Anatomy of a layoff


woman-laid-off-from-jobThere’s been a lot of news today regarding Microsoft laying off 18,000 employees, namely from their Nokia division. (On a side note, this made me panic as I had been laid off next last and the influx of jobless people was concerning. It appears that the layoffs primarily hit the Seattle metro area though.) There is a long meandering layoff email making the circuit.

I was laid off from my job last week so I know all too well the frustrations that the MS people are probably feeling. Layoffs are necessarily sterile and unemotional. It’s a business transaction. Really, it’s a legal transaction. And if you put your heart into your work and worked to build professional and personal relationship, it feels like betrayal– like a reduction of you as an employee and human being down to a curt explanation of the needs of the business. You are not a person. You are a necessary sacrifice.

Here is a rundown of my layoff experience:

For context, I should explain that I worked at a small company and for some time, we all knew things were not going to plan. I personally was holding on for 2 reasons. First, despite the very noticeable churn of some of the best employees, I wanted to make sure that if I left, I left for the right reasons for me and not b/c of the surrounding hysteria. If I was going to “jump ship,” I wanted it to be for the next, better thing in my career and not just as an escape. Second, I was working to wrap up a couple of projects, which was important to me as a person and as a professional. I wanted to leave the company and my group in good shape, like ” I wrapped this up and now I can hand it over clean.” But also, I wanted to be able to say to my next employer, “hey, I did this, I did this from beginning to end.” And so I stayed knowing that my time was limited.

For some time, a colleague and I had noticed the VP of our department in meetings with the HR Director. We wondered what it could be about and in retrospect I think they had been preparing for some time for this decision. Nearing the end of Q2, my team and I were being worked to the bone and I suspect that this was done to squeeze every last drop of work out of me before they let me go. In this regard, I feel a little used, but from a business perspective, I suppose this is understandable.

Tuesday night of the new quarter, I checked my email and noticed that the VP of my team had put a one-on-one on my calendar. Already, I was alarmed. It was rare for me to meet with her and I knew that there were a limited number of things that this could be about. On Wednesday, I checked in with a teammate to see if a similar meeting had been put on her calendar and she said no. I knew something was up.

I walked in to the meeting and immediately, I knew it was bad. My VP was set up in the conference room very formally. She had what I later realized was her “script” laid out and she was calm and ready to go. She started talking about how the company had made bets that had not panned out and I just knew. I just knew. Then the HR Director walked in and it was game over. What happens at this point is your body goes into survival mode. I couldn’t tell you what the VP said to me b/c it really is all a blur. My brain had already fast forwarded to the end of the book. All I knew was that I was being let go and that I needed to remain in control. Don’t cry. Control your face. Survive this humiliation and get the eff out of there.

At the end of the meeting, I was given my separation papers and told that it would be best if I didn’t say anything (as the HR Director put it, there would be “an event” happening that day and it would be best if the affected were first notified. Also, they didn’t want hysteria to “spread like wildfire”) and take the rest of the day off. I gathered my things and left. Another team member was let go immediately after I was. My team was alerted an hour later. The CEO informed the rest of the company via email after lunch.

The termination was quick. Notified on Wednesday that Friday would be my last day. I didn’t go into the office too much not because of the humiliation but because I didn’t want to have to explain to everyone how I was feeling. I think other people felt worse than I was feeling in the moment. I liken it to something like survivor’s guilt. Feeling exhausted but truthfully a bit relieved, I just wanted to end things on the highest note possible given the situation and prepare for the next thing in life.

I’ve spent the past week kind of looking but sleeping a ton and generally being lazy. I had lunch with a former colleague who told me about a possible opportunity at her current workplace. Later I sent her my resume and apologized for seeming blah during our lunch. I actually am eager to hear if there might be a fit at her company. And she wrote back saying I needed to cut myself some slack. This is a bigger deal than I am acknowledging and it is normal to need some time to get over it all. So hopefully this week will do it: allowed me to recover from the shock, from the sadness and next week I will feel more energized and more aggressively tackle this whole “looking for a new job” thing.


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