Fear and self-loathing in America’s Rust Belt
August 19, 2009 7:30 AM   Subscribe

"It turned out 30 employees were let go that day. The Dirty Thirty. Back in March, 30 others were let go. And before that, 25 were shown the door. ‘All difficult but necessary actions’ we were told in a group staff meeting following the first cuts. Then the company stopped convening staff meetings to talk about its problems ... Kevin, my manager for five years and editorial director at the organization, never said a word to me. No goodbye. No handshake. No apology. No compassion. Nothing." Matthew Newton on job loss. (Part I, Part II)
posted by geoff. (77 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
Kept trying to figure out what his organization was; non-profit magazine located in Pittsburgh, heavily involved in auto industry stuff--any ideas?
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:43 AM on August 19, 2009


Cough, cough.
posted by geoff. at 7:49 AM on August 19, 2009


I feel for him, because being laid off makes you feel useless and angry and discouraged all at the same time, but the tortured prose made me think that he really needs to sharpen his editing skills before he fulfills his dream of becoming a freelance writer.
posted by xingcat at 7:51 AM on August 19, 2009 [5 favorites]


As a survivor of several rounds of layoffs (before being cut, too) I think the most disgusting part of a layoff is the constant justifications middle and upper management go around the office making. The most common was to label everyone let go as "dead wood." Oh really? dozens of people just happened to be "dead-wood"? Really?
Or was it just that you had to show the investors that you could make the "tough decisions" right after that round of financing?
posted by Thorzdad at 7:52 AM on August 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


I think he has unrealistic expectations associated with his writing skills. His writing destiny is to be teaching creative writing at Allegheny Community College.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:55 AM on August 19, 2009


Man works at job he hates, for dying magazine, covering dying industry, for 5 years, then gets laid off and takes it very, very personally.

Getting laid off sucks, and his company, particularly his old boss, handled it poorly, but all that stuff about burning the place down and smashing the CEO's teeth in is a little over the top.
posted by IanMorr at 8:02 AM on August 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


Wow so if I ever work for Metafilterdyne and get laid off, I shouldn't expect some existential crisis. No cowardly avoidance from them as an HR guard scurries around me insisting that they care, just not enough to pay my salary. No, they'll stand me in front of the entire board of directors who will slowly eviscerate me until I will feel only capable of the most menial tasks and at that, only because they've yet to produce a way to automate it.
posted by geoff. at 8:03 AM on August 19, 2009


It stinks to lose a job, but the stuff about swallowing one's pride at a soulless job brings to mind Jim Goad, and that's not good.
posted by porn in the woods at 8:03 AM on August 19, 2009


Getting laid off is really shitty. Getting laid off via cell phone during your vacation FUCKING BLOWS.

I looked at the boxes, then over at the woman from Human Resources who had escorted me from the entrance of the building to my cubicle. “Take all the time you need,” she said. “I’ll check back with you in 10 minutes.”

Ouch.
posted by futureisunwritten at 8:06 AM on August 19, 2009


When getting paid to move a mouse around and push keys on a keyboard one must, in the final analysis, understand one's value-add in the system.

That there are at least 40 million people in India perfectly willing and able to do this for $5/hr is humbling. If only the British had never rounded the cape. grr.
posted by @troy at 8:11 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


a week after a round of layoffs, someone once told me "you know, everyone needs to get laid off once in their career. it's an experience. you go through it, you learn to get back up onto your feet and realize what you're capable of and what it's worth when it works out right."

and then he fired me.

true story.
he survived at that place for another two months before they cut him, too.

posted by krautland at 8:18 AM on August 19, 2009 [15 favorites]


"someone once told me "you know, everyone needs to get laid off once in their career. it's an experience. you go through it, you learn to get back up onto your feet and realize what you're capable of and what it's worth when it works out right."

FTFY.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:28 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


One time when I was laid off from a publishing company, we were allowed to go back to our desks to gather our belongings. I asked if this included getting data, including email addresses from my computer, and was told it did. I went back to my cube and took my sweet time doing it. I was the last of the layoffees (which was about half the company) still at my desk when the hired gun HR guy who I had never seen before came to check on me. He saw that I wasn't doing anything I wasn't allowed to do, but he decided to sit in my cube with me while I finished. I asked him if he did this sort of thing all the time, and he said yes.

"Wow, so you just go around firing people for a living?" I said

"Well, not exactly..." he said.

"But you just said you did."

"I don't fire them, I lay them off."

"I think I would cut my own throat if I had to do that for a living," I said. And I continued to verbally harass the guy for about ten minutes until he got fed up and left. I walked out of there by myself under my own power. It was petty, but deeply satisfying.

Six months later, the company folded. The people who stayed didn't get paid for their last month of work and had most of their 401K money stolen by the company's management, many of whom ended up in jail.
posted by vibrotronica at 8:29 AM on August 19, 2009 [18 favorites]


What I do, is if I notice anyone feeling sympathy for those who were terminated, I give it to them as well. I guess it's something they want to feel.
posted by nervousfritz at 8:32 AM on August 19, 2009


I saw 'Dirty Thirty' in the title and was expecting a 47 Ronin-style story. As it turns out, corporate America is not quite as hardcore as feudal Japan.
posted by slimepuppy at 8:32 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Getting laid off is really shitty. Getting laid off via cell phone during your vacation FUCKING BLOWS.

Happened to me (in Pittsburgh too) last year, I'd taken the day before the election off to canvas and got the call while trudging door-to-door handing out "Here's your voting place" fliers. Had to get escorted in since my badge was disabled already and all my accounts were turned off; at least they gave me a couple of hours or so to exchange private email addresses with people and gather up all my books and swag.
posted by octothorpe at 8:33 AM on August 19, 2009


I got laid off on my birthday, 2002. I was upstairs, doing research on railroad signage regulations when I saw people from the third floor tromping down the stairs with copier-paper boxes of stuff, yelling, "FUCK YOU, ANYWAY". Then my boss found me. "Can we talk?" I replied in the affirmative, if he would give me a minute to finish copying the info I needed for next week's audit. I stretched it out for fifteen minutes; all the while he drifted around behind me, trying to act nonchalant.

Finally, we headed back downstairs. I steered myself into the conference room before he even asked me to. He started in with, "Birthdays are supposed to be happy times, huh?" and I responded, "OK, what do I have to sign?"

At least I got four weeks severance, and a bunch of drinks bought for me that night...
posted by notsnot at 8:35 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Six months later, the company folded. The people who stayed didn't get paid for their last month of work and had most of their 401K money stolen by the company's management, many of whom ended up in jail.
Heh.

Yeah, I saw a similar implosion happen at the very tail end of the dotcom boom -- the people who got laid off early actually made out pretty well -- 2 weeks pay beat not getting your last check.

In their case, the scam involved deducting health insurance premiums from workers' paychecks, but paying the insurance company on a bi-annual schedule. You can imagine how diligent they were protecting the last 6 month's worth of premiums, eh? It wasn't any fun for employees who discovered that even if they could afford COBRA, their policies had lapsed...
posted by verb at 8:35 AM on August 19, 2009


This is for Mathew. You have to have been where you've been to get to where you're going.
posted by squalor at 8:36 AM on August 19, 2009


It sucks getting laid off, even if you sorta know it's coming. I was a senior manager of a 20-person technology team at an investment company. When I was hired, each business unit had a its own dedicated technology team. After a merger, the new bank's technology department was very centralized. Most of my employees were put under other managers based on skill set. I was left with three business analysts and a project manager. I had a VP above me and I knew it didn't take a VP and senior manager to manage four people. But I did have my own projects that were seemingly important. Still, it was shocking to go into my boss's office, six months after I bought a house and moved out of my rent-controlled apartment, to ask a question and have him tell me, "well, uh, while you're here..."
posted by shoesietart at 8:46 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


His writing is not bad through-and-through, but it is pretty uneven. I agree that an editor could make this actually quite engaging.

And he seems to be trying to produce a bit too much pathos for something that is, alas, not uncommon at all. I have been laid off from half a dozen jobs in my life: I almost always knew it was coming a long ways off and used my newfound freedom to travel and create art. The one time that it came as a total surprise, I was shocked, but in the end it worked out okay. I was hired back by the same organization a few months later and the person who canned me now reports to me. Much more polite to me now, I must say.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:47 AM on August 19, 2009


My layoff wasn't a surprise; other departments had them, then our workflow dried up and we stopped having meetings. Then we all got called into a meeting and told we were canned while the IT guys went around turning off our computers. Since I saw it coming, thankfully, I already had moved all my personal stuff off the computer.

Still sucked. But this guys' angst feels a little overblown, a little White Dude Discovers The World Sucks. And if all those other layoffs were taking place, he shouldn't have been surprised either.
posted by emjaybee at 8:56 AM on August 19, 2009


"....editing copy that was often so dull I wished someone would run into my office and stab me in the balls just so I would remember I was alive."

Two Thoughts:

1. I bet he didn't really wish that would happen.

2. That's sort of what the HR guy did.

Can't have your cake and eat it too.. :-\
posted by HuronBob at 8:57 AM on August 19, 2009 [13 favorites]


I graduated in a recession and had trouble landing a job for a few months, then finally landed a full-time position with the magazine I'd been freelancing for in college. I'd been on the job less than a week when the editor called us all into the conference room and informed us the publication had been sold, would be merged into our former competitor/current owner, and all of us would be laid off. On the plus side, they took us all out to a fancy restaurant, where we ate and drank our troubles away on the company dime.
posted by Rangeboy at 8:58 AM on August 19, 2009


I got laid off in 1990. When they told me, I just started laughing. I was seriously overwhelmed with the greatest feeling of overwhelmedness, it was mind blowing. I had never felt so awesomely fucked and liberated at the same time.

All I could think was "What am I going to do?" At the time I didn't have any kids, no mortgage, no roots. Had only been out of college a couple of years. I was giddy with fear, anxiety, and excitement.

It's 2009. In my business, things are much much worse now than they were in the 90's. I am self employed, which is basically unemployed with a shitload more obligations. I have to pay my insurance before I pay for food. Because without insurance, there's no work for me. I can always dig out of garbage cans for food.
posted by Xoebe at 8:59 AM on August 19, 2009


Your honor the plaintiff said he wanted a surprise, and I just happened to have the jumper cables. I put two and two together. (shit eating grin)
posted by nervousfritz at 9:03 AM on August 19, 2009


I've been in the workforce for 25 years and have been laid off five times.

It sucked just as much the fifth time as the first.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 9:07 AM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


the "tough decisions" right after that round of financing?

I once worked at a company where we got our second round of financing, and the CFO shows up the next day in a purple Ferrari. 3 months later, they laid off half the company.
posted by nomisxid at 9:12 AM on August 19, 2009


I wish this author had included more material than just all the emoting he did over getting laid off. But then maybe that's all that's on his mind. The guy hated this job. I understand the fear, but didn't any part of his brain think, "Hey, I'm blowing this popsicle stand! What's ahead for me?"

I'm hoping that if it ever happens to me again, I will have the perspective and the strength of mind to feel emotions besides fear... like liberation and anticipation.
posted by orange swan at 9:18 AM on August 19, 2009


His writing destiny is to be teaching creative writing at Allegheny Community College

America: where we "value education", but mock and mistreat the people providing it.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 9:22 AM on August 19, 2009 [33 favorites]


I was fired for sleeping on the job. I always finished all my work (took on extra, actually) but the pointy heads like to look out on a sea of stern, working faces. Since I was part-time, I had no health insurance. A couple of years later, when I got health insurance, I decided to find out what was wrong with me. Turns out I had narcolepsy. But because it was undiagnosed at the time, the ADA doesn't help.

Which is a neat little ADA loop-hole, if you ask me.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:22 AM on August 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


A few days after I got fired (god-damn newspeak), my neck stopped hurting, and I started getting a full night's sleep. After a week, I was showing signs of hope and happiness.

There are far worse things in the world than losing a crappy job, so my heart doesn't really bleed for him and his purple prose.
posted by Leon at 9:25 AM on August 19, 2009 [7 favorites]


You had me nodding in agreement here:

When getting paid to move a mouse around and push keys on a keyboard one must, in the final analysis, understand one's value-add in the system.

But you lost me here:

That there are at least 40 million people in India perfectly willing and able to do this for $5/hr is humbling. If only the British had never rounded the cape. grr.

The jobs that are being outsourced are low-value, service jobs, such as assembly, answering phones, QA, some basic coding. Why anybody would aspire to such jobs, and then hope to retain them for a lifetime of employment is beyond me.

The future of (creative) industries lies with design, implementation and management. If you add value in what you do, your job will be safer.

As well, I'm sure there are a billion Indians dealing with much deeper challenges than many Americans today, who wish the British (and others) had never come to India and set up shop.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:25 AM on August 19, 2009


Aw hell, since we're sharing layoff stories...

It was the height of the dot-com bust. I was at an interactive agency and hadn't been on a project in nearly two weeks. My creative director stopped by and asked if I could join him in his office. As soon as he closed the door I asked "So this is it?" He responded "I'm sorry, buddy."

I got my pink slip and severance package, and upon leaving his office ran into the group admin who had been laid off too. We immediately left the office for beers (at 10:30 am), then the day continued with groups of friends buying me drinks and dinner, in what turned into kind of a pink slip party. I thought I was okay with everything, in fact, hey, it was kind of fun.

Until I got home, walked up to my apartment and closed the door. At the first moment I had to myself all day long, I bawled my fucking eyes out.

Good times. Good times.
posted by slogger at 9:25 AM on August 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


I've been watching people get laid off since the early 1980s. There's no question it sucks, but I know a number of people for whom getting laid off was the beginning of their real lives. Had they not been forced to rethink everything, they'd be what I am now: stuck in a job they hate with no future and no way out.

I envy them.
posted by tommasz at 9:29 AM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


I've been fired but I think my most recent job was the first one I ever truly felt "laid off" from. I moved out of DC to Atlanta, GA because I was offered a one-year trainee contract with... well, let's just go ahead and say it was my dream job. The whole point of the contract was giving you a full time job with the ability to develop skills that would apply toward an actual permanent position with the company. Six months into the contract, the company announced layoffs and a total hiring freeze "for at least the next 12-18 months."

It's a very weird feeling, knowing for five more months that you are simply not going to be able to keep your job. It's even worse when you actually love it, and have absolutely no idea what you're supposed to do AFTER the job you've been trying to get for the last seven years.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:31 AM on August 19, 2009


When I was laid off in 2006, I kind of yelled "COOL!" I hated the job and had been struggling for the whole year with whether or not to take voluntary termination, but was too chickenshit. I spent two months training the four people who were taking over from me, took my severance, and left. It took me 6 months to find any job, and 9 months after that I got a really good job. Things were kind of scary for a while. But I've never looked back on being laid off like that as anything but a good memory.

On another note, at least one person laid off from the same company around that time ended up homeless.
posted by dilettante at 9:33 AM on August 19, 2009


A good friend of mine joined Enron just before it tanked. He'd been there two weeks when his boss laid out the situation. There were likely to be layoffs and the system would likely be on a last in first out basis. But, the boss said, my friend could go voluntarily and get two months' pay.

So he too two months' pay and because he had only just left the job market he managed to find an even better job at a bank within two weeks. He'd just bought a house so he had a month gardening leave on the rest of the Enron money and then joined his new firm.

In the meantime, Enron tanked and nobody got a dime, either of that month's pay or in severance.

He is one lucky bastard.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:43 AM on August 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


I've been laid off over satellite phone while standing on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater - best layoff I've had to date.
posted by troll on a pony at 9:43 AM on August 19, 2009


You are only as secure as your ability to find your next job.
posted by LakesideOrion at 9:44 AM on August 19, 2009


The jobs that are being outsourced are low-value, service jobs, such as assembly, answering phones, QA, some basic coding. Why anybody would aspire to such jobs, and then hope to retain them for a lifetime of employment is beyond me.

In a large number of companies (but fewer than there used to be), there's a rule of 'first hire from within'. The low-value service jobs were, in a lot of places, gateways. If you spent the time getting to know the right people, do the right thing, kiss the right asses, a better spot would open and you could apply for it.

In the mid-90s, I temp-tech-supported what was THE big web browser at the time (Netscape, at version 1.2). That got me, later, a spot at an ISP's tech support line. People who showed they knew what they were doing there were headhunted for the NOC. That was the way a lot of places used to work, and there's still a feeling that you can start in the mail room and work up to the board room - that's the Great American Story, after all.

Except now the space between the mail room and the midlevel manager all went to India. And there's no longer any there there.
posted by mephron at 9:56 AM on August 19, 2009 [14 favorites]


I began working for my former employer in 2000. The first round of layoffs began in February of 2001, and the sword of Damocles dangled over me until March of this year. After dodging that bullet for so long, I began to feel numb about the entire situation. I'd find out that a teammate on another floor got cut by the MS Exchange message telling me that their e-mail address can't be found.

I knew my time was up when I met my boss in a tiny conference room for a scheduled meeting (which had been on my calendar for about three weeks) and I saw an unfamiliar guy sweating his balls off, fidgeting nervously, and a stack of laptops in the corner. My (awesome) boss was in tears as she read the terms of my separation agreement. I interrupted her about 30 seconds in to say "Hey, I know this isn't personal. I know it wasn't your decision. I know this isn't the first or the last time you're doing this today. I know it's just as rough on you as it is on me. Let's just get through with this, no hard feelings."

Someone was packing up my cubicle while I was having this meeting. Luckily, everything I had was lost in the last intra-office move, and everything I had fit in my messenger bag. I was escorted to the door, told "thank you" as I left. I hopped on my bicycle and had one of the best 22 mile commutes home.

Life since then has been pretty rough, with only one interview and about a million resumes sent out. I'm going back to school (whoo!) and hope things are better in a year or so.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 10:08 AM on August 19, 2009


In my last year at a dotcom job, we had layoffs nearly every other month. The rumor mill would start up about two weeks prior to each layoff and the whole nature of our office changed. Some people stepped up their performance in an effort to ensure job security. Others took the opposite tack, figuring they weren't going to give one more iota to this thankless place. Most tried to maintain current levels despite the blow to morale that came with an uncertain future. Many sent out resumes, and a few gripped by fear just hung on hoping for the best. It's an awful environment to be in, when fear is the prime motivator and so many talented people are shown the door.
posted by hoppytoad at 10:18 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


In a large number of companies (but fewer than there used to be), there's a rule of 'first hire from within'. The low-value service jobs were, in a lot of places, gateways.

Yeah, I agree. The challenge that G7 countries have (and some are addressing this challenge better than most) is how to provide opportunities for all workers in a Knowledge/Service economy. The biggest stumbling block is education, at every level. Thanks to the rapid changes in the workforce over the last twenty years (and the last twenty months), it's no longer possible to get a reasonably well-paying job right out of high school. And our education system doesn't even prepare students for - it doesn't even know the first thing about - a knowledge economy.

It's one thing for a guy like me to say that people should take ownership of their careers, be entrepreneurial, pursue training, and not settle for a job that can be outsourced to India or even EDS. But a lot of kids coming out of high school or community college are just not trained for the realities of the workforce.

So, unless we revamp our education system, and teach kids what kind of world they are being thrust into, it seems more and more likely that income disparities in the United States and other countries will continue to widen.

D-9's Neill Bloomkamp said something that is pretty frightening and pretty true:

I actually think Johannesburg represents the future. My version of what I think the world is going to become looks like Johannesburg. Every time I’m there, it feels like I’m in the future.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:21 AM on August 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


One of my previous layoffs had been from the business where I had worked summers through university in the mid-eighties. In 1992, years after I had left, they underwent some "restructuring" which included an early retirement package to trim the workforce a bit. The suits figured three hundred people out of ~10,000 would take it, and about 2,000 actually did. Suddenly they were tremendously short of people able to do the jobs, so they were reduced to calling summer students from the eighties to come back and train the full-timers.

They called me in April of '92 and asked if I wanted a few months' work, training people. I hadn't had a real job in a couple of years (backpacking around the world, mostly). I was to be hired as a casual, which meant I got 75% of what the full-timers got, plus a squat named diddly. No sick days, no overtime, no vacation days, no benefits, nothing. Still, I was kind of broke after a year on the road and even three-quarters of a full-timers' wages was pretty good, and I knew I could do the job.

I took the job and they told me I would be there until maybe the end of June. Come June, I heard I would be there until early September, which was later changed to late October, and then to the end of the year, and then February, and so forth. Finally as I was approaching the one-year mark, I was growing ever more tired of being yanked further and further along in a job which gave me, as I say, nothing like sick time or holidays or any flexibility. It was widely known that these situations could only endure for one year, and after a year of casual employment, the company had to either let you go or offer you a full-time job. I asked one of my fellow casual employees who was at about the 14-month mark if he had decided to leave and come back. He told me, "Oh, they didn't give me the option. Personnel fired me and rehired me on paper without telling me to get me in for another year."

I checked with the local labour authorities as to whether or not it was kosher to hire someone under a short-term agreement and prolong it indefinitely in defiance to company policy. I was told, "You should be thankful to have a job!" I could have quit, of course, but I had never quit a job before and did not want to start with this one. At that point I began making a pest of myself at work. I insisted that every safety rule be followed, demanded the no-smoking bylaws be observed (which pissed off my chain-smoking boss), made sure that the thousand tiny procedures that got ignored as a matter of course were all scrupulously followed. Because I was not actually doing anything incorrectly, there was little my irritated boss could do until he hit on the notion of writing me up by tracing blame in any accident back to me. I train a guy on his job in April, he does it fine for seven months, and in November he has an accident? It's Biscuit's fault for not training him properly.

As a casual, a written warning was widely known to be the touch of death. If you were very very lucky and a valued, skilled employee, you might survive one, but a second was absolutely the end.

I got five in my final month.

I was more than eager to go, but before that could happen I got called down to the office of my supervisor's supervisor's supervisor. He had a script he wanted to play out, and I gather the guy in my role was supposed to be down there pleading to keep his job. Unlike the full-timers, I had no kids, no mortgage, no car payments -- I was a twenty-five-year-old gen-X slacker who just wanted some time to relax.

We sat in silence for the first ninety seconds of our meeting. He spent a long time peering down at the five reports spread across his desk, in what he hoped was an intimidating moment. Finally he peered at me over the tops of his glasses. "Mr. Biscuit, do you like your job?"

"Not really, no."

That rattled him from the outset. He kept pressing. "From what I see here, I think we could be justified in letting you go."

"Okay, is there something I should sign?"

"Look, mister, I'm not kidding around! I could send you back to personnel and you would be out on the street in an hour!"

"Sounds good!" I said.

It continued in this vein for a good twenty minutes before he finally gave up trying to make me beg for my job. I got laid off that day and have never been back.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:31 AM on August 19, 2009 [90 favorites]


When I got let-go from The Death Star last December, I felt like I won the lottery.

I got to make an indecent salary, working in my basement for about 8 months before the axe fell. My separation package was pretty big, considering that I had over a decade of service there. They paid for 6 months of COBRA.

I found another job with two months, and I could afford to take it, even though it's about half the money. I love the new environment and I don't miss TDS at ALL! Talk about a world of suck.

I too had to comfort my boss as he was firing me, since he "laid off" 20 of us all in the same day.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:06 AM on August 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


I got laid off a week from Christmas in front of the whole office, and the guy sitting next to me wasn't even paying attention. He just kind of kept on working and occasionally talking at me about this new band Sigur Rós while I was cleaning out my desk with the department manager looking on. To shut him up, I gave him my ticket for the company holiday luncheon and walked out.

(I am not proud of this story, because in reality I was the guy who didn't notice.)
posted by infinitewindow at 11:07 AM on August 19, 2009 [5 favorites]


That's awesome, ricochet biscuit. I've always fantasized about quitting a job in style, but as it is I'll have to be content with my daydreams of going out Homer Simpson-style; riding around in a golf cart and playing my boss's head like a set of bongos, literally burning a bridge as I leave the property...
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:44 AM on August 19, 2009


One thing I've learned over the years - if there are layoffs going on at your company (or even the rumor of layoffs) and you don't want to be laid off - do not go on vacation. Don't take days off, try not to get sick. There's something about not being in the office when decisions are made that automatically puts your head on the block. I've seen it many, many times.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:09 PM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Turns out I had narcolepsy. But because it was undiagnosed at the time, the ADA doesn't help.

Which is a neat little ADA loop-hole, if you ask me.


Well, no, because how can someone discriminate against you unless they know you're part of a protected class? Narcolepsy isn't obvious, and you can't retroactively sue someone for firing you for sleeping, when you didn't even know you had narcolepsy and certainly your employer didn't.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:23 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ugh. As someone who's constantly hearing the tick-tick of the clock counting down until my own department goes away (they're waiting until after the new year, thank Christ), stories like this both depress the hell out of me and make me feel grateful that at least I was given what turned out to be over three years' warning about my own unemployment.

Which reminds me, I need to get a college transcript (WTF?) to apply for that school district job today.
posted by middleclasstool at 12:27 PM on August 19, 2009


The most amazing part of this story: the dude kept a peace lily alive for 5 years. A couple of things about that. First, he had a window in his office. Cubes don't really have windows. Couldn't have been that bad. Second, he may have missed his life's calling. He's clearly better suited to gardening or something. Keeping an office plant alive for five years is an accomplishment of which he should be proud.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 12:34 PM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


During the dotcom days I got a great job with a fairly small web consultancy in San Francisco. When I started there were 40 employees. We got bought by a Big 5 consulting firm that proceeded to run us into the ground. When I got laid off I was one of 4 remaining employees (somehow I was still a bit shocked).
posted by kirkaracha at 12:49 PM on August 19, 2009


What motivates politicians to seek jobs for which they must re-apply, even spend lots of money to pursue, every two, four, or six years (US terms)? While in office, they must put up with cranky constituents and greedy backers.
posted by Cranberry at 1:27 PM on August 19, 2009


Had my cube contents FedExed back to me, itemized list ("one [1] Hello Kitty notepad, one [1] copy of Programming Perl, one [1] Nerf gun...") and all, while I was recovering from a car accident at my first, last, and only dot-com job.

FedExed! Three boxes! It was kind of awesome in its ridiculousness.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 1:29 PM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Laid off? You lucky, lucky bastard. Oh, how I dream of being laid off!

Lessee: President shoots herself in the head, company starts to tank. Escaped before the crash. Next: Two boss setup; one retires, the other spends more time on his boat on Lake Powell than at work as revenue tanks. Escaped before the crash. Next: Boss husband gets restraining order against other boss wife; boss wife gets restraining order against boss husband so he sleeps in the office and abuses prescription drugs; eventually he steals 80K of company money and runs off to New Jersey; returns, whereupon wife forgives him, though still goes forward with divorce; boss husband wants to steal all her clients and take me with him; I say that's distasteful and disagree; boss wife, on the other hand, thinks it's a fine idea and cedes all company assets to him. Ran off screaming, though I did manage to steal two clients from them in spite. And those are just the cases where the company I worked for didn't intend to screw me over. Two other employers very directly kicked me in the balls, so to speak. Honestly, the two times I've been laid off have been heavenly compared to the rest of my work history. And this last time has been the best thing to ever happen to me.
posted by effwerd at 1:30 PM on August 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


Wow, reading this makes it sound like everyone's lives apexed in a dotcom fin de siècle.
posted by geoff. at 1:43 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


KokoRyu The jobs that are being outsourced are low-value, service jobs, such as ... some basic coding.

At the point I got laid off from RSA (from their Vancouver office, KokoRyu), they'd outsourced three of their major products to India and more were expected to follow. The dev teams were good, too--for the product I was most involved with, engineering was faster and more responsive after moving to India than when they were in Silicon Valley.

Quark 6 was famous for being an abortion of a sequel to the then-dominant Quark 4.5 because halfway through development they outsourced the entire project to India.
posted by fatbird at 1:58 PM on August 19, 2009


I was shocked but not surprised when I was "let go" several years ago from a company I knew was not going to make it financially. Thought they'd give some notice rather than pack now and leave edict.

It was a partnership company where there was the good guy and bad guy partners. Good guy bailed/called in sick the afternoon of the firings. Couldn't handle it. Bad guy seemed to get a kick out of it.

I was first to be called into his office. I grab my notepad to take down notes during the presumed project meeting. He starts babbling about lay-off. I was already looking for a new position elsewhere, so I proceeded to fill him in on things that were hot-button issues on my projects. Poor guy, he thought I was confused. Kept saying, really, we're laying you off. Yeah, I say, but you're going to have to do this and this and this to keep these projects running; and, P**** has been helping with them, and can probably get up to speed pretty quickly. I then found out that P**** will be gone too.

I wonder how those projects turned out. Those were some really nice clients... felt bad for them. When I exited his office, I whispered to our office manager that I was fired. He went to the restroom and threw up while I was packing - didn't see it coming either. Boy, I was glad to never have to see bad-guy boss again, but the way it was done sucked.
posted by mightshould at 2:33 PM on August 19, 2009


Fatbird: I dunno, I would expect the size of the organization has a lot to do with it. If you look across Georgia Strait to Victoria, you'll see a really vibrant software industry, and even some of the bigger companies (Schneider Electric) are refraining from outsourcing, as it is too expensive and too poor quality. Of course, these companies are generally making customized product for smaller markets at higher margins.

The same is probably true for Vancouver - EA and Activision have all downsized staff, but the smaller SME-sized effects studios are doing fine.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:46 PM on August 19, 2009


Tortured prose, really?

I often wish someone would run in and stab me in the balls to remind me I'm alive, too.
posted by shownomercy at 3:53 PM on August 19, 2009


Since we're dragging out the stories, my first real job was working for a dotcom ISP who had done fairly well in the market, but I never really focused on being useful to anyone up the chain and was just sort of a utility programmer for one department (so it was all lateral goodwill). So when a round of layoffs comes, my boss gives me a pink slip and pushes me out the door.

I did some temp work for SBC for 6 months before getting fired as surplus to requirements (at Christmas, ugh), then do a stint at a gig I really loved that ended up folding when they lost most of their customer base to a competitor overnight.

But the best part? The original company ended up hiring me again after upper management was unilaterally terminated when the original company was acquired. I'm doing the job of the man who fired me all those years ago. Mind you, he had a staff and a ton of experience, I just have sort of arcane rituals that work, but it's a living.
posted by Kyol at 4:03 PM on August 19, 2009


I often wish someone would run in and stab me in the balls to remind me I'm alive, too.

yeah, that and wishing he'd been waterboarded prompted an eyeroll.
posted by @troy at 4:30 PM on August 19, 2009


The jobs that are being outsourced are low-value, service jobs, such as assembly, answering phones, QA, some basic coding. Why anybody would aspire to such jobs, and then hope to retain them for a lifetime of employment is beyond me.

First off that is no longer true. More and more high level jobs are being out-sourced every year.

Second it's class-ist and condescending as hell. Low value?

My grandmother, who only ever achieved high-school education, worked jobs like that and sent my father to college. He was the first in his family to go. Who are you to level value judgments like that? Not everybody has rich parents where affording a college and getting a job of the type YOU aspire to is a given. Besides those jobs are called "entry-level" for most people. And it's how people often get their start.

I have hear sentiments like yours for twenty years. And you know what I hear them less and less these days. Becuase inevitably the worm turns and when it's the privileged upper middle class snobs that get laid off and can't find work, why, outsourcing is a big deal.

I left the grind and started my own business years ago. People saying what you said about outsourcing six years ago are knocking on my door desperate for work.
posted by tkchrist at 4:48 PM on August 19, 2009 [11 favorites]


Sorry Koku - but it's possible to make a tidy living cleaning up after "low value" coding which has been outsourced and then identified as garbage.

Software development is not engineering, it mainly appears to be a "craft" and in 20 years, if I've learned one thing, it is that the key to success is communications and collaboration - something that is not easily possible half a world away.

Outsourcing happens in cycles.

So - some companies will try it, some projects will fail, but it still costs less than something locally. Eventually after enough failures and enough problems they bring the work home.

Other companies look to the first as an example, experiment with outsourcing and then, eventually bring the work home.
posted by jkaczor at 5:06 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I had been told as a member of management, that layoffs were coming most of 2008. Finally the magical day came right before the election in November. I had been working with my headphones on like usual until I felt a tap on my shoulder and saw one of my directors standing in my cube ashen faced. He asked to follow him the same way a prisoner would be asked to take his final walk on death row. I knew I was fucked, but part of me hoped it was just something inane. I had worked for this company for a decade and had been promoted 7 times. My work was important dammit! But as we go closer and closer to HR my head hung lower and lower.

I have to admit it was liberating to know that all the damned projects and unfinshed work DIDN'T MATTER ANYMORE. I started sleeping again, lost 80 pounds and felt better than I had in years. I started a new job in January, and now am right back in a very similar job and environment. Of course I feel miserable and trapped because now I realize nothing really matters and the company will dump your ass in a heartbeat. I find myself dreaming of selling T-Shirts to tourists. Sigh...
posted by UseyurBrain at 5:23 PM on August 19, 2009


Awesome. Can we have an outsourcing derail now? 'Cause I've got some doosies.
posted by verb at 8:14 PM on August 19, 2009


"Do you want some cheese to go with all that whining?"

Look at it this way, there are two types of jobs, one is a bad job and the other is not so bad. If you get a bad job - leave it. If you luck out and get a not so bad job and then lose it, you are right back where you were before you got that job. On the street looking for a job.

Occasionally a good job opens up, a civil service job. About the only way to lose one of those jobs is to screw the pooch on Main Street.
posted by Jumpin Jack Flash at 9:54 PM on August 19, 2009


The jobs that are being outsourced are low-value, service jobs, such as assembly, answering phones, QA, some basic coding. Why anybody would aspire to such jobs, and then hope to retain them for a lifetime of employment is beyond me. The future of (creative) industries lies with design, implementation and management. If you add value in what you do, your job will be safer.

Actually, engineering jobs are going overseas. Not drafting or design, either: Engineering. I've also seen database administration jobs going overseas, which is usually not considered a low-value service job.

A good friend of mine joined Enron just before it tanked. He'd been there two weeks when his boss laid out the situation. There were likely to be layoffs and the system would likely be on a last in first out basis. But, the boss said, my friend could go voluntarily and get two months' pay.... In the meantime, Enron tanked and nobody got a dime, either of that month's pay or in severance.

Ex-Enroner here, who was there until that December 3. I'm surprised, because most management (at least, in the Enron Net Works -- the IT division for EnronOnline-- were told our best bet was to stay because we could then receive the layoff package outlined in our HR manuals (which was not true). We did get paid for time worked and $4500 as severance. However, we were blocked from selling our Enron stock during the last month because *coincidentally* they were making changes to the program and thus *had to* keep everyone's stock exactly in place with no selling and no changes to plans that dictated a purchase with each paycheck. They guy who sat behind me, who was a contractor and so not part of that plan, was shorting our stock and let out chortles of glee every few minutes. So, that was nice.

In another company I worked for, IT and other groups were notified before the employee was told, so that they could be prepared to shut things down. The telephony people always had early shifts, so they would actually collect the telephone on the person's desk first thing in the morning. So, people would know that they were getting laid off that day if their telephone went missing.

Some people hid their telephones before leaving each day, in a real misunderstanding of cause and effect.
posted by Houstonian at 5:31 AM on August 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


Oh yes, and at Enron we were told to go home, and call our voicemail the next day to find out if we still had jobs. Laid off by voicemail message. Cold, but I guess practical when you are laying off thousands.
posted by Houstonian at 5:43 AM on August 20, 2009


Becuase inevitably the worm turns and when it's the privileged upper middle class snobs that get laid off and can't find work, why, outsourcing is a big deal.

I would assume you're talking about me. Well, I'm the son of a plumber. I believe what I do because I've been forced to undergo my own career change, I've been laid off just before Christmas. All that sort of stuff. Needless to say, I'm highly, acutely aware of my value proposition as a worker.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:30 AM on August 20, 2009


value proposition
posted by nervousfritz at 8:45 AM on August 20, 2009


Sometimes I feel like a major statistical outlier in the IT business. I've been a network engineer for over 15 years, and I've never been laid off. (Part of this is that I worked at one stable company for the entirety of the .com boom.)
posted by rmd1023 at 9:56 AM on August 20, 2009


Sometimes I feel like a major statistical outlier in the IT business. I've been a network engineer for over 15 years, and I've never been laid off.

Stay away from my kids, you Goddamn freak!
posted by fatbird at 11:36 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


All that sort of stuff. Needless to say, I'm highly, acutely aware of my value proposition as a worker.

But not so aware of the value of other people's economic situations and work it would seem. Judging by the condescension in your earlier statement.

I mean. A plumber? Who would aspire to that? Hey. We could totally outsource that. And then people like you would have never got the opportunity to go to college.

Not everybody has your same life experiences or opportunities. Some people just need a good job to feed their kids, pay the bills, maybe own a home one day. People probably like your own father. That's what they aspire to. Sometimes because it's all they CAN aspire to.

And it's okay to deny them this by outsourcing their jobs, why? In the name of 3% more profit for some already mega-rich motherfuckers? Or is it becuase these types of jobs are beneath us?

Dismissing these people as "low-value" is really insulting, elitist (the bad kind), and condescending. Why are they so beneath your some-how higher aspirations? Becuase they work low skill labor? Or. Because their livelihoods are disposable and completely at the capricious whim of a profit-taker who can outsource much needed work? Well. Like you mentioned. So is YOUR livelihood. It's disposable, too. At some point. Somewhere there is always somebody with more skill than you deciding if you should keep your job just so they can make a little bit more money.

Seems to me if you too are one of those people who "got laid off at Christmas" you didn't learn the right lessons.
posted by tkchrist at 4:02 PM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hi tkchrist, I think I will take this to MeMail, as this thread is not about me.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:23 PM on August 20, 2009


That there are at least 40 million people in India perfectly willing and able to do this for $5/hr is humbling

And highly annoying when they're closing where you work as the first step in moving those jobs there. Of course, they may still keep it in America (middle step), what with the current climate and all.
posted by LD Feral at 7:30 AM on September 3, 2009


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