I was laid off from my job about a year ago. It was by far one of the most disappointing experiences of my life, and I say this as a lifelong Cleveland Browns, Indians and Cavs fan.
This is the story of how I was laid off. But it’s not only that. It is also a story about how sometimes it is better to get laid off because then the company will send you money for doing nothing.
It’s 9:30 A.M. on a Tuesday. I get a phone call from a man who has been my supervisor for a few weeks. New guy. Young. Solid helmet of executive hair. Had just been out to lunch with him a few weeks ago. He asks me to come to his office. I open the door, and there he is with the head of human resources.
My stomach drops.
The company is doing well financially—at least, that’s what the CEO says at the all-staff meetings. Our head of sales? He says we’re crushing it, bro, just slaying it, annihilating it, making it whimper in fear. That’s how hard we CRUSH it.
No one fears for their jobs, least of all not me. My annual reviews are great. Compared to what I should be making as a website editor in Los Angeles, I’m a bargain. I think I’ve taken maybe two sick days in two-and-a-half years, and I was sick both times. It never occurs to me that I’m about to be laid off.
“So,” the supervisor says as if I knew this was coming, “we’re letting you go.”
I don’t really hear anything he says for the next 10 seconds because my body has gone into fight-or-flight mode. I waver between telling him to go to hell and just walking out. I say fight-or-flight, but I would not actually have fought him. Messing up all the papers on his desk would have been fun, though knowing me I would have offered to pick them up, but not all them! Instead I sat there and forced myself to listen calmly while my adrenaline spiked.
Then this horrible thing happened.
The supervisor talked. And he talked and he talked and he talked. It’s not about you, he said. Your skills of writing and editing are no longer needed here. We are taking the website in a new direction. (Indeed! They replaced me with Paul F. Tompkins.) Everyone is sorry about this. It’s about the company more than anything. The CEO hates to see me leave. The other editor of the site didn’t want this. It’s a terrible thing, everyone agrees. The supervisor goes on and on as if the volume of his words will somehow lessen the blow, but it makes everything worse.
I say, calmly, “It is within your rights to let me go. I have no right to a job here. I think you are making a mistake, but obviously you already made your decision. Is there anything else?”
The supervisor said he wanted a follow-up meeting before my last day.
I spent the next week transitioning my work to other people, finding a new health insurer, letting my network know I had been laid off and going to lunch with sympathetic coworkers. One day a bunch of us went out for a really sad pizza, which is a thing I didn’t know could exist. I inhaled mine. Another editor who was laid off didn’t touch his. “How can you eat?” he asked. “How can you not?” I asked back. We all handle stress in different ways, a friend said. I douse my stress with parmesan.
The supervisor and I met on the day before my last day. He said he and my former supervisor would reach out to other editors and put out the good word on my behalf if I gave them a list of websites I wanted to work for. Then he asked me how my departure would affect the sites I edit. “I don’t want anything to come back and bite us,” were his exact words.
All I could think was…
Management had no clear idea what I did. This was in spite of the fact that I worked hard on a variety of websites, filed a weekly report to my direct supervisor every week for years, met with him regularly, filled out annual self-evaluations and spent all day working closely with other teams and their managers throughout the company.
Why a small detail such as “What does this employee do for us?” wasn’t given any thought before I was laid off, I don’t know. But I had to explain how letting me go would affect the company AFTER it let me go. If you can find the logic in this, your career in management awaits.
So, let’s get back to this meeting. There was clearly an unspoken quid pro quo: If I tell him how to avoid being bitten after I leave then some recommendations will be made on my behalf.
I wanted someone there to know what I did, because apparently it was the company’s best-kept secret.
How did that unspoken quid pro quo work out?
It’s now one year later. No one has made any recommendations on my behalf, which didn’t exactly come as a shock. I found work on my own as a freelancer.
The most unbelievable part, though, more unbelievable than helping out the guy who just decreased my income by 100 percent, was when the company that just let me go asked me to send it money.
Actual email from the company…
I hope you’re doing well – this is a strange way to contact you….I got your email from your facebook page. Unfortunately we had a little mixup and a contractor invoice was entered under your name. So in paying the expense reimbursements this week, $350 was included for you. You should see this amount hit your bank tomorrow. Of course this is by no fault of your own and we apologize for the inconvenience. Would it be possible for you to send us a check back for $350 made out to XXX, Inc? Again SO sorry.
Thanks a lot,
I couldn’t resist. I emailed back…
I can’t help but feel like the universe is trying to tell XXX Inc. something. Something like: Oh, vile corporation, laying off Joe was unjust given the sheer amount of hours, the unceasing dedication and the tireless perspiration he gave to XXX Inc., a company for which he cared deeply.
Because Joe was one of the first people in the office every morning, and often one of the last to leave, was a team player who did whatever was asked of him and was a fine representative who was a credit to the organization, who was sent packing in the prime of his writing career, maybe XXX Inc. owes him just a little more. About $350 more.
Sweet, innocent Y, this is not about me or you or XXX Inc. or (her supervisor) or (the HR director) or (the CEO) or (my supervisor’s) confident hair. This is about restoring balance to a universe that screams in demand for it. Who are we to run counter to the wishes of every inter-connected particle in the entire celestial cosmos? What I am saying is things like this happen FOR A REASON.
PS – If XXX Inc. insists on once again ignoring reality–and let’s admit it, the company has a track record–I will cut you a check next week. I hope you are well.
Got your email – again wanted to apologize for the situation. It is very sad to see you go and of course I wouldn’t want to cause you any further disgruntlement. I’m sure you are feeling pretty bitter right now and rightly so. But I want to wish you the best and I know you’ll move on to bigger and better things! Like you said, things happen for a reason :)
Good luck and don’t be a stranger.
How I responded…
I’m not bitter. Just having a bit of fun. How often does one get laid off only to be asked a week later to write said company a check? It’s all in good fun and I will send you the money next week. Have a great weekend.
Former coworkers ask me if I have hard feelings. The answer is no. I mean, I just wrote 1,500 words about how the whole thing could have been handled better, but I got the better end of the deal. I’m not the one who invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in wages, benefits and training only to reap none of the long-term benefits. More importantly, I really like the work I do now and it has led to some great opportunities.
My only regret is not trying to pay the company back in $1 installments over the following 350 months. Not because I’m mad or anything. Just because that would have been a really fun thing to do.