Saturday, March 17, 2007

Layoff: Two Weeks and Counting

THE FOUR MONTHS SINCE I learned about my approaching layoff seemed to fly by. An entire Thanksgiving and Christmas season, and all of winter, including a Super Bowl, skipped past in the wink of an eye. I have captured some of the passing time here in this blog, but much of it probably comes across as a blur to those not attending this spectacle on a daily basis.

Nor would you want to read such a day-to-day archive of one topic. Honestly, if I were to look back on this or any record of my life, and work is one of the most prevalent topics discussed, I would have to question my priorities. Currently the tag is in the top three of my post categories, but my layoff, and the decline-and-fall details of my department's slow unwinding, distort that figure far past the true percentage of my life — or my concerns — that the tag occupies.

You'll have to bear with my focus on work for just a little longer, before the tag of job hunting gets a little more play. I expect a rising tone of optimism in these posts, surely with occasional dips, but the ending should be happy, one would hope even past the first 90 days.

The 2 weeks ahead will contain 70 work-hours during which my actions will define the closing impression I leave. As much as I would love to heed the advice of the mighty Felix, who maintains that I should arrive on my final day wearing a bathrobe (to which I countered that I was thinking more along the lines of a smoking jacket), I am devoting some time to how I need to exit this company. Several folks with whom I work, or at least interact, I will miss. One, my supervisor, I will miss a lot. Others, I don't care to see again. Each one deserves some form of goodbye, because one never knows when one is going to happen upon them again. My industry is a big one, but it can be very small, sometimes when it's least helpful . . . although at other times, when it's the very help you need, it can be a lifesaver.

My friend Matt had an excellent idea, which he has practiced when changing jobs. In his formal goodbye to his colleagues, he has left open the possibility of consulting for them down the road, and invited them to contact him for terms if they should need the expertise and experience of a former insider. Simple enough, and possibly lucrative should the offer be accepted. Networks need tending, especially when you no longer show up daily to maintain them. Placing this sort of offer in the hands of my managers can serve two purposes. First, it lets them know that I understand the logic behind the layoff from their standpoint, and in this sense there are no hard feelings. Second, it frames the conditions under which I will act in the future toward their business interests. Simply put, I will not give it away. I'm happy to answer questions, provide insight and assistance, on the same basis that I did so when I punched their clock. For any services rendered, I will be paid.

My supervisor and I have discussed our soon-to-be-former coworkers often in the past few weeks, especially in terms of how the changes sweeping through the department have spotlighted their strengths and failings as managers. She cited one example in which our director disappointed her with his shrill weakness, and I said, "It's in the clutch when a person's true character comes out." She agreed.

I realize this attitude applies to me as well. I have reacted to some of the insanity — the cleanup of repeated mistakes, the lambs-to-the-slaughter sense of inevitability our director has exhibited, the needless adoption of over-complex and costly workflow procedures — with sarcasm, sometimes with anger and pointed frankness, but always from a forward-moving vector. I was told by P, the representative from the job-placement service who visited us last November, that during layoffs and other tempestuous transitions, "they don't keep the dummies." I have tried not to be a dummy. My boss has told me repeatedly she appreciates what help I have provided. It lets me know I have shown, if nothing else, class in eclipse.

I did tell my boss that she and our director need to choose carefully what they ask of my super and me, because our time is limited and we need to concentrate on only what is vital. This transition has displayed deep ignorance on the part of our managers of what occurs in the trenches (our last attempt at a departmental procedure manual stalled in 2002). The person lined up to inherit most of my super's duties is a well-intentioned dilettante. What I want to do is to minimize the trauma of our departure on the schedules of the publications. Getting those out on time to subscribers has always been my top priority. I lived and died on deadlines. They make us money. None of this other bullshit — who does the work, this new production method, how it is repurposed — is as important to the bottom line as sending 4, 6, 12, 24, or even 52 issues to waiting eyes and hands on the dot each time. The more I see my bosses get sidetracked by minutiae, as one of them was last week for the better part of a day, I wonder how anything I help them understand on the way out will stave off the shitstorm that will engulf them when my super and I are no longer manning the turrets.

I will do my best to cover my own needs, and to depart with grace, on the final Friday of this month. I shall document this last leg of the journey with, at minimum, diligence, if not the same degree of grace. Stay on this frequency for exciting updates.

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