Monday, February 1, 2010

Thoughts on Not Working

Today, a bit of an aside. The Ms. and I went to see "Up in the Air" last night, and it brought out a number of thoughts, emotions, and memories of my own recent experience. I was "Impacted by Workforce Management", and over nine months later I've yet to sign on for another round of full-time employment. 

The simple action of being laid off from a corporation is so anti-climatic, and it seems these days so routinized, that it's almost clinical. The movie depicts this well, and shows how little power the now-former employee has in their relationship with their now-former employer. I had over six years of personal relationships, work product, routine, and intellectual investment in my job, and all of that was severed in a minute-long interaction with my boss. 

From that point on I was simply cattle to be discarded with as promptly as practicable. Herded into the cafeteria while the still-employed were sent home, brought back to my cube to pack up my belongings, and then escorted out to my car and sent along on my not-so-merry way. No real explanation, no chance to say good-bye, just a few pithy platitudes and a "personalized" severance packet handed to me in assembly-line fashion when I returned my ID badge. Less than 2 hours start to finish. WooHoo.

It's the corporate world version of "Shock and Awe": Bring on so much change so fast that the hapless employee has no real means of recourse. I felt enough subtle warning signs ahead of time that I had kinda prepped myself to deal with it. But in reality I'm still dealing with it, or failing to deal with it. 

And I know exactly why. I was told in that brief minute with my boss of 6 years that it was "not personal or performance", but I was explicitly not told what it was. Thus it's hard to have confidence in my footing when I can't look back and see what caused me to fall. 

When I saw it coming I hoped, really hard, that it would be a personal interaction, something that had more than a touch of humanity associated with it. Unfortunately, and probably rationalized away for "legal reasons", my corporation took the route of the weak, and de-personalized this highly intimate matter into a milquetoast affair with only boilerplate-speak to regurgitate in my face. Even when walking back to box up my belongings, the managers and directors that I worked with side-by-side for years kept their eyes averted and couldn't muster up a word or two in my direction. It was as if I no longer existed in their world, and I guess that was essentially true.

I might be the equivalent of 2080 labor hours a year. But a human being is never a commodity. To make believe otherwise is simply sad.

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