So there we sat, all twenty-something of us, staring down at our wingtips and trying not to make eye contact out of fear that we’d have to speak and no one knew what the hell to say. When I did look up, I would occasionally catch the face of someone familiar, maybe someone I had worked with. Their eyes told the story and I assumed mine said the same thing. Deep, far-off gazes, the look of the lost or the dammed. In my own head, it was “what now?” “How will I feed the kids?” “Will we survive?” “How could they do this at the Holidays?”

The meeting was moderated by a young lady from HR who was rambling on about our value and how we were all important as people and this would be a setback that we would all recover from. Yes honey, I worked for this firm for half my life, climbed the corporate ladder, was the good corporate citizen and I, like the others in the room, was flushed out the alimentary canal of big business. So there we all sat at our “Separation and Benefits” meeting being told how important we were as people (this is not about you, this is about the company), how unimportant we were as assets (well, your position has been eliminated) and how because we were so important and unimportant at the same time, if we did not sign this non-compete document we would get no more than two weeks severance.  Oh, and also we could be sued for whatever meager existence we had left if we did happen to find a competitive position similar to the one that was no longer important and therefore eliminated. They said that with a straight face too.

“Separation and Benefits” meeting? In the parking lot after, we all agreed it was a wake. What irritates me the most was I knew. Deep down, I knew. I assumed my job was secure, but I knew heads were going to roll. My numbers were okay, but sales were down generally. But that wasn’t it. Revenue was off. Many in the room failed to understand it because we were still profitable, not losing money like most of our peer companies. Myself and several others thought this would be a good time to spend some money on market share, let’s go out and gobble up a few of those small firms nipping at our margins and grow this thing right now. We should have been bargain hunting while others were struggling and actually losing money.

But that’s not what bonuses are made from. Revenue per share and stock price were lagging, so the big knob labeled “personnel” had to be dialed back. How’s that for leadership. Came all the way from Wall Street. Never mind taking an additional 5-10% market share and growing over the next 3 to 5 years during this down turn. I want my stock price high this quarter. Let’s RIF our way to profitability. Geez, we still wonder why the foreign firms with longer horizons are eating our collective lunches.

After we all shook hands and agreed to network, I noticed one thing: We all looked pretty much the same. Middle aged white guys, slightly paunchy, some wrinkly. A whole class of management taken out behind the barn and put down, as it were. As far as networking, we’re all finding pretty much the same thing. Resume too big, offers too far and few. And yes, many of us would do whatever it takes to get back to work. But there are too many people out there looking and when you walk in the door with that crest of white hair, you can see it in their eyes immediately.  Experienced need not apply.

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