“I’m just getting around and making sure that everybody here knows I’ll take a job; any job here. A demotion is fine if I can just find a way to stick.”
April tried to say this with a smile on her face, like it was a weather report and a tad bit of rain was in the forecast. She spoke with an air of confidence, as if attitude alone might well make all the difference in whether or not her last day with the company was actually Friday.
Attractive and always a very positive person, she seemed an unlikely target to get stuck in the crosshairs of corporate cost cutting. I admit she was not a people person, but it was hard not to like her anyway. There was something endearing about her that was hard to ignore. It may have been that she never backed down from a challenge; she never quit. Her work stood out from her peers. She was always trendy in dress and worked hard to be tasteful at the same time. She played fair with all her peers.
Yet here she was nearly out of days and so close to being unemployed. It seemed so strange to me to think that she could have been chosen. You don’t think of April and think of “let her go” in the same breath. It had a strange “Twilight Zone” feel to it, as if not quite real.
Sadly, this is a conversation I hear all too often where I work, and this was hitting pretty close to home for me. I’ve known April for literally 20 years with two different companies. While we were never close friends, we shared a common denominator in trying to survive and stay employed while not moving out of town to do it. We’d made it this far, but we could see that for at least one of us, the trail had ended.
April is not the last.
Over time, “one person here and one friend there” continue to make the rounds of their networking companions in the company, seeking hope in an environment where hope is scarce. You can almost see it in the faces; the false smiles and the avoidance of eye contact; the brave fronts put on about how “all is ok and that options really are available,”…even when we all know they are slim at best.
Because there is no easily discernible pattern to the layoffs, the working environment has become something akin to a death march. One never knows when they will see somebody they care about carrying cardboard boxes with their family pictures and other remembrances of a job that simply evaporated one day. There was nobody to get mad at; nobody to blame. They was blameless random numbers in the cost cutting strategy.
“Honestly, JD. I would gladly accept any offer. Can you make sure everybody hears that? And can you keep an eye out for me after I leave here Friday? Tell everybody I love them and that I will be back.”
This last part was spoken first with a slightly defiant lift of the chin, and then the tears start gushing; hers and mine. It felt like somebody talking about the number of days they have left to live, and looking to you to save their life. There was nothing I could say to offer hope of a job here, and we both knew it, but I offer that false hope anyway and tell her that surely something will pop up, and that she is so good at what she does, and that the whole company knows it.
And then I offer almost the expected “I just don’t get why they are doing this to you.”
Of course, we both know why. The face of recession had hit and (for some businesses) started to lift, but was not letting up in OUR business. It strangles each of us who work there each and every day, cutting off the air and making us stupid with worry. We both also knew that I may be next. The big R knows no friends, just victims.
She looks me right in the eye, tears still welling down her face, and smiles a brave smile.
“You remember all the things we’ve been through together? You remember the time at the old company that we blasted each other in a meeting, and still felt like we could grab beers afterwards?”
I said I did.
“I wish we could do that again someday. I wish we could just trade punch after punch in a meeting, and then laugh about it over beers at the Velvet Dog afterwards.”
There was no stopping the tears for either of us this time. It is as if a dam burst, and we both let the water flow.
They were tears about April of course, but there was something deeper here too. There were tears for a profound loss of the basic core of who we thought ourselves to be. We were valuable; we mattered; we hung in there through all the mergers and layoffs and mini-recessions of the past, and still we worked and survived. Now, there was no foundation to stand on; nothing that we could share and know that we were truly ok, and we were both scared.
A final hug; an unexpected kiss on the cheek that really was about us and not networking, and she walked off to do it again with another friend in the company.
I prayed for a miracle.
Come that Friday, there was no miracle.
I suspect she walked out for good; head held high and smiling on the outside. She emails from time to time, hoping I have some news, and letting me know how tough it is to even get an interview in her job hunt. I share tidbits with her from inside the company, knowing that the odds are non-existent.
I also know that I may be doing all the same things at any time. There is no escaping that thought, as those of us who are still hanging on wrangle with the guilt of being glad it was not us.
Where I work, there were and will be many like April, and sadly, many more April showers in the form of tears.