Happy Layoff Anniversary to Me
Two years ago today, I was fired from my job as a technical writer at a small software company. I’d been there for a year and a half, but I had no illusions about job security. That lay-off was my third one in four years. While I might have thought I’d broken the curse when I passed my one year anniversary, I wasn’t really surprised when I was laid off on 28 October 2003. My only surprise is that it didn’t happen in November, my nemesis month when it comes to lay-offs, deaths and bad luck.
Being a veteran of lay-offs, I was able to laugh and joke through the exit interview. Lay-off #3 was a different beast than Lay-off #2, where I burst into tears talking to the so-called outplacement co-ordinator, a contractor who ostensibly was supposed to ease my transition into the job search market although in reality I think her chief function was to assess my mental state and determine if I was going to trash the network or lead an angry mob on a riot through the cubicle farm.
With lay-offs, how people take it is due, in large part, to how the company treats the event. At Company #3, the CEO was a very decent, honest guy who really didn’t want to have to lay people off. He had a couple of meetings with the entire company, to explain the situation and the possible courses of action. Everyone knew that lay-offs were imminent and when they happened, they happened in a humane manner.
At Company #2, the lay-offs were a stealth attack. It was the Monday after the Thanksgiving holiday and the HR department carefully orchestrated the event. The “safe” people were whisked away to a meeting so that they wouldn’t have to confront the fallen. The individual lay-offs were carefully scheduled and supervised so that the lay-off-ees couldn’t congregate. The HR person who did my lay-off wouldn’t tell me who else was laid off, she would only give me a percentage of the overall work force. It wasn’t until I got home that I found out most of my group had been axed.
Lay=off #2 was a lay-off by sniper. While the company may have felt it was protecting itself, its remaining employees and the confidentiality of the laid-off employees, the whole process was really just a gigantic institutionalized slap in the face.
Lay-off #3 marked the end (at least thus far) of my permanent regular employment. Since then, I’ve worked on a freelance or a contract basis. It’s not such a bad life, although the erratic and unpredictable income aspect of it can be a little unsettling, especially now that Peter is also pursuing the be-your-own-boss good life.
I think I could get used to contract work though. Sure, I’m going to have to figure out a way to make my own provisions for a pension and health insurance. But I like the flexibility. I like the idea of working for a couple of months in a cubicle farm and then working for a couple of months on my own novels and articles. I like to think of myself as a slightly higher-tech and better-paid version of an itinerant farm labourer.
In the 21st century, job security doesn’t exist. Working as a contractor keeps me from falling into a sense of complacency. I’ll never get too comfortable but I’ll also never have to see the Layoff Fairy in the doorway of my cubicle either.