In July of 2001 I experienced one of the worst parts of the corporate world: looming layoffs. It created one of the most stressful moments in my life to that point. It was bad to start with, but an employee with too much knowledge managed to make it far worse than necessary.
It began with a Monday email that informed everyone we needed to report to work at 7:00 AM on Thursday. We usually came in at 7:30. The email also instructed us to report to our workstations where we would be told where to gather for a meeting. It didn’t take much effort to realize that after weeks of reduced hours, the layoffs were coming, most likely Thursday morning. What none of us expected was how management carried out the downsizing.
I usually worked Tuesday through Saturday, but this was the one week a month I worked Monday to Friday. It always felt weird to be in on a Monday, but this Monday was more disquieting thanks to the email and the atmosphere it created.
The sense of real unease began when Another employee (who didn’t like me much at all) approached me and asked questions about my experience and proficiency with certain programs we used. Detailed questions that made me wonder where he got the idea to even ask.
“Why do you ask?”
“Oh, no reason. Just curious,” he said.
I didn’t think much about it until the company wide email hit. I still didn’t think much about it because I had never been through a process like this so I didn’t have enough sense to worry. Yet.
I started worrying when that employee was laid off before lunch. A few more were called away from their workstations. They came back with boxes. This was unsettling, but I foolishly thought the worst was over. I was very, very wrong.
I hadn’t been at work long the next morning when they came for a colleague who worked across from me. One of the manager’s came over to see him and they walked away. A while later he came back with a box.
“I got laid off,” he said to me.
“They laid me off. I’m gone.”
I had no idea what to say as he packed his things in cardboard and left. The few people let go on Monday were all in production. This was the first in the customer service department. My department. It wasn’t the last.
Another woman went shortly before lunch. Our manager walked over to her and said, “Hey, we need to see you up front for a moment.” She left with them, shoulders hunched. She knew what we all did. She would be back with a cardboard box.
All day long I tried to focus on my job as my coworkers were led to the end of theirs. I found myself shaking at my desk as I constantly glanced from the corny of my eye to see who else got the axe and if they were coming for me.
The drive home from Nashville was arduous. When I got home I tried to explain to Chrisie everything in my head, but it kept getting jumbled. I finally tried what I rarely did and ran a hot bath. Chrisie sat in the bathroom with me and tried to calm me down as I shivered in the scalding water.
The next day, Wednesday, saw more layoffs, though at a slower pace. I was a wreck but still tried to maintain composure and focus on the task at hand. Then the plant manager walked over to my work station.
“We need to see you in the conference room, Bud,” he said as he placed his hand on my shoulder.
My breath rushed out and I couldn’t keep it. This is it, I thought.
“Okay,” I managed and stumbled as I got off my stool. I walked dejectedly to the conference room. When I walked through the door, I saw the entirety of the remaining customer service department. They can’t let us all go, can they? I thought.
They didn’t. We were called on the carpet so management could reprimand us for blaming delays on the layoffs. Apparently our customers weren’t supposed to know why the people they usually talked to couldn’t take their calls. Fun fact: the employee who really was blaming everything on the layoffs to customers made sure to pipe up and say it wasn’t him.
After the meeting, I went back to my workstation, slightly relieved. A handful more were let go that afternoon.
Finally Thursday arrived and we all learned what we already knew. The company was downsizing. We all started breathing a little easier when we learned what we didn’t know. They layoffs were done. Later in the day we learned through the grapevine that the original plan was to do the layoffs all at once on Thursday morning. Unfortunately, the employee that asked me the pointed questions hacked the CEO’s email and had the list so they scrambled to control the information. Of course, they control it by accelerating the layoffs and spreading them out to cause maximum misery.
I found out I’d have to work second shift, but at least I still had a job.I even relaxed enough that I joked around a bit with the plant manager.
“You have no idea ho much you scared me yesterday,” I told him.
“Why?” he asked.
“Well, when you came to tell me you needed to see me in the conference room, I thought I was getting laid off.”
“Why would you think that?” Seriously?
“Um, because so many other people were and I was so stressed. It seemed reasonable to think I was next.”
“What could you possibly have to be stressed about?”
I laughed until I realized he was serious. HIs face was a mask of confusion. He really didn’t understand why I was stressed. That was the moment my brief reprieve ended. I still had a job, but I realized I worked for at least one idiot. At least I wouldn’t see much of him at night.