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.


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