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Feb 23, 2010

Survivor's Guilt: Watching the layoffs unfold

Miss Minchin, Dean of Students

There was no hint that anything was brewing, at least nothing aside from what has become the norm for anyone holding down a corporate job in this economy. It started as a regular Friday, with a full day of meetings and deliverables to complete before losing another two days to the weekend. And then about 9:30 in between conference calls, did I hear that right? Is someone saying good bye? Did he quit? No way, he's got important projects in the works. Wait - he sounds emotional, he wasn't expecting this. I turn around and he invites me over to tell me that he's been told it's his last day. Holy @$&*. I am not going to cry at work. He better not cry because if he does I won't be able to keep it together. This guy has been working just as many evenings and weekends as the rest of us and had his fair share of responsibility. He was likable and a good worker. I can't imagine that he stepped on anyone's toes. I can see that he's stunned and hurt, and we are too. What the heck is going on?

Wait now I see someone at the other end of the office getting a hug and putting on her coat. Now I'm back at my desk, nervous my boss is going to come and tap me on the shoulder. I'm late for my next conference call and as I dial in I wonder if it's in vain. I'm not panicked but feel a sense of dread. What did he just say? Two people on the project are no longer with the company? I didn't make the connection until later. Where are my project managers? They're not responding to IM. Oh I really hope they are not gone today. Everyone is being unusually nice on the call and I'm having trouble focusing.

Oh no, not him too. I see a coworker packing his desk a few cubes away. He's a recent grad, and has done great work for the past year (two years?) and he looks like he might be fighting back tears. I have an email draft half-written to him about some info I owe him. I'm still on the call and I can't say goodbye. I don't think he wants anyone to talk to him.

After my call I get some coffee. I see the manager from the UI team here. She doesn't work on Fridays and she isn't usually in this office. Now I know this is more than just a few people.

A little while later, another coworker comes by to tell me goodbye. He says he feels relieved and it's not too surprising since there aren't any projects pending for his area of expertise. I give him my contact info and wish him good luck. That's 3 people from my team now. I start wondering who's next? Are we all going? I see my boss waiting to escort him out. And I can't help but watch her out of the corner of my eye to see if she changes course and heads my way. I hold my breath when she looks like she is coming toward me but heads another direction.

Well I'll know something by 11. That's when I'm supposed to present in our team meeting. Surely she'd tell me before then and it's 10:30 now.

I'm IMing my neighbor about the layoffs on my team so far. He says he heard there were 17 cut in our Eastern Europe office. He is starting to freak out. I still can't get my project managers on IM.

It's almost 11 and my boss comes over. No she doesn't look like she is about to fire me. She says we'll have the meeting but we won't do our presentations today. She looks like you would expect someone to look like who just had to cut 3 good people from her team.

In our meeting she tells us the cuts to our team are done. That's a relief. We learn there is a large number being cut in our overall organization today. She tells us our leadership has changed again. I'm stunned. It just changed 6 months ago. He was a visionary, an incredibly inspirational  leader, and he made me feel privileged to work for him. Not only that but he knew me and my work, and made me feel like a valued part of the team. How could he leave? Why would they make him leave? What is going on?

There's only so much she can tell us since the layoffs are still happening around us. There will be a meeting at 5:00 to discuss as an organization. Now we know the layoffs should be done by then.

Back at our desks I try to be productive but I can't concentrate. Every 20 minutes it seems someone else is packing up. In our office we can see straight down the row from one end of the building to the other. It is almost like being under fire by a sniper, but you can't duck under your desk, and you don't know who the next target will be, and there's no avoiding these bullets.

My calendar has almost completely freed up as all my meetings are getting cancelled. By 2:00 it seems the worst is over. My neighbor and I are almost joking about him being afraid of getting cut, but I'm sure he would have been told by now. I saw his manager having normal project meetings earlier in the day, surely he would have cancelled them and not delay the layoffs. Then his boss called him into a room. I'm certain he's just filling him in on what is happening today, but when he comes back he starts packing his things. I can't believe it, he's such a sharp guy. I've learned a lot just sitting next to him. I can't believe they made him wait until the afternoon when everyone can see layoffs are happening all around us.

Everyone is hyper-alert to movement in the aisles. Anyone putting on a coat is assumed to be leaving for good. But some are just going out for lunch or consolation drinks. I exchange information with a manager I work with. I'm stunned once again by the cuts that have been made. He clearly didn't have a say about the people who were chosen from his team. This confuses me. I ask if I can protest - how could they cut Her? He's just as upset about it. I wonder who made the decisions then, and how did they make them? If they can cut those great people, then why am I still here?

Around 3:30 I get an invitation to attend the 5:00 meeting. In the invite I can see several names have "zzz" before them. Dear God they are already starting with the z's in Outlook? Oh no not her too. She has z's next to her name. I have to talk to her. We started on the same day and she kept me going through some rough patches. I go to her desk and find out it's true, but she's not there. On my way around the office looking for her I run into my boss' boss. We exchange some words about how it's a rough day but I'm distracted. I can't believe they cut my friend too and I want to see her before she leaves. She walks by and I inadvertently cut off my boss' boss to get my friend's attention. I realize later what I did - not good! - but hopefully he understands.

My friend and I talk at my desk for a minute while I write down my contact info. I can see she's keeping it together and I tell her I hope we can be friends outside of work. She starts to cry a little and so of course I do too. I give her a hug and offer to help her carry her things. She cracks a joke that at least she doesn't have to work the release this weekend. She and I quickly compose ourselves, she doesn't need help and we say good bye.

Now I'm trying not to cry at my desk - NO CRYING AT WORK- RIGHT? I know these people are not dying, but it is still a loss. It's a loss for them and for me. I should be able to grieve a little and I just want to go home. We all came in today thinking it was a normal day. They are thinking - why me? Why was I chosen? We're thinking the same thing.You hear bits and pieces about their personal life now: parents to take care of, how many children they have, health issues in the family. I call my husband but can't talk about what's going on and stay together emotionally, so I ask about some errand he was supposed to do. I'm exhausted and drained.

I leave at my usual time and try to dial in to the 5:00 call from the train. I miss most of what is said anyway.
I'm relieved that I made it through the day, but what will keep me through the next round if these great coworkers were taken out this time? Do I want to work under the new leadership? Is my heavy workload just going to get even heavier? I'm grateful that I'm still employed and glad I have a healthy emergency fund. I find out about more co-workers who were cut as I check my email, and I wonder what's in store for us on Monday.

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