Friday, February 7, 2014

leading economic indictor- my job

well, now I have more time to spend with the kids
   So, last Friday I got a call from the head of Human Resources while I was sitting in my cubicle trying to finish a project that I was supposed to turn in before the end  of the day.  In a very nice voice he asked, "Would you mind coming down to my office, Jeff?"

Of course.  Why wouldn't I?  But I knew exactly what the call meant as soon as I got it.  The same call I've heard that others had gotten a few years ago when layoffs happened in waves, each month or so during the depths of the Great Recession.

I  walked down the stairs,slowly, to the HR Director's office.  I've been there before to chat.  I had designed his patio and some of the landscaping for his yard, so I stopped by every so often to see how things were going and to say hi.

The Vice President of the Architecture Division was there too.  I pretty much knew he would be, because I had heard that this was what happened when they were going to lay you off.  Make you reudundant.  Kick you out the door.  Send you a pink slip.

So we had the obligatory awkward conversation. Your workload had been low for the last couple of months.  It isn't your fault.  We'll have you back as a casual worker if we have more work to do soon.  Oh, and your health insurance ends today, sorry.  Here's a form to sign if you'd like to get severance pay. Think it over, and get back to us.

At least they didn't walk me out the door as I've heard they've done to others.  I suppose I didn't pose much of a threat.  I've never made a stink about anything in the past and I suppose they knew I wouldn't about this either.  Even so- I decided that I wanted to clean out my desk that afternoon and make sure I didn't have to come back again.  For what, I can't really say.   Maybe to face the humiliation of seeing everyone, knowing I'd been laid off, when they weren't. One other guy, an architect, was laid off at the same time, but I still didn't want to face those who were left behind if I didn't have to.

It felt very different than I had imagined, being laid off.  In the past- in 2009 and 2010, when seemed like layoffs occurred every odd Friday there was a sort of funereal air about the office as the rumors drifted around of who had lost their job that day.  Of who may be next.  Would it be me?  Back then I had two very young children at home.  We had an infant and a toddler and I desperately didn't want to lose my job.  It would have been close to catastrophic at that time, and fortunately the axe never fell on me.

But I imagined it, and I prepared, to the extent that it was possible.  We saved some money.  Never enough, but more than we may have otherwise.  We gardened like crazy and canned food.  We looked into alternative employment.  I imagined that the act of being laid off would be as gloomy and funereal as hearing about the layoffs of others, but without the welcome rush of relief of making it through another Friday without the call to the HR office.

The reality was very unlike I had imagined it.  I dreaded the walk down the stairs.   I knew who I'd see in the office, with the exception of the CEO.   I heard he sat in on some of the firings in the past.  He didn't show up for mine.  It was just the three of us, and a fairly friendly conversation.   My voice caught in my throat at times, but I kept it together.  Because, as they were taking my job away, they were also offering me a sort of liberation.

I cleaned my desk out in a haze.  I was out of a job I'd had for seven and a half years.  But not a job that I particularly liked or wanted to hold on to that badly.  A job where I could have done so much, but where I mostly designed parking lots and designed the minimum necessary green stuff to meet the minimum requirements of whatever city or county or watershed district the client happened to have their facility located within.

I sent an email to all my co-workers thanking them for seven and a half years of companionship and mentoring and growth and left my contact information in case anyone wanted to be in touch.  I wasn't sure if my email would work for very long, so I wrote it quickly and sent it without editing.  I could have written more but I didn't.

A technician I hadn't talked to very much during my time at the company, but who I enjoyed talking with when I did, walked out to my car with me, and waited with the push cart full of my desk stuff, while I pulled my car from the parking ramp around into the waiting area to load up my four boxes of books and office junk.  We talked for what have must been a half hour- about how the job sucked.  How the older folks in the office did next to nothing but earned twice our salary.  How people our age were always the ones who were laid off and how it made no sense for the future of the company.  It felt really good, and I wished I had had this conversation with him a year ago, when it could have reaffirmed my faith in the goodness of my co-workers and the company itself.

Also unexpected were the short letters and notes I got that day from (now former) co-workers who had also been laid off in the past and who offered messages of condolence and hope for better things to come.  They were heartfelt and uplifting in the way that a Hallmark card isn't.  Those were the best part of the layoff day, and they made all the difference.

My heart felt light  as I pulled away from the gloomy turnaround in the underpass between office buildings where I once worked.  I was leaving and not coming back and that was OK with me.


So this last week has been one of readjustment.  Of my spending more time finishing off our home renovation.  Fortunately we've already purchased most of the expensive stuff, and what remains is doing the hard work of putting it all together.   I have plenty of time for that now.  And dropping off and picking up the kids from school.   And working on new job leads, as well as the prospect of self-employment, now that I no longer have a 'no-moonlighting' agreement hanging over my head.

It's liberating- as much so, or even more, than it is depressing.  The initial shock was hard to take.  Now, seven days later, it feels pretty good.   Today, Gita and I spent the day at a seminar held by a St. Paul based non-profit on starting our own business.  I would have had to sneak out of work and feel guilty to attend something like this before.   Now I can do it honestly on my own time.  Now I can say 'yes' to people who are asking if I have time to take a look a their yard this spring.   That is, if, in fact I don't have a full-time gig lined up by then.  I can, in fact, look at all the opportunities that I haven't had the time, energy or ambition to pursue in the last seven and a half years as I was bound to a place which churned out parking lots and highway medians with abandon. 

I would have had difficulty walking out of there on my own- so I owe them a certain amount of gratitude for making the decision on my behalf.

On to bigger and better things.