Our VP called the management staff in for a mandatory meeting at 2pm. Everybody was in and settled by 2:03pm. The VP informed us that our biggest client has decided to no longer do business with us. This includes all projects including 33 employees that work at our client’s location and 67 employees in several of our locations across the state. The client had posted a really bad fiscal year and the writing was on the wall for a long time. We just didn’t know it was possible. After all, we had been partners in business for 10.5 years… Ending a relationship like this is closer to a divorce. After the management meeting (that included 2 Managers and 2 Supervisors working on projects for this client) ended we immediately called a meeting with all staff working for this client.
The angst was palpable. The nervousness and shuffling in the seats was quite apparent as the almost 50 employees filed into the break room and took their seats. After everyone was seated, it was time to talk…
The VP stood tall and proud and looked at the faces of the employees. She told them the news and the bitter truth. She explained the client had decided to no longer do business with us after 10+ years of working together. She also explained that upper leadership will do everything in their power to add as many jobs to this branch as possible. She also explained that adding 50+ jobs in a 30 day period of time wasn’t feasible. She told the employees to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. I couldn’t help but admire her courage.
I fought tears while standing up in front of those 50 souls while the VP explained their future would include turmoil and unknown challenges. This client was the VP’s legacy. She had started the business relationship with this client and it was her that created this much business and revenue for our team. After 10.5 years… gone. A bitter divorce, a sad end. And yet, she stood there in front of the 50 souls (that represented a lot more people if you include their families) and explained to them that we failed. And maybe we didn’t fail, maybe the client failed, but regardless of who we put the blame on, the situation remained the same.
Thursday and Friday of last week were somber and difficult to deal with. Right on cue the employees were the ones that stepped up and decided to make “light” of a very difficult situation. They began hanging up Christmas lights, wreaths, Santa’s, candy canes and any other decoration they could get their hands on. They wouldn’t let this terrible news derail their holidays. We haven’t found out much since the initial meeting. We know that these types of contracts usually have a 30 or 60 day contractual agreement to “sunset” the projects.
Many employees began calling out sick. If they get laid off they don’t get to keep sick time, so it’s a natural reaction. It was hard to put on my tie and drive to work this morning. I did so with the idea of “the show must go on”. I know from my experience in retail with restructures and adversities that I could help the employees that were being impacted by speaking to them. I know a lot of inspirational quotes, stories, wisdoms and lessons that could be beneficial for them during this difficult time.
Unfortunately I didn’t even get to start the day before hearing from the employees of the fading client that there isn’t much work available. Several employees saw the work load and wanted to leave for the day. A couple actually did. Even with the limited workloads the employees began to slack off. They took longer smoke breaks and more trips to the bathroom and break room. They moved around from cubicle to cubicle talking to their coworkers, not knowing how long they would hold that title.
The Managers and Supervisors were worse for wear. They didn’t know how to lead the team through these turbulent waters. One of them remained silent, with teary eyes for most of the day. After all, she had been with this client from the very beginning. Another Supervisor was going around looking depressed and telling employees and other leaders that he started looking for jobs and began updating his resume. One Manager was the worst off. She was conflicted and taking the news pretty badly. Questions from employees and Supervisors would go to her and the responses would be empty or weak. Sometimes she didn’t answer them at all. It’s a difficult thing to measure. A person shows up early to work every day, works hard and strives to do their best work. They stay late when needed and go through very difficult decisions and actions on a daily basis. And yet, despite all the blood, sweat and tears… it still wasn’t enough. Losing is unfortunately part of the game of life. It plays a fascinating role on our journey. Losing opens us up like open heart surgery and exposes our flaws and missed opportunities. When the stiches are sealed we are left with an understanding. We can look in the mirror and reflect and learn from what we could have done differently. Adversities plow the path of opportunity and wisdom. Like a machete in the rain forest, it cuts away the leaves and vines of pride, jealousy, sins, flaws and failures. It helps us go down an unknown path. But when we venture down this path, we go stronger than before. And with that strength…we can achieve greatness.
Today the lay-offs begin. I’m preparing the final checks now. Last night I had trouble sleeping knowing that today I would be the person in the suit, walking into an office, telling a group of people that they are fired and handing them an orange envelope. I actually think this is good for the employees. This company brings a certain stress about it. Like there is always a tight feeling in one’s chest while working here. I don’t know how to describe this pressure. It comes from the top. Not the CEO… he’s just a face… a personality. He doesn’t realize the actions that the hounds take after he lets them off the leash. The CFO runs the company with an iron first. She’s brutal and relentless. She still isn’t as bad as the CRO. The CRO is the “Hammer”. She comes in and leaves rubble behind her. Manager trying to defend their work and their project, she comes in and blows it all up thinking she’s doing what’s best for the company. It’s obvious she has no idea what type of ramifications come from her words and actions. She probably thinks she is doing a good job. After all, she is so dedicated, right? She arrives to work early and stays very late. Works on holidays, weekends, etc. It’s a shame that someone can be in a position of that nature and still not get the simple concept of working smarter and not harder.
It’s not just the CRO though. The company is considered “old school” and they actually brag about that. So while the world changes around them instead of making necessary adjustments they are striving to bring things back. If you crack an egg it’s very difficult to get it back into the shell. The shift of society is proving the crack is real and yet they decide to pretend like the egg is fine. We’ll see if I’m around when it all shatters.
All morning the HR Manager and I worked feverishly to try and prepare all of the final paperwork for the 15 additional people being laid off. We prepared the final checks, got the legal documents we had to provide. Employees would walk by the closed door of the office wondering when it would be time. They were told they would get paid for 8 hours that day as long as they showed up, but that they wouldn’t be here that long. It took us so long that we weren’t finished until after 1pm. We tried to eat some food and then we began the meetings…
Groups of 3-4 would come in. Mixed reactions on their faces. Overall just awkward. Some wore smiles, other couldn’t mask their sadness. We handed them their check, they signed the form, and then they turned in their badge. One lady had been working with the company for over 15 years. She was offered a position and chose to be laid off instead. When faced with a choice to continue a 15 plus year career or to not have a job, she chose to not have a job. The company should really think about that for a bit and strive to find out… why. When it was all over I remember vividly the badges stacked on the desk. 13 badges… One person didn’t come in and another had forgotten theirs. It was symbolic though.
The emotions still linger. The VP sent out a mass text over the weekend with a rally cry, trying to get the management team to snap out of it and start looking towards the future. As I sit here and type this, I’ve overwhelmed with grief. I woke up, took a shower, got dressed and came to work. There are a lot of people that didn’t have that routine this morning and wished they could. The guilt is more than I can bare. Although I appreciate the VP asking us to snap out of it and to look forward, it’s easier said than done. I know in business we have to “put on our big boy pants” and suck it up because “it’s just business.” Well business is an asshole. Business needs to recognize that the capital in which it makes money is a living, breathing human being with a soul. It’s not a tally mark, it’s not a “resource”, and it’s a human. That’s how we should rebrand this company. Not one of resources and management. One of humans, analytics and leadership.
Today the last of the lay offs take place. There’s only five people today, not as bad as the nine on the first day or the fifteen on the second day. But it’s still a heavy burden. I just hope these families are able to enjoy their Christmas… Merry Christmas…
The VP called me into her office. As I sat down she looked burdened and stressed out. There was no other management in the building, so it seemed she just needed someone to talk to. She told me the layoffs weren’t over. I thought they were done with last Friday. She said the client that pulled their business from us accounted for 33% of the company’s revenue. We only laid off 20% of our workforce. The lost revenue caused the CRO and CFO to analyze and they decided that we needed to “trim the fat.” Several projects had too many employees. Operationally, the managers and supervisors working the projects would vehemently disagree. They already felt understaffed. It’s a shame that wages are the easiest line item to cut on a profits and loss worksheet. The VP said she sent her recommendations to the CRO and CFO as far as what they will be cutting. She left the door open as to whether or not I’d be involved. Her somber mood and the way she was talking to me led me to know a couple of things for sure. Either I’d be processing more people’s lay offs who thought their job was safe… or I’d be laid off myself.
Today they laid of the HR Manager. The HR Manager was with the company for 10+ years and due to this situation they had to let him go. Part of me wonders if they would have kept him if I wasn’t employed here. The guilt definitely took its toll. After all, I’m cheaper and there are simply less employees in our branch now. If the company was making the decision based on tenure or loyalty then the HR Manager would still have his job. But alas, they made a “business” decision and my wage is simply less then his wage. I haven’t truly recovered from December. I’ve held on to all the badges of the employees we let go. I’ve already started receiving the unemployment claims. At least these are easier to deal with. I simply check the box that signifies “Yep, we just laid them off, they win unemployment.” I love working in Human Resources, because I like helping people. But there is a balance. The company has to make money, so I can help people to an extent and after that I have to do what’s best for the company. This isn’t a bad thing in fact sometimes when I have fired someone in the past they have used it as a wake up call to accept personal responsibility and get better as a person and an employee. But lay offs are tough. That may be an understatement. This layoff was tough because it was a client that had this much power over us.
The HR Manager texted me and let me know that he found a job with higher pay, better benefits, better hours and closer to his house. This makes me feel a lot better. The CRO was able to move another project to our location, so it appears that the bleeding has stopped. I hope this is a turning point and we can start growing again.
I don’t know how much longer I can take it. The mood of the office is that of a boxer who just got KO’d in the title fight. I’ve been really depressed. I think the weather isn’t helping because it’s been raining for weeks now. I’m not even motivated to write about the lay offs because they are still so fresh, but after over a month it should start to be getting better. It’s going to get better right?
Today we hired our first two people since December. A couple of people have resigned since the beginning of the year. I’d be lying if I told you I hadn’t applied elsewhere myself. Going through a lay off as a Leader is gut wrenching and heart breaking. A Leader’s job is to help his team members succeed in achieving a common goal. It’s fair to say we felt like failures during the winter. But Spring is on its way and a new beginning is in sight. I actually interview these two employees in late November. I had to call them and tell them that the position is no longer available when we got word of losing the client. But to our luck they were both still interested. It felt good on boarding again, but selling people on the vision and future of the company took a lot of tact and a display of faith. I’m optimistic we can continue to grow and get back to where we were.
One of the two people I hired yesterday just got a call at lunch and was offered another job she had applied for and it was more money and better benefits. She told me she resigns. Two steps forward and one step back. It’s okay though, we’ll keep searching for quality people to join the team.
The other person I hired on the 2nd called and quit stating his wife was in a car accident. Surely this was just bad luck and not a reflection of us as a company and myself as a leader… Still optimistic.
Hired another person today. We did get some bad news that a client we were attempting to sign decided to use another vendor. The VP took it hard, but she is working on another smaller project (2 employees) to at least try to get momentum turned. Momentum is a funny thing. It seems it isn’t just a physics term for the impetus gained by a moving object, rather it applies to our daily lives as well. The phrase “When it rains, it pours,” ties into this concept. Once bad things start happening it seems they keep piling on one by one. The snowball that was at the top of the mountain has rolled down and is now an avalanche crashing everything in its path. It takes a jolt or a sudden change to stop the object and start the rebuilding process. Hopefully we can start adding smaller clients and keep the people we hire and start getting a positive slope on the momentum curve.
The new hire from last week resigned because they accepted another job with higher wages and better benefits. Am I being pranked? The VP is having a tough time with the small client. They don’t have anything we need just to be able to help them with what we need to help them with. It appears we are still fighting through our period of adversity. Hopefully we all have the grit needed to turn the ship around.
They laid of the Leadership Development Manager at Corporate. Every one loved him and enjoyed speaking with him. He was someone the employees could go to, an ear in the head of upper leadership.
They laid off the Administrative Manager at Corporate. She had been with the company for 29 years…
Reflection. There is something to be said about the phrase “the night is darkest just before the dawn,” meaning before things get better they are going to get a whole lot worse. I’m still at the company and the upper leadership is still striving to rebuild the damage from December. We added the two person client and it’s caused a tremendous amount of headache so far. Our turnover has stabilized. This write up wasn’t about the company I work for’s struggles. This was about going through something as terrible as a lay off and some of the emotions that play into it. It could have been worse, you hear of large companies laying off everyone and people losing their pensions and stock, etc. This is a small company and I’m sure it can recover. I admire those employees that stuck with us though. It proves they have loyalty and grit. Sometimes you have to ride the momentum roller coaster even if it’s unbearable hitting maximum speed towards the bottom for awhile. My advice is any person that has to lay people off is to be respectful, have genuine empathy and do your best to support that person in any way that we can. As a Leader we have to have “tough” conversations whether we are writing someone up, talking about something embarrassing, or terminating employment. When we have those tough conversations it’s important to be honest and sincere. Employees will get more angry with being fed lies then getting hit in between the eyes with blunt honesty. In terms of lay offs, what made this most difficult was the timing. Laying people off during the holidays is just horrible. But those employees that were impacted were able to start the new year off with a clean slate, a new beginning. Sometimes it’s good to take a step back, get a good look at the path ahead and then start walking again.