I was downsized


I was having breakfast in the cafeteria with my colleagues, as I had done for the previous two years or more, when my cell phone rang. It was my boss’ boss. Getting a call from him was extremely unusual since he never had called me on my cell before. He asked me to meet him in a conference room near where I was having breakfast. Rumors had been rampant for weeks that today, December 10, 2008, the layoffs would begin.


It was 9 a.m. exactly. Suddenly I felt butterflies in my stomach. Could this be real? Eleven years of service and it’s over just like that? How could they? I thought my career was on a steady path; I worked hard, very hard. I worked crazy hours. I worked weekends. I worked during vacations. I supported a business that made billions. I was the chief of technology, responsible for 21 branch offices around the country and all the technology in them. I saved the company $120 million in operating costs over a nine-year period. Surely I earned my keep.


These were the thoughts racing through my mind as I approached the conference room. As I walked through the doorway, my boss’ boss was sitting at the table. I was told that his boss in Europe was on the phone as well. A rep from Human Resources was also sitting at the table.


My worst fears were soon confirmed: I was out, it was that simple. “I’m so sorry to inform you, but your position has been impacted.” After he mouthed a few perfunctory stock corporate phrases about how it was great working with me and how much the Company appreciated my contributions, he explained that he was “sure I was aware of the current situation” and that the company was going through “extremely difficult times”. After a few more hollow words of praise, he thanked me for my service and left the room.


I sat as if alone, staring at the table, waiting for the HR rep to begin her cursory explanation of what awaited me as I was being sent out the door. My whole world was turning upside down, as she blithely explained the terms of my dismissal. She spoke of cobra, she spoke of my eligibility for unemployment pay, she spoke of the requirement that I not disclose any details regarding this process or I risk losing my “package.” So let me get this straight, I spent the last eleven years of my life being on-call 24/7, working 12-14 hour days, sleeping on the floor in the office to meet deadlines, travelling around the country in support of the Business at the expense of my family and private life, and I’m supposed to keep quiet about what happened and how I feel about it? To be unceremoniously discarded, under the threat of losing my “package” if I dare speak about the details of my downsizing, is in my view detestable. Who are you and how dare you treat me like this?


After the HR rep finished expounding on my separation details, she stated (warned me) that I was not to make any phone calls from my office phone and that I was not to touch my PC. She explained that I had exactly one hour to collect my personal belongings and leave the premises; for within an hour, my access card would be disabled. I asked about boxes for my belongings; she said they didn’t furnish boxes. I asked about bags; she said they didn’t furnish bags either, “sorry”. She informed me that I was only allowed to take what I could carry. I protested. I’ve collected many things in eleven years, I can’t carry it all. “Sorry, but we’ll ship the rest to you.” That was it, it was over.


The clock was ticking. I made many friends in eleven years, but because I was required to vacate the premises in one hour, I was faced with the prospect of not being able to say goodbye to anyone. My badge would be disabled and I would no longer have access to anything. I walked to my desk on the 10th floor. I stood for a moment, staring at what I had accumulated over the past eleven years; in many ways, these things told the story of my life. There were pictures of my son as a child, as a growing boy, and then as a young man. There were charts and graphs detailing the breadth of my responsibility as a corporate executive. Stacks of paper, remnants of the countless projects and initiatives I was responsible for, littered my desk. I would be leaving most of it behind, since I could only take what I could carry. Luckily, I found a large garbage bag stashed in my drawer. I filled it with as much as I could, filled my briefcase, and turned to leave. The thought then occurred to me: I just gave this company eleven years of my life, during which time I cultivated many personal relationships, I’ll be damned if I’m going to be shoved out to the curb without saying goodbye to my friends. I managed to contact a close friend of mine and he agreed to walk around the company campus with me since he had access to all the buildings. I spent three hours saying goodbye; I didn’t see everyone, but at least I saw many. It was tough; my life changing so dramatically in such a short amount of time. I wasn’t prepared for it. It reminded me of when I was twelve years old and my family was moving to a different state. I was heartbroken at the thought of leaving all my friends behind, but it was out of my control. Here I was an adult, reliving my childhood as I realized that I would never see many of my friends and colleagues again. As I said my goodbyes, I was greeted with shock and dismay, and many kind words of support. But my fate was sealed; I would be leaving all of them behind.


After I said my last goodbye, I headed back to my building. I had to get a visitor’s pass to get back up to my desk to get my stuff, after waiting for a half hour to get clearance from security. I also was required to have an escort. I got back to my desk, picked up my briefcase and the garbage bag, and walked out the doors for the last time. I went to make a call on my Blackberry. Suddenly I realized that it was disabled. Not only did the company disable it, they removed all of my contacts, almost 300 (278 to be exact). I knew the company would disable my Blackberry, but I didn’t know they would delete all of my contacts. These were personal contacts that I collected over 15 years and had nothing to do with the company (it took me three weeks of debate with the HR rep, through email, to convince her that I was entitled to my contacts…they finally sent them to me).


As I approached the stairs to the train station, I turned and took one last look at my building. I then walked down the stairs, found a seat on the train, and headed home. My life as I had known it for the last eleven years was over.