I logged on to my Mac, opened Outlook, and started going through my emails. Nothing out of the ordinary, several notifications from colleagues requesting reviews of the latest design changes for the September release, a few emails from developers with review comments for a draft of the documentation I put out last week, and a one-on-one meeting on my calendar with an individual whose name I did not recognize.
The sun was shining and an early Autumn breeze billowed the curtains in my office.
I went on with my business.
The first item was to review a document in Confluence (our internal repository for posting and sharing files). But when I clicked on the link, I received an “ACCESS DENIED” message. This is not entirely unusual. I figured the network was down temporarily.
Time to grab that second cup of coffee.
I’ve been employed as an information developer for over 25 years, with most of my tenure at IBM. At IBM, I created user assistance (context sensitive help, blogs, release notes, and help center articles) for a variety of software products and solutions.
From 2014 to 2019, I worked on IBM’s marketing / analytics software, which our clients installed to analyze and manage their customer’s experience.
In 2019, IBM pulled out of the “martech” space, selling their marketing analytics products to a private equity firm, who spun-up a new company to develop and sell the products. Most of the IBM employees (including myself) retained their positions with this the new company.
I enjoyed being part of a new venture. There was a buzz and energy that comes with being part of something fresh and new. I loved my team and my manager. The tools and processes were all different, and for the first time in a long time, I felt like I had some creative license in my work.
Life was good.
Sitting in front of my laptop with a fresh cup of Maxwell House. I tried to access Confluence one more time, still no luck.
I sent a message to my team lead:
“Hey there and good morning. I’m having trouble accessing internal systems. Have you been able to get to Confluence?”
“Good morning! Let me check. Yeup, I get in fine. Maybe reboot?
“When in doubt… 😊 ”
So, I rebooted my machine, sipped my coffee, and waited…
All rebooted, but still no luck getting to Confluence. I sent another message to my team lead, who responded:
“Weird! Let me ask around.”
“Thanks” I said.
Me: “By the way, I have a meeting with <name> at noon. Do you know who <name> is, or what the meeting might be about? I hate going into a meeting blind.”
“Oh, she’s a designer, works for <our managers name>”
Me: Ah, OK, I’ll drop her a message in Slack. Thanks!
So, I searched Slack for the person that I was scheduled to meet with and sent her a message:
“Hi <name>, I have a 12:00 meeting on my calendar with you, just looking for context 😊”
“Hi Geof. I have some time now if you want to jump on a web conference, we can talk through it.
Me: “OK, give me a few minutes.”
Slightly agitated, I whispered to myself “Talk through what!!??”
Enter that sinking feeling, when you start to piece things together and the most likely outcome is you getting canned.
I closed my office door, took a few more sips of coffee, gathered myself, and clicked the web conference link.
At the other end of my laptop, I see a young woman sitting at her desk. She seems a bit shaken, but gets to the heart of the matter:
“Because of a restructuring, your position at the company has been eliminated. You no longer have a job at <company name> Today is your last day at <company name>. This has nothing to do with your performance and your manager will provide a letter stating so. Stop working and clear your laptop of any personal files.
Me: Damn. Wow. Really?
Firing woman: “I know this is a lot to process. Take the rest of the day to gather your thoughts. We’ll be sending a transition package to your personal email. I don’t have your home email, can you provide that to me?”
Me: “Its reilly – r e I l l y – “G” as in “God, I can’t believe I am getting laid off” “S” as in “Steven” @gmail.com”
Firing woman: “Let me give you my cell. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions. I’m really, really sorry:
Me: It’s OK.
And just like that, I was done.
I closed my laptop, picked up my cup of coffee, opened my office door and walked to my living room in stunned silence. My wife was home on vacation. She looked at me.
“I lost my job”.
The words hung in the air between us, and as I spoke them, my brain sputtered a bit, trying to process the ramifications of those words … How will I provide for my family? Will we be able to stay in our home? How will I help my boys with their college loans…
My wife calmed me. “Just breathe, relax, we’ll be OK.”
I love her for that.
Because my manager was on leave, it fell to this other person to lay me off. I actually felt for her. I got a call from my manager later that morning. She was genuinely upset and very supportive – same with my team lead.
Everyone was caught off guard by the speed at which the layoffs came and no one was happy about at how things were handled.
Its been a few days now, and I’ve had some time to think about things, and here’s what I’ve come to understand.
You can work your ass off — put in 12-hour days regularly– sacrifice time with your family — put an immense amount of pressure on yourself to do a good job, to meet aggressive deadlines, to produce quality work — but in the end, if the company has to let you go as part of cost-saving restructure, they will do so, without hesitation.
Corporations are not people (sorry Mitt, you were wrong about that). Corporations are bottom-line driven entities that do whatever needs to be done to remain competitive or survive in the marketplace or keep their shareholders happy. And if that means laying off hundreds of dedicated, hardworking people, then so be it.
But the people that make up the corporation? They are living, breathing, empathetic beings, who (like me) work hard and make sacrifices. And out of this shared experience comes a love and respect for your colleagues.
Sure, we get paid for our efforts, but it’s not just about the money. We also work to ensure the success of the company and our fellow workers, who, over the years become kind of a second family.
I hold no ill will towards the company that laid me off, because I understand what companies are, what drives them, what they need to do to survive.
For me, it’s the people that matter.
I’ve received a great amount of support and encouragement from colleagues who also lost their jobs this week, as well as from those who remain employed at my former company. I can’t express adequately in words how much that support and encouragement has meant. It lightened my spirit in the days that followed that Tuesday morning, which, as it turns out, was not like every other Tuesday morning.