Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Story 10: Adapting to the New Normal

By: Model Employee

My soon to be former employer is a relatively small college. Last week was my annual review. I generally get very good reviews. I'm a web designer/developer and do my job well. I seldom take days off and put in quite a bit of time off the clock. All of my training I do is on my own time. They definitely get their moneys worth. This review was the best I've had in my over 10 years of employment with the institution. According to the review I'm a model employee with very few slight negatives. During the review I learned that the website would probably be outsourced this summer. It took some digging to learn this but it didn't take long to realize this had been in the planning stages for some time and I had been completely in the dark. My boss tried to explain I wasn't being let go and that he didn't want to lose me which directly contradicted the fact that my job was being outsourced. So I asked, if this is true then exactly what is it that I'm going to do? Sit in an office with nothing to do and sponge off the taxpayers? Not for me. There was no clear answer to this. It was evident that I really wasn't supposed to have connected the dots so quickly. They of course can't let me go right now because at this moment in time they need me.

There is a silver lining. Over the past several years I have done freelance projects with several companies in the area. I have never lost a client (knock wood) and most of my clients have referred me to their friends and business associates. I've built a fairly large network of contacts and references. Friday I took a vacation day so I could meet with two prospective clients about problems they had to solve. Both meetings went extremely well and it hit home that I enjoyed the diversity of different employers. There are many that need my skills and knowledge however they probably can't afford to hire someone full time. I don't really need health insurance as my wife works in the health care industry and has excellent benefits. Retirement is an issue, I'll have to start taking care of that myself. When I broke the news to my wife and kids it went pretty well. I explained my plan B (plan A being finding another full time employer). I explained the one thing that bugged me was that I have accumulated quite a bit of vacation time over the years. It was then that my wife reminded me that most of my vacation days were spent working so how could plan B be any worse in that respect?

It's a scary prospect change, but you have to keep in mind the scary thing is the transition and adapting to the new normal.

When I return to work tomorrow it's going to be strange. I don't think I was supposed to know that my demise was coming soon. In fact I know I wasn't, it just slipped out. I'm not sure how to behave except not to plan any projects. I am pretty sure some of my coworkers were aware of this before me so that is going to make things awkward. Do I tell my assistant because her fate will undoubtedly be the same as mine? And what about motivation? I've always been highly motivated however now I've adapted to the reality and my motivation is focused on what I'm going to do next. Do I owe it to my employer to stick around long enough to keep the boat afloat until someone else takes over? Or have the rules changed?

One thing for sure, I'm fortunate to have a backup plan in place before the pink slip arrives. I'm past the panic stage and have time to refine my plan, sell the house and rent for awhile, we've talked about selling the house before and getting something smaller. So in a way this is all liberating even though it's going to suck for awhile.

Story 9: Captain’s log, January 12, 2009.

By: Jim of I Was Laid Off

I was sitting in my car staring blankly at the big windows of one of the Directors’ office. Could this actually be it? I was laid off and unemployed!

My car was parked in the front row. That’s where you could park when you came in early, or on time. Others have to park out in the parking lot. I had made it a habit to be on time, if not only for my own benefit but also because my parents raised us to be prompt, and give an employer their money’s worth. I guess I won’t be parking here anymore.

It all began 8 years ago. It was almost eight years ago that I joined the company’s Data Network Team. It was interesting back then in that there were only five of us on the team. Now there is over 10 locally, not including those who worked in our offshore office. It seemed like many local jobs were moving offshore. We had been told that.

Over the years I had honed my skills and taken the company’s offer of offsite training, and had become better at what I did. There was a short period in 2005 when I left for another position, but that company was sold four months after I started, and the new owners talked about closing that division. So I was asked back to my old job.

In the past couple years I had been put in an ‘acting group lead’ role covering a few critical processes in the company. That lasted up until mid 2008. Our team had three different managers in the last four years. The latest manager is good at what he does, but he came on board being required to be productive and come with answers to issues that have been needing attention. I saw it as not spending enough time with the team to build relationships, which I think are vitally important.

In early 2008 the primary customer our site served, told our company they were going to back down on some of their major projects and hold off until some things stabilized. With the lack of special project work that created, many of us on the team found ways to be proactively creative and find things to do.

In mid 2008 all of us on our team were called into the manager’s office for a one on one. It was at that time that I expressed my desire to go back to being technical rather than being in a team lead type of role. A month later, I found myself in a different role with new expectations and new projects. But, with the financial issues coming to the surface in our economy, the company locked down the budgets. That essentially provided me with nothing to do in the way of projects.

At the end of 2008, the rumor mill spit out some notices that there were going to be layoffs. Since the company hired a lot of contractors, it was believed that letting the contractors go would supply enough downsizing that no full time employees would be let go. As I talked to long time co-workers over the fall and early winter, it seemed like all was well. Contractors were released, and a few people laid off but not many, and tension eased a little.

Our entire IT team made it through the Christmas holidays without being hit. But bonuses are paid on the last paycheck of January which lead to a new wave of concern. Just before bonus time would seem like a logical time to lay people off, and the company took advantage of it once again.

On Friday January 9, a close friend told me that the next week would bring some layoffs. As I pondered this over the weekend, I justified to myself the fact that I was immune to a layoff. But just in case, that Sunday I went through my laptop and deleted some of my personal things and took off some personal contact information.

Monday morning was normal. I worked through the morning, but did question another local manager and asked if anyone was getting the axe that week. He said that in that day, some people will be getting laid off and the systems team would be hit with one layoff.

I went for lunch, came back and got coffee. Around 1:30 I received a call from my manager who asked me to come to the IT Director’s office. At that moment my heart sank becuse that was unusual. The next 30 minutes would prove to be a life changing time for me. I was told that my layoff was because my position was being eliminated, and they were all sorry. The HR representative said her piece, and I was given the opportunity to take my things at that time which I took them up on.

As I look back on that day, I’m excited about new challenges and opportunities ahead of me. Maybe it was time to leave the company and stretch my wings. Anyway it’s a good time to get a new perspective on life, and spend some quality time with the family.