Monday, November 12, 2007

Hi Um... Ho

Last week, in a scheduled early morning meeting, my supervisor called me into his office, shut the door, then turned to me and said, "Well, the good news is that you're safe."

My first impulse was to swear - loudly.

Thankfully, however, I was able to practice restraint, and so I sat stonefaced the remainder of the meeting while nodding at certain key points. Good news? Safe? Jaysus, Mary & Joseph, Mr Supervisor, whose pipe you been smokin' and what was in it? Perhaps you and I differ on our definitions of "good", but missing out on a four month paid absence does not necessarily a happy man make.

You see, times are more than a little tough at the company I work for. So much so, that about two or three months ago they announced that layoffs would be occurring (they weren't so bold as to use the term 'layoff' anywhere though. In typical corporate speak, they preferred "expense and head count reduction.") At the time of the announcement, I, like most of my fellow employees, was more than a little nervous, and numerous questions littered my tiny little mind. Would I be among the forsaken? How would I deal with the sudden loss of income? I totally sweet talked my way into this position - how on Earth would I ever find another job?

To make matters worse, I had every reason to suspect I'd be handed a pink slip. For one, I'm easily expendable. I don't say that to demean my position by any means, but my role is primarily a training role. I (supposedly) learn a lot about many different things, but operations will certainly not come grinding to a halt if I'm not there. Also, one of my managers (perhaps the one who had the most input regarding my future employment status) seemed unusually distant after the initial announcement, and I of course decided to read too much into it. Yup. I was gone. I knew it, and I was legitimately concerned...

...until they announced the severance package.

Two months notice (during which you were not expected to work) followed by an additional two months severance with health coverage for the entire four month span. Essentially, four months of vacation on their dime. FOUR MONTHS!

Screw future employment. I'll take the severance package, thanks. Suddenly, my internal discussions focused not on how I would scrape up enough cash for Ramen when the inevitable layoff occurred, but what exactly I'd do with all that free time. After all, there were so many movies to watch, books to read, hours in which to play Warcraft, further hours in which to sleep, lots of places to travel, etc... ALL of it would be at my fingertips, and I couldn't wait.

Mind you, I'd been through a layoff before and it was definitely a less than pleasant experience. I'd arrived at work one day in 2001 (hungover as all hell I might add, which only made things worse) to find that I was no longer needed. Kindly leave immediately and take this small severance with you. And so I did, but at the time I was fairly bitter about the whole thing. I was in a much different situation personally and professionally, and given the market at the time and my general lack of experience in my field it took me much longer to find a job than I would have liked (although in retrospect, the layoff was exactly the kick in the ass that I needed for reasons I won't get into here.)

But... well, this time around, they were just so damn nice about the whole thing.

"Everyone will be treated with dignity and respect during this tough time."

"We realize people have families, etc, etc..."

It was a completely different experience. This time, they talked a good game, and backed it up with a tremendous "goodbye" package. Further, not only did we know well in advance that layoffs would be occurring, we knew the EXACT DAY they would take place. There were almost no secrets regarding the process. And so, for a good month, I went to work still thinking I'd be gone, wondering whether or not that was a good thing, and waffling back and forth on which outcome I'd prefer (but secretly preferring the layoff. Wait, no I wasn't. Er... yes, I was. No. Yes. No. Yes.) Always though, I kept my relative unimportance to the company in the back of my mind and thought that more than reason enough for my layoff.

And, maybe because I thought it a foregone conclusion, I started noticing things I didn't like about the company; things I'd be glad to be rid of after my dismissal. Examples? The corporate atmosphere for one. Truly loathsome words and terms like "value-add", "metrics", and "leverage" are thrown about with such reckless abandon, you might think you're in a high school physics class, but no, at work they take on completely different meanings (it took me months to figure out that "leverage" - used, for some reason, as a verb - essentially means "to make use of existing resources.") The bathrooms are nasty, too. They smell, and are tiled in beige and dark brown, the color of... well, you know. Leftover hand wash water is all around the sinks, and people aiming their paper towels for the wastebasket often miss and don't bother to pick them up. I could go on, but it's pointless and petty. Nitpicky stuff, for the most part, but stuff you notice when you allow yourself to.

And so, when the fateful day occurred last week and I was told that I was not going to be laid off, and that I was, in fact, going to receive more responsibility, well, my stomach did a few loop-di-loops. I said all the right things, and appeared interested when I was supposed to, but in the back of my mind I kept thinking, "Man! Four friggin' months! And there are coworkers of mine who would kill to be in the position I'm in. Wonder if they wanna trade?"

This whole process has made me question a lot of things about myself, not least of which is whether or not I want to continue down my current career path. These are not easily answered questions and I think I still have a lot of soul searching ahead of me (to say nothing about fear of the unknown.) But, for now, I'm going to take this lack of an event the same way I took the layoff several years ago - namely as a reason to be grateful, and a way to get myself in gear and place renewed focus on my job. Easier said than done, in a lot of cases. Today, for instance, I sat in a department meeting and felt completely lost, having no idea what people were talking about, and having even less desire to find out. "Care" (as in 'I do/I don't') seems to be in rather short supply these days, but give me a minute to catch my breath, please. I'm still trying to get over the fact that I actually have to work for a living.