I was having lunch with a couple of friends a month or so ago when I first heard the rumor. The new guy had asked for big bucks to cover severance packages; the company was being restructured and heads were going to roll. Variations of this rumor had been rife since the company was sold last year. A big employee meeting originally scheduled for December was deferred to January. "There'll be lay-offs", people whispered. But at the January meeting an announcement was made: No lay-offs! A few days after the meeting I had lunch with the same two friends. "Heads will roll on February 11th," one of them said. The date had been postponed, she explained, because one of the people who'd ended up moving on up the food chain in the big restructuring didn't want his first act of record to be letting a lot of people go.
This morning when I got to work I saw that my friend knew what she was talking about. There was an email in my inbox from our CEO. It had gone out to all employees. He began by talking about the economy and went on to talk about competition, generics, declining sales forcing the company to cut back. He closed with numbers: specifically, how many people were being laid off, here and in Europe. It's not so many compared to GM, and not many at all compared to other Big Pharma companies, but somehow that doesn't provide a lot of consolation.
Several young friends emailed me this morning, asking if they should worry. No, I said, we're too low on the food chain to be considered in this cut, and it turned out I was right about that, thank goodness. But the day was grim anyway. They were walking people out. That's how it works. That's what they do. You get a phone call to go to HR, where heaven knows what is said behind closed doors, and then some smarmy HR guy walks you back to your office to pick up your personal belongings, and you're escorted out of the building. The jackass who had consistently refused to sign my time sheets on time when I was a contractor was walked out. I wasn't sorry to hear about him, and I wasn't alone in that. A true misanthrope, he should never have been put in the position of managing others. He never seemed to tire of finding ways to make those who worked under him miserable. His refusal to sign my time sheets on time should have resulted in my always being paid two weeks late; he never discovered that I managed to circumvent him and was indeed always paid on time. But this morning many more people got the dreaded call and were walked out, including a bright, capable, hard working, cheerful colleague who, like most of the others who were cut, didn't deserve it. I was very sorry to see her go.
This afternoon, when it was all over, those of us who'd managed to survive this time around were crowded into a small room designed to hold maybe a third of us. We stood jammed up against the walls with no AC and bad air, listening to one of the upper management guys whom I loathe. His idea of humor was to start out by saying everyone in the room was laid off (funny, huh?), and then saying no, if you're in here, you've made the cut. He went on to say he understood there would be trust issues (ya think? what with our being told just three weeks ago there would be NO lay offs?), but we'd "have to pull together to get through this", yada yada yada. He went on to mention that he's writing a book (in the event he manages to actually do this, I won't be rushing out to buy it) and closed by saying how he "accidentally" became a VEEP at the company, just sort of backed into it (aw shucks!) yada yada yada and maybe there was a lesson there for the rest of us.
Uh-huh. I looked around the room. Although all of us still have jobs, not one face looked happy.