Grace Under Pressure: Lessons Learned

Today is another day where I have to sit back and look at my life and simply take it all in stride.

If you’ve been following this sporadic, crazy blog, you know my life has changed in multiple ways over the course of the last year and a half. I can’t even begin to tell you all the things that have changed for me, but I can tell you that one day I plan to sit down and write it all out.

That said, this is another example of life changing events that are all coming together in ways I can’t fathom to create the patchwork quilt that’s shaping up to be my life. It’s quite the motley piece of work at the moment, but I’m sure that’ll change as time goes on and it’s shape becomes clearer.

Yesterday, I was laid off from my job at the weight loss center. Again.

So I know that comes as a shock considering I only started the job in February, but it is what it is. I’m still trying to process it, but the real processing I’m doing is in recognizing this for the lessons it gives me for the future.

This is the second time in under a year I’ve experienced a layoff, and it was quite different from the first. So I wanted to write a post describing the differences because to me, this is what’s most important and worth remembering for the next job I tackle.

With no further ado, let’s begin, shall we?

First: being professional about a layoff means taking the time to prepare for your conversation with your employee and how you’ll handle that decision because that will determine much of how your employee views you.

With my first job, the layoff was something they had to prepare for based on news of losing a large client. It was a huge deal for the company, something the upper management had to ponder over and determine what branches of the company would be hit hardest, which positions would be cut, and how to best prepare those people who would be let go for life after the company. When I walked into that meeting, I had three people with me who were somber, solemn, and clearly hurting as they explained the situation to me, handed me paperwork explaining severance (a clear blessing considering how short a time I’d been there), how to file unemployment, and COBRA insurance policies. Their care and time to talk me through the situation was enough to show me that this was a company I cared about and would have loved staying with because of the family atmosphere and the relationships I had already developed.

On the contrary, with the weight loss center, the situation was entirely different. It was very cut and dry. I was taken to my office by the operations manager and told she “needed to make a change” and that meant today was my last day. There was no discussion of why she needed to make a change or whether I could work in a different capacity. She was simply done with me and needed me gone, and I could tell by looking at her that she didn’t seem to be concerned with my situation in the least because in her mind, she was tying up a nasty loose end.

Second: the preparation that was put into the layoffs led to the outcome with the staff and the sense of either comfort or unease as a result of the layoffs.

As with the first company, I was good friends with some of the people I worked with outside of work, so I was able to hear a little more about what happened in the aftermath of the layoffs. There was a normal company meeting set to take place within the next day or two, and it was at that time the management team addressed the layoffs with the employees. Yes, people were upset, but they ultimately understood the reasons for the layoffs as being connected to the loss of a large client, which some people already knew was coming down the pipes anyway. The comfort they gained from knowing that management was hurting just as much as they were was enough to help them bind up their hurts and move on with their work as much as possible. (Though, I will say some of them weren’t as comforted as others and did move on to other jobs, but that seems to be fairly standard in the event of a layoff.)

With my operations manager, I sat in shock as she told me I’d be laid off and couldn’t formulate a good question to ask. But then she asked me the mother of all loaded questions: “Do you want me to tell the girls it was your decision to leave?” Hearing this gave me even more questions, and I sat for a few minutes before responding: “No, it wasn’t really my choice to leave, was it?” (Now, you have to understand that was a really brave thing for me to say because I rarely actually stand up for myself, especially in a situation like this, but I digress.) So she told me she’d tell them she was making a change.

Here’s where the lack of preparation comes in: she obviously knew what she was going to tell them, that question was irrelevant and meant for my benefit only, and it makes no difference to me what she tells the women I worked with. The truth is, they know I had no motivation to quit, I was finding my stride and enjoying working with people. So regardless of how she handled it, she would have no means of convincing them I chose to quit, and they would still have questions.

Third: preparation is key in how you send your now-former employees out the door and how professional they’ll see you as an employer – whether that matters to you, is entirely your decision.

I’ve said to Fernando that I wouldn’t go back for my former employer because of being laid off, but that’s a pride issue on my part. The truth is, I loved my job, and I’d kill to have a chance to work with people like that again. Even in the way they sent me on my way, which may at first seem demeaning to the uninitiated, I recognize the professional courtesy they gave me and the compassion my manager offered me as he sent me out that day. You see, I understand a company’s need to shield itself from a potential volatile situation with employees who are being laid off.

I didn’t even work directly with clients, and they were rarely in the building, but given that we worked with computers that had private client information, it was essential the company shield itself from any potential for upset. The fact they gathered my things for me was pretty much standard operating procedure for most professional operations. But then my manager picked up my box of stuff since I was a wreck and walked me out. He walked me to my car and talked with me all the way there and was almost in tears himself about the situation. That means a lot to me, and it says a lot about his character.

Again, in contrast, when my operations manager finished her spiel and took my key from me, she pretty much washed her hands of the whole thing. She left me in my office to go to the front desk. I was still in shock and wasn’t sure what was going on, so perhaps she should have been more honest with me and told me to get out because I was trying to go on with work. When she came back and saw me trying to work, she let me finish what I was doing and then told me they’d pay me through the day and that I should go ahead and go so I could enjoy my day.

Wow.

Go enjoy your day?

If it wasn’t clear to me then, it’s increasingly clear to me now that she simply didn’t like me and wanted rid of me. She didn’t want to give me 90 days to prove myself. I was, in fact, bringing in clients at this point. I was early every day, had things up and running, and while I wasn’t the most confident and hadn’t completely developed my stride, I was beginning to get there.

That said, I realized what she meant. She needed me gone before the other girls got away from their clients. So I grabbed my things, my picture of me and Fernando, and I started out.

Her parting words? “Well, this is it. Bye, enjoy the rest of your day! Enjoy the sunshine, and the beautiful weather! I’m going to be jealous of you out in the sun!”

I don’t know about you, but that is one of the most petty things she could have said, especially after terming me for nothing more than a personality conflict. I didn’t deem it necessary to respond and simply walked out the door without a look back, and no, I didn’t enjoy the sunshine, Ms. Operations Manager, because it was 36 degrees outside, and you knew it! 

In conclusion: I’ve learned that it’s important to recognize professionalism from the source and try to figure out what you’re getting into when you start a job. I know Fernando didn’t like the company and didn’t want me to work there to begin with, and I should have listened to his warning signs. I suppose I was so hoping to find something and try my hand at something new that I ignored the signs and went for something new and different in the hopes it would pan out.

But now I know that professionalism in looks is a far cry from professionalism in actions. And I’ll save myself the trouble next time and simply go back to an office environment that practices more traditionally accepted norms and operations.

What about you? Have you learned anything from experiences like this? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

– RaeNez

 

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Interviewing with HR

February 13th was kind of a big day for me. I wasn’t going to say exactly, but it was actually my year mark at work, and I was sent my annual review that apparently goes out to everyone on the date they hired in. So goes a year of my life… drowned out on the phones in commentary I can’t be moved to care much more about than I do about the people who tell me how much I should stop by their kiosks at the mall to “try a little something” because they want to jack up prices on some product I shouldn’t purchase and wouldn’t use.

Clearly I shouldn’t have hired in prior to Valentine’s Day, but so goes it…

That said, it’s been a real trip the last few days this week. Monday I responded to the human resources questionnaire I was sent as part of my “thanks for staying” email from our VP of HR. Being the honest and blunt sort, my answers to questions weren’t exactly expected, and I was promptly emailed back by the VP requesting a meeting with me.

I will say that by blunt I don’t mean I was aggressive. Nor was I rude. I simply answered honestly and without sugar-coating any of my feelings on things the way some people would possibly have done. When asked, for example, how engaged I felt with the company, I stated “not very,” and proceeded to explain why and how they could change that for me in my department.

I know it’s the place of human resources departments to take care of employees. We are their customers, so to speak, and so said my VP when I met with her Tuesday. She tried to reassure me that she sees the people on the phones as the life blood of the company, but the truth is that when all is said and done, we are still just the employees.

As I told her earnestly, the trickle down affect of our COO’s patronizing and demanding ways moves through the ranks from our Assistant Vice President to our Manager to our Supervisors and Assistant Supervisors. It doesn’t stop with them. They demand the performance that is causing so much stress and dissatisfaction with the job.

I know she understands because she’s putting together a plan of action for the department, and that’s great. She asked me to bear with the department as they implement the new changes she wants, and she’s determined that we won’t feel as downtrodden as I described myself in the questionnaire responses I sent her.

I’m not sure if this has any connection to my meeting with her or if I was chosen in a random sampling that they’re doing, but I received an email from another of our HR gurus today asking me to meet with him to discuss the employee morale and engagement of our department. He’s asked me to fill out a second survey, which is scarily more personal.

In fact, it requests I rate my loyalty to the company on a scale of “extremely” to “not at all.”

While I don’t recall seeing a place to put my name on the form, I have to question just how honest I should be in this form.

I can understand why our HR department is taking such an interest in the call center employees’ morale and engagement. I just highly doubt they’ll be able to offer any form of improvement over what we have thus far developed as the main form of management and supervisory skills.

I’m still debating on how honest to be in that survey…

At least I have until Monday before I have to make any hard and fast decisions. My meeting with the HR guru is then. We’ll see how it goes, but at the very least, I have the reassurance from my VP of HR that I’m not on the chopping block that she keeps track of in terms of potentially losing my job. So that is a relief.

– RaeNez

The Dreaded Cubicle

Growing up, we always saw them portrayed as the ultimate in horrifying work conditions. Working in cubicles… four padded walls and no door, the ultimate in the insane asylum effect. If you ever wanted to take a person to insanity and push them to the asylum, assign them to a cubicle and give them a menial task for 8 to 10 hours a day, then send them home with no hopes of advancement and no light at the end of the tunnel.

A fairly typical sight in many working environments.

I rest my case.

But coming from someone who currently works in a cubicle and sees very little light at the end of the tunnel and no hope for advancement (nor any real desire to work in management for my company despite my credentials), I have to say the cubes grow on you after a while.

I mean, the nice thing about them is not having to be restricted to one design theme. Sure you’re seated the same way as everyone else, you’re assigned a seat, whether it’s next to the loud-mouth obnoxious woman who gossips at the top of her lungs or the married man who flirts with you every chance he gets is not up to you, and you’re given standard company equipment you have to obtain a doctor’s note to change out for something more comfortable.

And sure you can decorate with all kinds of things that you can bring from home. Though you may want to store it happily away in your desk drawer when you’re not there… I’m just saying. Company theft will not be tolerated and all, but who says that sandwich wasn’t lifted from the refrigerator? Oh, and don’t mind those internal motion detectors they have that go on at night. They only come down from the ceiling and reach a range not far off from the top of your desk. Hope you don’t decorate with anything too tall that shifts in the air conditioning.

See? Cubes aren’t too terrible. They’re perfectly square. Er, I mean, functional. In fact, you can pack a room full of these charming pieces, squeeze a couple hundred reps in and fill the rafters with the charming sounds of people talking all at once.

“Ma’am, I’m not raising my voice at you. I am telling you what we have to do to fix your account.” 

Sir, if you would just listen to me… Fine! You talk because every time I try to speak you interrupt me!”

“Now if you do this, interest accrues, but you don’t have to pay. Wouldn’t that be a nice option since you don’t have any money?” 

“I want you to write this down very carefully. I AM REQUESTING…” 

Indeed. And for those reps who get chronic headaches, like myself, this is the perfect atmosphere for inducing said headaches. It’s full of all kinds of triggers: loud speech, loud noises in general, obnoxious scents, fluttering lights, varying degrees of lights in different parts of the room, fluctuating temperatures, etc.

Again I digress. (You’ll find I do that a lot.)

All said, the cubes make you wonder if even the comic strip artist responsible for Dilbert could be right.

All copyrights go to Dilbert’s owners. I’m just posting here, but to see more of his genius, please visit his website. 🙂

There’s a co-worker of mine, Rhonda, who’s a bit loud and obnoxious and doesn’t exactly censor herself. She’ll holler across the room to make herself heard despite the super-sensitive microphones we speak into at work to discuss accounts with customers.

That said, Rhonda is one who is rather fashion conscious, which includes how she wants to be seen when she’s not at her desk. It’s color-coordinated and highly organized. It’s got some lovely black and white zebra print office supply items featuring a framed picture of her and her boyfriend, a pen holder, and a mousepad. And one other thing that definitely sets her desk apart, aside from the pictures that feature her in them, is the arrangement of Christmas lights she has draped artfully around her cube.

I tell you this because Rhonda tends to email us all when she’s bored, annoyed, tired, or being dramatic. Which means this happens relatively often, and on a Listserv email operation, it means I can’t opt out of receiving her emails. And if she asks for help or tells you to see her for this or that reason, she makes mention of the lights around her desk as the way to find her.

As if we didn’t know.

I say all that to reiterate that the cubes aren’t terrible. They just turn you a bit jaded, maybe somewhat cynical, and a tad bit hard. Perhaps it’s easier to feel more like a human being when you aren’t lumped in with a number of other people tethered to a computer mouse and monitor, a headset and phone and who feel scrutinized like bugs under a microscope when you stand to stretch or walk to the bathroom or take a small break.

The cubes tend to make you one in a crowd. Breaking it down, they make it easier not to see the faces or attach the face to the nameplate. They make it easier to dehumanize a group of people and begin treating them as a single entity instead of as individuals with differing circumstances. When you do that, it’s easier for management to begin treating the whole as very manageable by standards unobtainable by everyone.

Sure, one person can reach goals such as 400 resolutions a month, 30 people can regularly hit 250 resolutions a month. Then we’ll add in additional goals, stick them in their cubes, and grade them on a monthly basis to let them know where they aren’t working hard enough.

That’s the pitfall of the cube.

That’s the reason for my blog. It’s why I’m trying to escape cubed life. It’s why I am looking for other jobs and other opportunities. It’s why I do take every moment outside my job as a blessing and a chance to think about things that make me happy and bring me joy and make life interesting and challenge me.

Because my job certainly doesn’t.

Personally I think I’m much more inclined to be a bit like this meme that’s become a series of products like mousepads and clocks and coffee mugs…

I completely agree!

– RaeNez

P.S. Names have been changed to protect the innocent, of course.