Sunday, April 12, 2009

First Person: Layoff Psychology

By Joan Lopez Flores

It wasn’t the perfect job, but when I got a callback from an online promotional products company back in October 2007 hiring me to be their newest copywriter, I thought just that. Not that my copyediting job prior was that bad—in fact it’s still one of the companies that I’m proud to have been associated with to this day. It’s just that, well, I felt underpaid and undermined, thus my eagerness to get into this new company that promised an exciting new work environment and a host of benefits you can’t find elsewhere!

November 1 was my starting date, basically because the company wanted me to begin right away. Now I’ve never been a superstitious person, though I’m occasionally curious of eerie events, but now when I look back I sometimes find myself thinking, maybe I shouldn’t have agreed to start then.

Working there wasn’t quite as I imagined it would be, but it was okay. I was treated decently. I gave them what I was asked of—copy for all new merchandise to be uploaded in the company Website’s online catalogue, pretty much. The team I got assigned to wasn’t necessarily my idea of friends, but then I’ve always been complimented to have the talent of making friends anywhere.

What I looked forward to every day were the coffee breaks and lunch hour, where I would get together with two of my colleagues whom I’ve become friends with during my previous employment (actually we resigned from there at around the same time, too, and got jobs in this new company). To that end, I guess it was almost the perfect job: working with friends.

Three months into the job and things started getting shaky.  The company was US-owned, and with the economic recession then in the advent of burgeoning into the gaping hole it is today, the execs were all on their toes, panicky. Soon talk of “cutting costs,” “making ends meet,” and eventually “company-wide layoff” became everyone’s daily gossip.

It was funny, because I didn’t feel that much affected. Not that I had zero fears of getting fired–after all, I was one of the newest ones on board, but somehow, for some weird reason, I was indifferent about the whole thing. Sure, I engaged in talk of so-where-do-we-go-next-if-ever among close friends, but not every two seconds like the others.

A week passed, and indeed, the layoff happened. First two, then four, sometimes even almost a dozen people at a time, one department after another. Accounting. Sales. Art. Marketing. Still not feeling the tension.

Then that evening came. I got to work pleased that traffic wasn’t half-bad when it was in fact Friday night, ergo congested EDSA night. I ran into my supervisor on my way up the building, talking in a hushed tone with two of my other colleagues. I thought nothing of it and went straight to the elevators.

Mindless hours later and into my coffee/cigarette break, I went out and there my supervisor was again. This time she asked me, “Joan, they’re asking me to pick three people.”

I honestly thought my heart sank, but it didn’t, although I pretended to be devastated. It was really funny, this feeling of distance from all the panic. She went on about assessing performance, tenure, and all that, but I could really care less, I thought then. Maybe it was an instant defense mechanism? I didn’t know. But I remember just thinking then, if it’s going to happen to me, then let it. I’ll manage. Or maybe, I was really convinced at the back of my head that I was going to stay. I mean, I did a kickass job at copywriting, why would they want to kick me out?

Bad news
Conference call, everyone in the team was in the room. The VP from offshore rambled on and on from the loudspeaker about how she didn’t see this whole thing coming, and so on and so forth. And then finally, the names. Three people. She said my name last.

I swear, I did not expect to be the least bit stirred, but I was actually floored to the hilt! I realized then that the reason I was indifferent all the while was because I really did not expect to get fired, and I really did not want to be, no matter the countless times I’ve said the words “there are so many other jobs out there, anyway.”

And just about then, when everyone was consoling me, even telling me the company made a bad call kicking me out and that I deserved to stay, the reality of being “jobless” started to hit me like one thick hardbound thumping on my head after another. I thought about my baby girl just about to turn one that year, my mom and my two brothers still studying who depended on me, especially since my dad had just died two months from then. My husband had a decent job, but it would not be enough to support all of us.

I kept cool going through the paperwork that very same day. No more coming to work Monday, they said, but I’ll be paid for a whole month on top of my last paycheck.

Bouncing back
It wouldn’t be until two months after that I’d find another job. Not the same benefits, what with all other companies tightening belts as well, but decent enough. The days that followed were grueling, I must admit. It wasn’t easy to find a new job with the description and salary you want and start from scratch again when you’ve just settled in. I found myself busy with other things besides applications, like my mother’s small business that sadly didn’t do well and taking a work-from-home stint that ended up not so well either. I had to brave myself to face every day knowing I did not have the security I used to have, reassure myself that I was worth a company’s trust and investment. And I had to learn to fully, even blindly, trust God to take care of things for me.

I turned out okay, and it’s been over a year. I’ve put the experience behind me, and I look back at it with a smile now and a lot of gratitude. I still have that same job and it paid the bills. Getting laid off and being able to go through it and survive has permanently reshaped my character, I must say. I’ve learned to adapt better, to hold on, to value what I have. It taught me to be prepared for any jab and that sometimes it can be an uppercut from nowhere, and how to cope when it does hit hard on the nose.

And now that recession continues to happen and affect many others–would you believe, my husband got laid off just last week!–I know better than to care less and prepare for the worst. Prayer has never failed me too, I learned, and so I continue to trust Him and let Him be God. Yes, never mind if my next job come another year or so signs me up to start November 1 again.

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