Not Working

The Pulse of the American Depression


Salt Lake City, UT

I’m still in survival mode on the second, laid off in December of 2010 (Pearl Harbor Day), I’m still interviewing and application submitting.

The company I was most recently laid off from is hiring again, and I have been in communication with them, so I am not open to telling my story, but I would like to tell you theirs.

The company is a small material handling solutions company in Salt Lake City, Utah. The two owners were previous co-workers of mine from at least 20 years back. Their two sub managers were also previous co-workers, so basically we were all work based friends. I hired on with their start up company in 2001, we did not experience much growth, employee wise, (average 14 employees over ten years), but our customer base stayed around 3 – 5 at a time over those years, just enough to keep a small company running. Then 2010 came and the project I was working on was not selling (and not getting developed on time), so after a few months of ‘we are not doing so good’, they held a mandatory company meeting. “We are extremely regretful to inform you we have decided we are going to have to let some of you go. We will letting each of you know. Any questions.” I asked “When will you be letting us know”. “Right after this meeting we (the two sub managers) will be calling everyone in the company into this conference room, we will do it alphabetically, we will let each of you know the status of your employment”. “Clive, (not his real name) you are first, please stay, everyone else, go to your desk and wait to be called”.

All our hearts sank. You can imagine what went on at the cubicles. My vivid memory was of the president of the company, went back to his open door office and proceeded to work on a server he had been working on. He did not say a word. Just tinkered with the hardware. When he wasn’t looking we all speculated while Clive was in the conference room. We all knew Clive wasn’t on the list, he was very talented and loved. I KNEW I was on the list, I had recently had some disagreements with management and I was not as vested in the current projects. My experience told me ‘be prepared’. I voiced this to my co-workers and told them not to be too fearful. A recent new father of ‘twins’ joked he was going to take a picture of his boys into the room. After what we perceived a long time, Clive came out, and one by one the vice-president came to our desk and called us in. I will never forget the smile on his face as he approached my cube neighbors cubicle to tell her she was next. It said “Please do not worry, you are safe, do not cry”. Knowing I would not receive the same smile, it hurt, in a weird way I despised feeling. She was also very talented and loved and I care for her a great deal.

Being towards the end of the alphabet was hard. I tried to pry information out of people has they came out. I got some tears, and knew not to say much. I got some “I’m safe”. I got four fingers from the safe Clive when I asked if they gave a count. As I was called things became blurry. As I entered the conference room I saw two envelopes on the table and my fear was confirmed. As the sub manager (colleague for over 20 years) started to speak, I knew I could not sit through whatever he had to say and I told him “You don’t have to do that”. It threw him for a loop, obvious held back tears flowed. I asked them to just tell me directly if I am ‘the one’. They said yes. They gave me the ‘reason and exit letter’ and my last paycheck, and said they could pay me only until the end of the year. I was touched (deeply) when one the managers gave a needed hug and told me regardless of what just happened, he valued me as a friend and person. As I walked from the room I promised myself I would not cry. As I packed my personal belongings in a sack, no one had to ask. I told my co-workers I wanted to stay until the last of alphabet people, because I also knew ‘Y’ was on the list to complete the four count, and I wanted to say good-bye to him.

I really think that was a lousy way to do it. In days that followed everyone agreed (through emails) but no one could think of a ‘good way’ to do a lay off. I kept thinking I was at least owed a conversation with the two owners. They did not say one word to me and avoided me while I packed and soon left. I got angry (inside) with friends and family when I told them the story and they said “They were probably scared and embarrassed to talk with you”. How dare they sympathize with the villains!

Silly after this many months how fresh it still is. The bottom line is we live in a society that values the acquiring of dollars above all those other things that we value when we are not at work. It’s sad, but as business owners I know they have to make difficult decisions. Having experienced lay offs as both a survivor (when I was younger in my career) and as a non-survivor (is there a better word for that), I know exactly what my co-workers left behind felt, and I know what a lay ed off person feels. When you are lay ed off, you put yourself in the ‘loser club’, deserving or not. You have to fight to get yourself to be productive again. To jump back in the game, give it your all, knowing even after another good fight you may get knocked out, again. It becomes life in our capitalistic society. Do we blame America? If your project can do one thing, my hope would be for it to ignite the fire that has seemed to have been extinguished from Red White and Blue greed from those comparatively few financial scholars. I love hearing peoples stories, would love to hear more clenched fists and less sob. More clinking of the proverbial hammer on the proverbial pipe as sparks fly!!!