Pink Slip Tuesday

Today was Pink Slip Tuesday at my company.  They laid-off 10 of my friends, which was 20% of our staff.  The only good news for me today is I’m not one of the people who were let go.  Since this is the best job I’ve had in my career, I don’t relish the thought of losing it.  I was hoping to become a part of the big success and cash in those stock options.  I dreamt of a promising future, filled with accomplishments and opportunities.  My dreams are still alive for the moment.  And, hopefully, they will blossom once again.

Making Sense of it All

Photo by Antigone78

Photo by Antigone78

Days like today deliver a powerful message to employees.  We are vulnerable to market conditions, company goals and whims of those who manage us.  It’s a helpless feeling to know as an employee you have no control over your next paycheck.  Yet, it is a valuable lesson for those who have become too dependent on their employer.  We are each responsible for our own futures.  And, it is foolish to believe someone else is obligated to take care of us.  So, we forge ahead, knowing there will be no pensions or gold watches waiting for us.

After 25 years of corporate life, the layoffs are something I never get used to.  It’s like attending a funeral as a small child.  You understand why someone has been lost.  But, that still doesn’t ease the pain you feel when they are gone.  It is especially personal for me, because I have to pack up their computers and forward their phones to the receptionist.

Often, I feel like the grim reaper.  I know when someone’s number is coming up and I have to smile and make polite conversation ahead of the layoff meeting.  I never intend to get used to this charade.  And, I never intend to become callous to an event that deeply affects people’s lives.  Yet, I will execute my duties, as I have for decades.  And, I will think of my fallen comrades.

Lessons from the Trenches

Be All that you can Be – Do whatever is required of you, not just the things listed in your job description.  Volunteer for the ugly little projects that no one else will touch.  Having worked at two start-ups and two other companies that have shut down, I know a lot about reductions in force.  And, the people who are let go first are usually difficult to work with, inflexible with their job duties or specialists in a unique field.  Employees who become valuable to a down-sizing company are able to wear many hats, they pitch in to help out and they make problems disappear.

Never Count your Chickens – Your income is never assured and you need to plan for its loss.  Having been laid-off twice, I know how important it is to keep the payments low and to have money stashed away.  The last thing anyone needs is to lose their cars or their house due to a layoff.  Searching for a job is stressful enough, without having to deal with crushing money problems.  A layoff is often sudden and unexpected.  So, don’t be caught by surprise.  Be prepared financially, before the pink slip arrives.

Develop your Professional Network –If you are like most job seekers, your next job opportunity will come from someone you know.  During troubled times, a friend, a customer or a coworker can help get your foot in the door.  It goes without saying that if you have treated these people in a professional manner, they will be happy to act as a reference or to introduce you to someone who is hiring.  Join LinkedIn or Facebook and keep in touch with the people you have worked with.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that companies will do what is best for the company and the shareholders.  And, that isn’t always what is best for the employees.  You need to do what is best for you and your family.  And, the best thing in my opinion is to become prepared financially.

“Opportunity is missed by most because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

Thomas Edison – American Inventor

Recommended Reading

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6 comments to Pink Slip Tuesday

  • Sage advice, Bret. Nobody likes Black Tuesdays (or Fridays, as they are where I work). We’ve had two Black Fridays in the last three months and another one is rumored to be around the corner. My department has already shrunk from over 200 to about 65 people.

    Sometimes you can do everything absolutely right with respect to minimizing your chances of getting laid off – solving problems, doing those ugly jobs nobody else will take – and it doesn’t matter.

    Sometimes there’s just nothing you can do because the odds just catch up with you. I’ve avoided six major downturns in my career over the past 20 years and I have been fortunate so far, although I know my time will eventually come.

    My best defense has been, besides working hard and making myself an asset to my employer, to keep my mortgage payment low and my savings high. I have no other obligations and when the day comes that I finally get the axe, I will at least have a little comfort knowing that I should be able to make it for several years if I have to without having to earn any money at all.

    It’s really the only thing we can do to maintain our independence and some modicum of self-reliance when we are working for “the man.”

    Great article, as usual, Bret.

  • @Len

    Wow, you are definitely a survivor. I hope things turn around at your company before it gets any worse. Unfortunately, the government is broke and they seem to be the only ones who haven’t figured that out.

    You are right about doing everything right and still getting canned. This is especially true in bigger companies, where the people making the cuts don’t interact with the employees on a daily basis.

    I choose to work at smaller companies where they know you personally. And, these tips have been really useful to me, while working at a number of declining companies. Sometimes, you just need to make it through to the next round. 😉

  • zud

    arrived here via len penzo. i like the articles so far, will be reading more.

    be all you can be is something i’ve struggled with in the past. i’ve had companies take advantage of me as the go-to guy, or the person who’ll always lend a hand with grunt work, or the one who’ll come in on saturday or stay late. while this may be a desirable position to be in during recession or lay-offs i also feel this has led to me being underpaid during a stable/steady economy.

    if there are lay-offs and the work is spread around to remaining employees i would take on the additional duties without adjustment in pay to show the company i am willing to help out during hard times. however once hiring begins again i feel you should ask for compensation or return to workload commensurate with your pay.

    be careful about putting yourself “on sale”, a good company will recognize your additional contribution during hard times, but others might expect it from you regardless of how the company is doing. you may or may not be ok with that. i guess in this post it can be regarded as an insurance policy…

    • Zud,

      Thanks for you comment.

      Boy, I know all about low pay and getting taken advantage of. I have done this a couple of times in my career. I only recommend this when your company is hurting and they appreciate it. If you work for one of those greedy, soulless corporations, keep doing it and look to move on. The reason I say to keep doing it is because it can definitely help you get a better job. Good companies can afford to be picky and they usually hire the best employees. If you are a high performer at a lousy company, you are exactly what they are looking for.

      As for up-and-down cycles, I know about those as well. I have worked in IT for decades and I have seen times where head hunters would court me every week and other times when I couldn’t buy a job for months. When you go through lean times and get little or no raise for years, your company will never make that back up to you in the good times. But, other companies will be more than happy to pay you what you are worth. The trick is to really be worth more when you decide to make a move.

  • […] to Prosper – Last Tuesday was Pink Slip day at Bret’s place of employment.  The cuts were deep – twenty percent of the employees […]

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