minds the thoughts: why me, why not this person sitting next to me or across the table?
* wondering how could my years of experience count for nothing? 

Being pushed into retirement or into this precarious job market is frightening.
Being fired is no joke even when the termination is justified, even when the economy is better.   Sometimes there are warning signs that lay-offs or your termination is coming. A few friends started downsizing their office belongings stealthily, over a period of weeks, so that when the word came they could exit in 20 minutes flat.  They also took the computer files they wanted. Sometimes the firing-shot comes out of the blue – leaving no time to prepare.

Few bosses terminate with any sensitively. It is hard to fire people, it is difficult to prepare for it.  (I know, I’ve done it five times during my career.  Three times justified by poor work performance, one time the budget left no choice, and another time not justified in retrospect.) 

At one organization I worked for over a stretch of years, the boss never fired anyone at all; she left it for others to do (her deputy… the HR person).  This allowed her to pretend her hands were clean and not have to face the impact of what she did. (A lot of her former employees are waiting to see when the chickens come home to roost for her, she’s messed over so  many people, it just doesn’t seem possible that life will let her go unscathed.)

Another time, I worked at a major hospital and watched as a team came in and eliminated people casually because of a merger.  I’ve seen people fire people arrogantly with cold indifference.  One former colleague witnessed a woman have a heart-attack as she delivered the news.

I’ve lived long enough to know that sooner or later everyone will have a turn at being eliminated.  Pick a reason:

* financial circumstances change,
* a new administration breezes in and changes people as though they were rearranging furniture,
* you get older and  can be replaced by someone less experienced more cheaply,
* you didn’t suck-up or tap-dance hard enough (see me, see my work, keep me on, please),
* you worked hard but not smart (i.e., you didn’t do the work that the powers that be valued),
* etcetera.

When you get the ax, should you suck it up quietly or make some noise? Going on record feels important to some of us.  You want the bosses to know this is who I was, this is what I did, this is what I was planning, this is how I see that different decisions could have been made with this RIF. Does writing such a letter bring you closure or humiliation?  (Sometimes writing down what you want to say clears it from your heart and mind enough that you don’t need to hand it in at all.) 

Do you have a responsibility to leave a record?  If you weren’t important enough to be kept, will anybody even read, let alone listen to, your thoughts and analysis?

Should you campaign to keep your job?  Can you go back and work effectively as if nothing had happened if you’re able to bully, I mean advocate your way back? 

People are dropping from employment like flies in my networks.  Those that haven’t loss their jobs or their businesses or seen their dreams implode are holding their collective breaths and trying to prepare for if/when their turn comes.  A few, lucky ones, have jumped ship and determined their future by finding a new job, starting a business or retiring early.

None of this is easy.  These are times that show us how strong and yet how weak, how resilient and yet how vulnerable we are.  When I walk into places where people work (in other words, just about any where), I scan my surroundings for the disgruntled and the dazed and the angry.  Such are the times.


About Candelaria Silva

Candelaria Silva-Collins is a marketing, community outreach and programming consultant; writer; and trainer/facilitator who lives in Boston, Massachusetts. She has designed and facilitated workshops on a wide variety of topics including communication, facilitation, job search skills, team building, and parenting issues. She currently coordinates the Community Membership Program of the Huntington Theatre Company. Her work as Director of ACT Roxbury was profiled in several publications, including The Creative Communities Builders Handbook. Candelaria’s children’s stories, short stories, essays and reviews have been published in local and national publications and she is an active blogger. Her publications include the booklets, Handling Rejection; Pushing through Shyness: Networking Tips when You’re Shy, Slow to Warm Up or Just don’t Feel you Belong; and Real Questions about Sex & Relationships for Teens: A Discussion Guide for Parents. She has served on the boards of Goddard College, Wheelock Family Theatre, Boston Foundation for Architecture, and Discover Roxbury. She is currently Chair, Designators of the Henderson Foundation.

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4 thoughts on “Fight back, go on record or just go – What do you do after a lay-off?

  • Jim

    I think that the important thing is to take your integrity with you.

    Ball players are usually great role models when it comes to being fired. Of course the sums of money involved change the financial impact, but not the emotional one. Usually they pick themselves up and get more money from another employer. Sometimes they recognize that their skills have deteriorated and they take whatever they can get. (still a lot by any standard) Occasionally they fire back after they’ve landed with a new team, but they usually don’t because they know that the wind will sometimes blow them back into the same ballpark.

    Times are tough now, but better days are coming. Your job is not you. You still have you.

    In my thirty year career as an employer I fired maybe a dozen people, always for cause. Far many more quit. When someone quits, it’s like being fired as a boss. After a few times I began to see the complexities of life; the reasons that people did one thing or another were almost always their own and didn’t reflect on me. A lot of times I was able to say that the person would have left sooner if not for me, etc. Some people I stayed in touch with, and am even friendly with people I fired for cause. Mistakes can cost you your job, but they don’t cost you your life.

  • Pattie

    Years ago my boss taught me that there was no such thing as job security or company loyalty with her cut throat approach (passive aggressive & lack of personal accountability) to dealing with staff and the community. Job security for me has never been the same so I always have one eye open looking directly at the boss, supervisor and or company now. It has been the biggest lesson of my career. And yes, I too am waiting impatiently for her demise because payback is a b**ch!

  • Rick Umali

    “A few friends started downsizing their office belongings stealthily . . . so that when the word came they could exit in 20 minutes flat.”

    I know that I’ve had this thought myself. I lean towards the “suck it up quietly” response. I’m a big fan of not burning bridges.

  • Michael

    I used to be an IT contractor. That meant I was hired (& let go, contract expired, laid off, or even fired) several dozen times. I got to be good at it.

    (I also had my contract extended 90% of the time, got offers of full-time employment, etc. But often I wasn’t interested, in the company or the projects, and so kept moving.)

    I’m hired to do a job. I do my best at it. I know I’m good at what I do and can leave with my head held high. Sometimes I miscalculate and that bites me, but that is how we learn.

    What is important is my integrity, my reputation, and my self-worth. I’m not going to sacrifice those for a cheap shot or retaliation on someone I, in the larger scale, don’t really care about.

    So I do ‘go along’ ’till my last minute. I do try and keep a positive spin on things. I wish my soon-to-be-former co-workers well. I clean up my loose ends. I document my work well & usefully. I make the transition as smooth as possible.

    I treat my employer & my co-workers as I wish to be treated.

    And after I walk out the door I have a clear conscience. Also a great reputation. I’ve had former co-workers track me down years & countries later, their memories of our experiences together so positive.

    My Dad taught me years ago that the two most important days of a job, or any endeavor, are the first and the last.

    I want to leave behind an organization eager to have me back. An employer happy to provide glowing references. A building full of people wishing me well and enthused to work with me again, to recommend me to others.

    That’s better then the alternatives, both professionally AND personally. Life can be tough, no need to make it miserable.