Posted by: cordy74 | February 15, 2009

Waiting For The Other Shoe To Drop

Obviously our economy has seen better days.  It has gotten to the point where everyone knows someone or several people who have been laid off.  I am no different.  As a matter of fact, my sister’s boyfriend just got laid off from his company.  I am also unenthusiastically awaiting the next round of layoffs where I work.  What I cannot help but wonder is what will it take to wake people up and make them realize any of us could be next.

For me it all started just before Thanksgiving 2008.  We had some plant-wide employee meetings during which they announced there would be 125 people laid off within the next couple of weeks.  Rumors of layoffs had been floating around a few days before the meetings but you could still see a lot of shocked faces in the meeting.  It was as if each employee was calculating where they stood in seniority compared to everyone else in their department.  If I am not mistaken we had somewhere in the neighborhood of 750 employees at our plant before this first round of layoffs.  Sure enough, over the next week we heard of more and more people who had been called into a meeting in the big conference room and were handed their walking papers.

After Thanksgiving the dreaded Layoff Monster began stalking once more.  This time it was primarily in the offices and not the shop floor.  Again, we heard tell of several names we recognized that would no longer be showing up to work.  Up until the middle of December my department had remained untouched.  This was about to change.

We had been planning on visiting my family up in Illinois from December 17th to the 21st so I took a half day off work on Tuesday the 16th and went home at noon.  Shortly after getting home our phone rang.  Looking at the caller ID, which identified the number as belonging to my work, I couldn’t help but wonder what I had worked on that was now irrevocably screwed up and needed my attention.  The good news:  it was not anything that I had messed up.  The bad news:  it was my boss letting me know that tomorrow (the 17th) they were going to have a department meeting to announce we were losing two people.  He asked me not to tell anyone else until after the meeting that I would miss but had the courtesy to let me know that I was not one of the ones being let go.  Of course, the smart aleck in me couldn’t help but think, “I’m not one of the ones being let go.  But am I the other one?”  Luckily I was neither. Also, in my humble opinion, neither of the two that were let go would have been my choice.  I get the impression that our management was somewhat hamstrung by Human Resources regarding who they could lay off.

Here we are a couple of months later.  We just had some more meetings a little over a week ago and learned that the brilliant forecasters for our business over the next year might have been a bit optimistic in their determinations.  Instead of orders picking up after the 2nd quarter of this year the prediction is now that they will remain at about the same level they are now.  It was at this same meeting that we were told there would be another 45 people laid off within the next week as they eliminate the skeleton second shift we have been operating and move all activity to first shift.

After hearing this announcement I think it became pretty apparent to many of us in the offices that, before too long, it would be our turn on the chopping block again.  Even with this realization there does not seem to be much more effort being put forth by our employees (myself included).  What is wrong with us?  Well, I suspect the answer to that question may be twofold:  denial and apathy.

Denial.  We have that unique ability to tell ourselves that we couldn’t possibly be the next ones cut.  We are worth much more to the company than most of the other people in our department.  As I stated before you could almost see people calculating their seniority within their department to determine where they stood in the firing line.  We all have this running tab in our heads.  I have even entered into discussions with other people in my department about where we might stand.  It is pretty obvious to me that I wouldn’t be the next one to be cut.  I have too much seniority within our group.  Now, I think I need to wake up and smell the roses.  When it comes right down to it the company can justify its layoffs in any way that seems to fit the situation.  You may have more seniority but your last couple of reviews were not fantastic.  Maybe you haven’t been badging in and out at the gate or the doors like you have been told and it appears as if you have not actually been putting in your full 40 hours every week.  Corporate America has a great track record of justifying its actions in any way that seems appropriate.

Apathy.  After the first of the year the announcement came out that we were heading for some cuts in salary and benefits.  10% reduction in gross salaries and loss of 401K match and 401K profit sharing bonus.  Just recently we also learned that the company is withholding the annual allotment that is supposed to reimburse us for the steel-toed shoes that are required to be worn.  Times are getting tight.  I believe that a great many employees feel that they have been screwed over by the company cutting back in these ways.  These employees must be under the impression that if the company can cut 10% of their salary they only have to put in 90% of the effort they used to.  That kind of thinking is going to result in a very rude awakening before too long.

I don’t mean to insinuate that every employee is refusing to put in more effort.  I know of at least two that are working as hard or harder than before.  One of them has been through this same situation at a previous company.  He learned quickly that the troublemakers were the first to go.  After that it was the slackers.  He is definitely keeping his nose to the grindstone.  The other guy I have spoken to laid out his thoughts very clearly:  He intends to put in as much effort as he can.  When things start to go sour (moreso than they already have) he will know, without a doubt, he was in no way to blame for the situation. I would say that’s a pretty good philosophy to have right now.

What it amounts to is this:  we all need to wake up and shape up. There isn’t a single employee that is indespensible, myself included.  It doesn’t matter whether you are black, white, red, purple, man, woman or what kind of degree you have.  The biggest mistake any of us can make right now is saying, “I’m not going to be the next one to go.”  Starting tomorrow I’m going to try to do a little less chatting and internet surfing and get a little more work done.  I just might surprise myself by how much more I can accomplish in 10 hours than I have in the past.

What are you going to do differently?

PS.  Feel free to comment and let everyone know how things are going in your neck of the corporate woods.condron.us

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Responses

  1. Well, I can totally agree and believe that this entire situation of the last year can be summed up in 2 words…Wall Street. Having worked at one of the biggest Wall Street firms since 2000, I saw a bad thing coming in October of 2007 when there were problems in the commercial paper market. I recognzed it immediately when some commercial paper that was being bought were having difficulties repaying clients upon maturity. That flew somewhat under the radar to most people. Next, in December/January, there were issues in the VRDN/auction market that were huge that finally signalled to people that there were severe issues coming abound. Then, not much longer, Bear Stearns. As soon as that situation came to a head, I knew my days were numbered. I got my meeting on the 1st week of May, although my situation was a little different as I was looking forward to it. I knew that with my licenses, I could get another job….plus I had a pretty good severence package.

    That was less than a year ago, and even though I got a job on my 2nd interview, things have changed now. Even in my field, I could still get a job, but probably not one I would like. Sales in this market is extremely tenuous, and am happy that I am not in that kind of field anymore. Still as I see my old company and the department I was in get further and further fragmented, voices in my head keep thinking “How in the hell are they going to go forward working on less than a skeleton crew????” The thing that is going to suffer going forward in all companies is going to be customer service and quality I fear, and the stimulus package, in my mind, is misguided and will not provide any immediate relief.

    That being said, I don’t envy your situation. My only advice is to accept that you are probably not going to be with same company, but do business as usual. Keep in contact with all people that have been let go, because those contacts are invaluable.

  2. That is a very eloquent way to put your situation. The situation you describe does make me think about how I handle myself at work. I usually don’t mess around until my work is done. The problem is it once it is done I do carry on a little conversation or surf the web.

    This has made me think maybe I should find out if there is something else to do to make me look a little better to the company in case we start to have layoffs at our company again. Next to the senior Analyst, I have the second highest seniority in my area and have been with the company longer than that person. As you say that does always mean anything when a company is making cuts.

    Keep your blogs coming

  3. Thanks for the comments, guys. I would be VERY interested to hear from anyone who has not been personally affected by the current economic climate.

    Mark – You say that you guys started to see problems as early as Oct. 2007. Did anyone in your field think things would be as bad as they are now? If so, why didn’t we start hearing about this earlier?

    Just curious.

    Jerry – About the only thing any of us can really do is reevaluate our current worth to our respective companies and try to make some adjustments. Whether those adjustments come in the form of the effort we put forth or the extra responsibilties we take on probably doesn’t matter.

    When outrunning a bear you don’t have to be the fastest guy – just faster than the guy next to you. In the current climate you don’t have to be the busiest or most valuable person in the office – just try to appear busier and more valuable than the people around you.

  4. So far, my company has not had any layoffs. They pride themselves in the fact that they have never laid anyone off in their 35 year history (though firing is a different matter). Lately, no one talks about that. In fact, I overheard someone in HR say they are doing everything they can so they don’t have to start.

    We had plans this spring to break ground on a second building with 70-90 new offices, a new photo studio, a new video/audio dept, a new fitness center, and new cafeteria. These plans are now on hold. Yes, our offices are cramped right now, many people are doubled up in a one person office. I share a larger office with 3 other people. I’d rather be cramped than lose my job though.

    I always fear if they do start layoffs, that my department will be the first to suffer. It’s the production dept. I know a lot of graphic designers and layout artists who have been laid off recently from other local companies: The News-Gazette, Horizon Hobby, and Hobbico. Their departments were the first to be cut.

    People tell me if I ever left my job, they’d have to hire 2 people to replace me because of the volume of work I produce. So the people who share my office say I’ll be safe. I say they could hire 2 people and pay them each less than half of what they pay me now because there are so many graphic designers in my area looking for work, people take what they can get. So who knows.

    So I just do as much work as I can, offer to help other people on days when my workload is light, and try my hardest to keep my mouth shut when I have a complaint, and hope for the best.

    • I’m sure they had quite a bit of money tied up in the preliminary aspects of building a new office building but at least they were able to put it on hold before the actual construction began.

      I can’t help but have cynical thoughts about the fact that they have never had to lay anyone off. Your comment about “firing” being a different matter makes me think you feel the same way. For a cynical view of all things corporate take a look at http://IsometricPrinciplesOfBusiness.wordpress.com. I guess it may not be too far fetched for a company to be able to avoid layoffs if they are careful about their hiring practices. They can’t help but run the risk of being constantly under-staffed, though. Constantly overworked employees cannot make for a happy bunch.

  5. No layoffs at my firm, just a salary freeze. I mostly do civil defense work, which is fairly recession-proof, but business has been slow. I dabble in divorce and criminal law . . . those areas, unfortunately, will probably thrive.

    Things are going to get worse before they get better. When the Cordys of the world are worried about losing their jobs, things are very bad indeed.

    • It’s funny that you say the areas of divorce and criminal law will thrive. Right after everyone began to notice the economy really taking a downturn Alyssa commented to me that we would probably start to see a lot more robberies and such. About a month later she noticed that there were a lot of requests for pistols in the wanted section of Craigslist. Fortunately I can’t say that I’ve noticed an increase in criminal activity around here. The bank robberies actually seem to have reduced recently.

  6. Cordero Fellas,

    Here is my opinion. When the commercial paper market had its obstacle in October, it was the beginning of the credit crunch. Because these companies could not sell short term commercial paper (for which companies can use to pay short term debt, salaries, payments on credit lines, etc.), they started jacking up the the amount they were carrying on their lines of credit. In addition, when the auction rate/VRDN market hit the skids in January, it also did the same thing. The customers could not sell their municipal holdings in the weekly or monthly auction, therefore they needed to draw more off of their credit lines. Alot of these companies had their lines maxed out, frozen, or revoked.

    Well, it took a little while for the matriculation of these things to build up. While it became more difficult for companies to get credit, they still had access to existing lines for a time. But when people look back on the situation, commercial paper is not only valuable for short term borrowing for companies, but also valuable because money market mutual funds buy up large lots of it. It affected alot of other areas too. So we either had companies struggling month to month, or companies were hoarding cash and not purchasing the securities they used to.

    Well, this is why the marketplace is really hitting Wall Street harder than alot of other sectors. When Citibank announces a layoff of 50,000 employees…that is significant. Not saying that other firms layoffs aren’t significant, but when you have just 1 large firm announcing that many layoffs, and the merging/buyouts of others (Washington Mutual, Wachovia, National City, Merrill Lynch to name a few) just to survive, that is not good. With all of this re-alignment, the other sectors have followed suit.

    My 2 cents worth anyway.

  7. Actually, while money problems cause their share of divorces, a lot of people can’t drop $2500 right now, and they stay together out of economic necessity.

    • Ahhhhh….staying together out of economic necessity. One of the top three reasons for a dysfunctional couple to stay together. Followed closely by “because of the kids” and “spite.”

  8. Well, you know that we have been “personally affected”! Now we are at the crossroads of…does Shaun start his own business? (if he does that there are so MANY different ways/directions it makes my flippin’ head spin)….does he look for a new jobby-job?…if he does, does he look for an IT job or just whatever is full-time?….or does he start his own business AND work one or more part-time jobs?….and do I keep working half-time and teaching piano, or do I sub half-time or pick up some other part-time thing?….it is mind boggling. Also, Shaun’s dad has gotten laid off (ok, fired actually) from his job as a school administrator…..I can’t think of anyone that hasn’t been affected by job losses, etc. I do hope that your job is safe and-just that things will get better for all of us.

    • Thanks for the thoughts. Even now, in the Ides of March, we are hearing rumors of more rounds of layoffs at work. The build schedule continues to be cut and the plant has elected to take another week off at the end of March. We, unfortunately, do not get to take that week off.

      Alyssa mentioned that Shaun had the opportunity to start a business (with one of his friends?). That would be pretty cool. Nothing sounds better than being your own boss. Lots of questions and worries with that can of worms, though.

      Whichever path you guys choose I hope everything works out well.


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