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Laid Off

Summer 2009--I was laid off.  We were told as a group on a Tuesday that management had decided to outsource IT services and that our last working day would be Friday.  3 of the SA team would go, and only 1 would stay.  I had seen this coming, so I wasn't all that shocked.  I appreciated being told a few days beforehand and further appreciated the included severance package.  Previous layoff "victims" had been told on their last day, so they had only a few hours to pack up their stuff and leave.  At least I received better treatment than that.

It was reiterated that it wasn't my fault.  The company's most important client had been Lehman Brothers, whose portfolios had been responsible for a significant amount of my former company's revenue stream.  Called the "Lehman Shock" in Japan, its shock wave had a somewhat delayed, yet disastrous impact on affiliated companies that were servicing Lehman's assets.  The assets were auctioned off, and the purchasers understandably chose to use their own in-house financial services if they had them.

During the year after Lehman's fall, my company saw a notable weight of its business literally slip through its fingers.  Various cost-saving measures were enacted, along with a voluntary resignation program; however, it wasn't enough to bypass eventual involuntary layoffs.  Despite a major step-up in marketing efforts, the gaping hole in core business was not close to filled.  Hindsight is indeed 20/20, and in hindsight it was not a good idea to base a company on a single client.

A few things about the layoff did irk me significantly:

The Awkwardness
I was a marked man.  Despite the lack of any official announcement, it's blatantly apparent I was laid off as I clean up my desk and take my belongings home during my final week.  Pitied looks abound as it gets harder and harder to go to work.  Lunch became a venting frenzy as those getting laid off wallowed in antsy frustration.  A manager tried to arrange a farewell dinner for the layoff-ees, but I (and others) didn't reply to his email.  Why prolong this torture?  I just wanted to get out and move on as quickly as possible.

Incompetence Gets To Stay
Most of the initial layoffs made perfect sense.  They were lazy, incompetent, performing poorly, or simply had no work to do.  It came as little surprise to anyone when they were laid off.  As layoffs continued, however, the offices remained occupied as the cubicles emptied.  Good people were let go as incompetent ones were allowed to stay.  I'll never forget having to listen to an IT manager loudly continue a personal call with a friend about how to login to Facebook as I passively cleaned out my desk.

The IT managers refused to offer any shred of consulting/contract work to those of us getting laid off.  This defied logic as we were by far the most familiar with their systems and could even offer an attractive hourly rate.  Instead, they insisted on contracting with an outsourcing company that had zero knowledge of the company's systems.  They pay more for less value--especially from the outset.

When asked why not contract with us, they responded with a weak excuse stating that the company can only contract with outsourcing companies and not individuals.  I didn't buy into this since other departments had already contracted with former employees on an individual basis.  Next they stated that they needed backup engineers in case of emergencies/vacations.  Once again, this was a lame excuse since multiple engineers were getting laid off.  Keeping us as contractors easily and inexpensively soothes that worry.  Even in better times, we never had outside backup engineers.

Furthermore, the particularly incompetent IT manager (Mr. Facebook Helpdesk) decided to start the knowledge transfer the day before our last day--amplifying the insult by sending the meeting invite 10 minutes before the outsourcing company's arrival.  Rudimentary management logic tells you this is about as far from best practice as you can get.  This process should've been started long before we had even known about the layoff.  Inviting your 3 disgruntled engineers to a knowledge transfer meeting at the zero hour could undoubtably win the "Worst IT Manager" award of 2009.  My colleague and I blatantly ditched the meeting and instead opted to use the time to investigate Japan's unemployment insurance application process.  It proved a far better use of our time.

My colleague stated it best: "IT management is just trying to save their own jobs."  By miraculously finding, contracting with, and "managing the relationship" with an outsourcing company, IT management looks a whole lot busier on the patina facing upper management.  Simply taking us on as contractors would raise red flags with the big guys as they would wonder what purpose 2 full-time IT managers were serving.  If upper management has half a brain, they will soon understand that an IT department with 1 engineer and 1 helpdesk technician doesn't require 2 IT managers--let alone a manager providing Facebook support services.

Ironically, it's things like these that cushion the blow.  I deserve better.  Maybe I'll start my own IT consulting business or more diligently pursue entertainment industry work.  When one door closes another opens, right?

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