by The Inmate
Well, well, well. Here I sit a month-and-a-half after being laid off attempting to do a little reflection on that strangest of days(Sept. 2, 2003) and what has transpired since then.
One of the most common things said by upper management in defense of layoffs is that it had to be done “in order to manage costs and build a more efficient and competitive infrastructure[a direct quote from the “Personal and Confidential” letter that I and 2,869 other employees received].” The implication is that management had no choice. This is possible as far as it goes, but what is not stated is that there were a myriad of better choices that could have been made had management attempted to build a healthy company in the years preceding the layoffs. Bad decisions and policies often lead incrementally to the final solution, but this observation, of course, would only confuse the employees being laid off and have absolutely no impact on the major stockholders.
My colleagues and I were always amazed at the amount of money spent on useless positions, company motivational programs and the infamous corporate video–used even at the bitter end to dismiss us. I’ve chronicled elsewhere on this website the U.S.’s penchant for management. Whereas much of the rest of the industrialized world dedicates 3-5% of their workforce to managerial positions we are in the 15% neighborhood. In the case of my employer(technically, I can say that until October 31), DHL Express, we had enough fat in the halls of upper management to make a tidy sum selling lard on a daily basis—apparently there’s a market for it.
The “industry standard” is often resorted to as a reason to do things just like everyone else even though company palaver touts “innovation” and “creativity,” so U.S. companies continue to follow each other like a school of anchovies in a circular fish tank who never realize the only way out is up. I can remember the “industry standard” being used as an excuse for a DHL policy stating that if customers recorded higher weights than the actual on their airway bill that it should not be changed(Ironically, the large banner in our warehouse read: “Champion the Customer.”). Interesting, but not surprising, that company policy stated if the customer put a lower weight it should immediately be changed.
These days the “industry standard” is to terminate employees. I use the term “terminate” deliberately. “Layoff” has such a soft, almost benign tone to it and now that I’m a citizen in a state whose governor elect actually was the Terminator my use of this word is highly appropriate. “Terminate” has that hard “t” sound that reflects the harshness of the event of losing one’s job with little or no notice.
And there have been some harsh days. The worst thing, so far, about my unemployment has been the search for Health Insurance. COBRA, which lawmakers put in place so that if employees are terminated they can continue their insurance, wanted 933 dollars a month which is a real deal when you consider I’m unemployed. However, I thought I might be able to find something better. We had an insurance sales guy come to our home . . . . . . now you would think that since I am the editor and founder of The Corporate Asylum that I would have had the foresight to never consider such a thing . . . one would think that. Later we contacted a real person and found a decent policy–relatively speaking. A whole website could be devoted to the evils of insurance. Anyway, my wife and I have decided to go for the giant deductible and start our own medical savings plan.
My other moments of panic are when I suddenly remember that I don’t have a job, that I’m 45 and that I’m going to need to replace the income I’ve lost. But those moments, surprisingly, are relatively few. The nice severance package, I’m sure, helps my emotional state, along with my self-employed wife.
It’s strange–very, very strange. That’s the thing that has struck me the most. Not going to work, to that place that paid for my labor for over 17 years, feels odd. No 5:00 a.m. alarm on Mondays, no 5:45 alarm the rest of the week and no working on Saturdays. I remember feeling a sense of emotional fatigue walking from my car to the warehouse before I started my shift, sometimes wondering if I was ever going to get out of there. I attempted several escapes which failed and I considered many scenarios that might allow my escape, none of which included being terminated.
I’ve had lots of dreams about it—where I’ve had to go back for a day, where I’m delivering packages, one where two of my colleagues were killed in a company plane crash and others that I can’t remember.
I wonder how working in a corporate environment has affected me, particularly how it has affected me in ways of which I may not be aware? It will be, I think, some time before I can begin to answer those questions with some degree of objectivity. When I started with DHL I was a very different person than I am today—obviously, not solely because of my time there, but certainly it must have played some part in my development.
So, welcome to the world of unemployment. I spent much of Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday with my son putting together, among other things, a couple of lizard terrariums. I also worked on this essay. Thursday we left for Los Angeles to see our doctor before our insurance runs out and since we were up there and I’ve got some extra time on my unemployed hands and my wife can make her own schedule we spent the night on the Queen Mary, toured her and the Scorpion, a Soviet Cold War submarine, ate out a lot and visited the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. The week previous to this we hiked, fished, ate and slept at Big Bear Lake in California, so I feel sufficiently prepared to once again begin commenting on the Asylum that is, for the time being, no longer my home.
I’m kind of liking this unemployment gig.