Throughout the entire pandemic, executives from the CEO on down to my boss have assured us that they planned no layoffs for our company. Our clients are advisory firms that mostly charge based on assets under management (AUM). Although millions of people are experiencing desperate financial straits, the fortunate tiny percentage of people who have investment accounts have (after a not-unexpected plummet early in the pandemic) enjoyed shockingly good market returns, which means their assets have grown — and, accordingly, so have their AUM-based advisory fees. When financial advisors make money, they can pay the annual subscription cost for my company’s software. Which all means that I get to keep exchanging my writing ability for a steady paycheck.
The thing is, my company, which exclusively makes financial account reporting and rebalancing software, isn’t so much a stand-alone company anymore as an increasingly subsumed division of a larger corporation. That corporation has undergone some significant changes in C-suite-level leadership over the last 12 months. I don’t know if it’s standard for all leadership changes, but clearly the new men (it’s all men, naturally) didn’t completely agree with the direction the previous CEO and his team had chosen. The new men want to consolidate divisions and reduce duplication of effort, a laudable plan to increase efficiency and reduce corporate expenses.
Read the fine print, though: What’s good for corporate finances isn’t so good for us peons down here on the ground. The software engineering department at my division lost 11 people on Tuesday, while a total of 81 people companywide experienced the joys of “right-sizing.” Per usual for layoffs, despite everyone working remotely, the rumor mill swiftly spread the news before managers could even call meetings to slap on the “my door is open, talk to me about anything” band-aid.
Also per usual, the casualties remained anonymous, leaving those of us who survived cuts to try to compile our own lists: “Did you hear John Doe is gone now?” “No! That’s terrible. He was so nice.” Call it a living eulogy. I don’t know why companies keep the names of people laid off private — there’s no shame in being laid off (I speak from firsthand experience!), and if I know a friend has lost their job, I might be able to help connect them with a new opportunity. But no; every round of layoffs I’ve experienced — this is my fourth — the company keeps it secret.
This round of layoffs really hit me hard. Even though everyone on my team retained our jobs (we actually have open requisitions for more e-learning people, so if you have experience with Camtasia or Storyline, let me know!), I did work with and like many of the people I know of who lost their jobs. I still haven’t heard the complete list. But something about these layoffs brought back painful memories of being laid off: The manager, someone I didn’t even know, coming to my cubicle. Telling me I was being laid off. Boxing up my personal items. The exit interview — still in shock. Being escorted out. Riding my bike home with all my stuff jammed in panniers.
This week when I learned about the layoffs at my current employer, I tried to keep working for a while, then gave up and took a “mental health day” for the rest of the afternoon. A bike ride in the drizzly dark actually soothed my tumultuous emotions and helped settle my mind, but I still kept thinking about it.
Layoffs are when the shroud of “corporate culture” and “caring for employee wellbeing” gets ripped away to reveal the rotting corpse beneath, the fundamental lie at the heart of working today: That employees are more than cogs in a machine, more than mere “human resources.” No, indeed, we aren’t. As soon as it’s expedient for a company to eliminate some positions, they do so — albeit with many sorrowful words about the sad necessity of losing valuable team members, etc., etc.
Layoffs remind us in the starkest possible way that corporate welfare always comes first. After all, Wall Street and the shareholders expect strong growth! We have to hit our quarterly numbers! Sorry, but your position was redundant. There’s no place for you here; good luck in the cold, hard world.
Layoffs remind me, at least, to give my employer exactly the amount of loyalty they give to me. As the only Help Center writer left for my entire division — at a developer : writer ratio of something like 60:1 — my job remains secure, at least until they decide developers can just write Help Center. But when I’m no longer useful or when they have a cheaper replacement for me, they’ll regretfully but swiftly send me packing, and don’t let the door hit me on the way out. So if I see other opportunities, I should have exactly the same amount of hesitation at leaving as my company would have at laying me off: none.
I’m okay with a purely transactional employment situation. I just dislike the corporate culture/we’re your friends/we care about you shroud that companies seem to feel they need to pull over that corpse. Give me the honest situation: They pay me and I give them 40 hours a week of my time and talent. I don’t need my coworkers to be my best friends and I don’t need my company to provide for the well-being of anything beyond my finances. When it no longer makes sense for either party to maintain that transactional relationship, then they can terminate it. That’s the way life is, and it’s fine. Let’s just all be honest about it, okay?
Needless to say, layoffs get me thinking.