I will never forget that particular day in March 2009. Neither will 400 or so of my ex-colleagues who were laid off at the US firm in Asia Pacific that we all worked for.
In the months leading up to it, a circulated memo stipulated 20 per cent of employees would be given the flick. Working for a financial corporation brought to its knees during the global financial crisis (GFC), every single one of us were moving targets, and every day until doomsday, the fear became palpable and the nervousness among the staff was electrifying.
However, being part of a lean and small finance team i.e. under-resourced and over-worked, my colleague Anna and I were told by our manager, the CFO that the team was safe and there was absolutely nothing to worry about. Phew. What comforting words!
But in an instant, these words snapped like delicate glass. As I wander over Anna’s empty desk unwittingly thinking she was in a meeting, Mark, who sat next to her, solemnly said Anna had been summoned to the CEO’s office to be given the awful news she no longer had a job. Anna could return to her cubicle, swallow her pride and stay on for another two weeks or leave instantaneously. She did the latter.
The little bit of dignity Anna had left wasn’t enough to bring her downstairs, collect her bag and bid her colleagues goodbye. Mark had to bring her bag to her. Over the fence, a lady in marketing was also given her marching orders but went about her job as if nothing had happened and three women from other departments, who were all pregnant then, were also “coincidentally” kicked to the curb.
For those of us left behind, the crux of this demoralising experience was undeniably going through Anna’s desk, taking her personal belongings, sealing them in a box and mailing out the bits and pieces accumulated during four years of dedicated service. Feeling disgusted and infuriated, it seemed as though I was helping to put the finishing touches on the company’s dirty work.
None of it makes sense
It didn’t matter that Anna was unable to find a job for the next four months nor did it matter that the mums-to-be didn’t have a job waiting upon completion of maternity leave. It didn’t matter that as soon as Anna left, we were pulling our hair out urgently trying to tabulate and despatch billings she generated each month. Our manager hired a contractor from a place of desperation and threw him off the deep end to figure out where Anna left off. I’m not sure how all that even made sense, but none of it mattered to the firm.
I understand that if a company is on a downward slope— business won’t be what it used to be and the firm cannot feasibly support its existing workforce with whatever maladies economic factors impose. I get that. But as I looked around, CEOs were still frequently fly business class, upper management still got paid hefty bonuses, and a few weeks later, newly created positions were advertised and these contractors are all of a sudden made permanent.
Does anybody else see anything wrong with this picture? Has corporate greed and corporate stupidity become so widely accepted and expected that no one bothers to stand up against such practices until about a month ago when workers started occupying Wall Street, Rome, Greece and Sydney?
I wonder if these bigwigs sleep at night with the decisions they make. I often wonder if there are still leaders with a little bit of heart left, who make decisions based on what’s best for other people and not just his or her wallet. Just maybe, the entirety of the GFC and its ramifications could be avoided. Maybe.
Press repeat and play
Fast forward to the present and it seems to be business as usual. As I saunter over my manager’s office to get numbers signed off, she hastens past with her bag, rushes out the door and is unusually absent the rest of the week. In the most astonishing blow, she was mysteriously made redundant and we would never see her again.
A classic case of corporate karma perhaps?