Monday, December 01, 2008

The Officialness of It All

I wondered all week, when I let myself think about it, how this news of our program ending was supposed to be made known to everyone else at work. Or was it going to be made known? Would I walk around for the next month or so seeing people in the hallways, wondering if they knew, wondering how to tell them?

I even went earlier in the day to our HR man, a lovely soul, and said, "I don't know whose job this is, but when you're laying a number of people off, shouldn't something be done in terms of communicating that to everyone? And shouldn't some form of support be offered to them? Or does the organization expect everyone to just walk all around the elephant in the room and all the emotions that come along with the elephant?"

(My reasoning was that this is a Christian organization that frequently invokes the terms "family" and "team" to describe the way it sees itself, and it ought therefore to treat people somewhat differently from the way any old organization does. And while I didn't know anything specific, I knew some others were losing their jobs.)

I'd never been through this before. But I knew the news had to get made known pretty quickly, because we had three new referrals this morning, and we needed to stop those referrals as soon as possible. It was an exercise in humility to realize that the decision that would change my life and that of my co-worker and those of our clients, wasn't even on the radar screen of the social workers and medical providers making the referrals.

A quick conversation with my manager informed me that there would be an official announcement made at some point during the day.

I was very curious to see how this would look.

And so, at 3:45, everyone gathered in the large meeting room. Ben and I sat together, knowing what was ahead. I have no idea who else in the room knew. Everyone sat there chatting until the CEO walked in. My back was to the door, so I only knew he'd come in because of the silence that descended upon the group of 30 or so employees around the table.

It was surreal. He didn't say a thing, just started passing out white papers. Two sheets of paper stapled together. The ominous silence continued as people began reading the document. I'm a quick reader, so I was through with it before they were all even passed out, I think. People just sat there reading, and no one said a thing.

Finally the CEO broke the eerie silence and began going over what the papers said. We and eight others are being cut. It was all presented in terms of the bigger financial picture, though that wasn't given as the determining factor regarding cutting the counseling program. That has more to do with "strategic factors."

(I'm still waiting for a clear rationale behind this "strategic decision." Not saying there isn't a good one, but I would like to hear it communicated articulately, if for no other reason than so that we can pass it on to our clients.)

Anyway, our truly good-natured CEO said nice things about everyone, assured that the layoffs have nothing to do with quality of work, made sure people didn't blame the CFO for the financial state of things, said there were no plans to let anyone else go at this time, and led a prayer.

(It was so quiet and serious. Heavy. When he mentioned our names, I was tempted to smile and raise my hand in a Queen Elizabeth sort of wave, just to break through the weirdness of it all. But I figured that might make people think that I was weird, and since I have to stay on another few weeks, decided against it.)

The meeting adjourned.

I have no idea how this sort of thing happens in other places. I don't know what I even expected. But that is what happened.

And it felt like a funeral or something, with that ominous quiet beforehand, the words spoken, and then no one said a thing to me as we walked out of the room. No one. I guess maybe people either think counselors don't need help dealing with emotional issues, or they think we're not bothered by it. More likely they just didn't know what to say, as people often don't at funerals.

The rest of the day was nice. Good talk with my manager. Session with a client I love meeting with. Short visit with the CFO. And oddly enough, on my way out, both of the MDs behind the decision (or at least present for the meeting in which the decision was made) came out, so I wound up holding the door open for them.

Which just now hit me as a really paradoxical moment. I almost never see these guys at work, almost never. But on this very day there I was, holding the door open for them when they have just shut the door on me. And yet even in the shutting of that door, other doors are opening.

I still don't have a pink slip, though. The one pictured above is so cute, I'm thinking I might just ask for one. To make it really official, you know.


lisa b said...

Oh, Sheila --

I hate this for you. Maybe because we've been through so many job endings, but while I was reading this I had a very familiar feeling in the pit of my stomach.

I'm sorry that you have to go through this. Sorry that you have to make another job decision. Sorry that you have to go through the application process.

I love you. I don't know if that will help any, but please know that I do. I'm praying for you too.

Lucy said...

What fine writing about something fairly crap. I don't think I'd want to mess with you too much in a professional situation.

That kind of blather about 'strategic reasons' without telling anyone what they are does make one mad, doesn't it. And I smiled at the thought of you doing that Queen Elizabeth wave; these kind of situations have a way of making those absurd ideas and actions pop into one's head.

I am so sorry you're in this rotten position. I hope it resolves better, and not before too long.

Much love, and thinking of you.

Sheila said...

I want to add that I don't think it's "blather" we've been getting. It just hasn't been very clearly stated. Yesterday I got a bit more clarity, which was helpful.

Aspects of the situation are pretty rotten, the emotional toil is hard. Things could have been handled differently, and, I think, better.

But I want to be clear that I'm not meaning to accuse anyone of anything more than being human. Which is a sentence I must accept myself, as well.

If that makes sense.

Neil McNerney said...

Sorry for the news, Sheila. I'm touched by your ability to put such a tough situation into words.

Take Care,


Anonymous said...


Keep me informed of what you'll be doing next. You'll remain in my prayers. I can only comment in reagards to the formality in which the news was shared that for me it might have been the easiest way to do it for those who had to do it. I realize that doesn't make it right.

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