Re: Layoffs

by The Inmate

Termination Guidelines

1. The termination meeting should last no more than 5 to 10 minutes.
3. Avoid any small talk
4. The downsized employee should clearly understand that he or she is being fired and this will be his or her last day of work.
5. Have Kleenex available
10.  Remain calm and try not to display any emotion.

—Compiled from internal company memos and listed in
“The Etiquette of Downsizing” from Downsize This! by Michael Moore

It is, I suppose, a kind of poetic injustice that I, The Inmate, got laid off today (September 2, 2003).  This is probably too soon to begin writing about the experience because my usual objectivity may be hampered to some degree by my emotions, but no task is too great to keep The Corporate Asylum pertinent to the times.

Hello to those of you who worked with me at DHL San Diego, to any of you who are former employees of DHL from around the nation and to the three of you and your pets who are regular readers of this critique of corporate culture.   I’d love to hear from all of you.

Deutsche Post World Net (the mother company of DHL) recently acquired Airborne Express and the deal technically closed just over a week ago.  Airborne USA is a much larger company than DHL USA and, the most relevant point here, their couriers work for a lot less money than we do.  On Friday last we had been given some not so subtle clues that we might be let go today which disrupted what would otherwise have been a much looked forward to three-day weekend.  However, when I left for work this morning I was feeling like I’d probably have a job because even though we are smaller the logistics of suddenly adding all our material and products to Airborne (now DHL) seemed too daunting a task even for profit and money driven CEO’s.  However, as one of my colleagues put it over the weekend, “When has logic had anything to do with what happens here?”

When I arrived at work two of my soon-to-be-unemployeed cohorts gave me the thumbs down sign and told me what they knew.  My words to them, exhibiting the proper use of profanity, were, “Those fucking bastards.”  When we were finally let into the warehouse half our vans were gone, there was no material to deliver and all our supplies had disappeared.  That was a strange, strange feeling.  It’s almost like someone has robbed your house, this place that you have come to every working day for years and years and years.  The mood, however, was not one of depression.  With some exceptions it was light, almost jovial.  Many of us were cracking jokes and exhibiting the satire, sarcasm and cynicism that in many cases, including my own, was an outgrowth of our time at DHL.

Our station manager, who looked crestfallen not only because he had to deliver (pun intended) us the bad news but also because he knew his job will probably end soon, read a brief statement and then played a video from our now somber CEO (Funny, he didn’t look that way in an earlier video explaining the acquisition of Airborne).  As usual, the corporate video was a descent into corporatespeak that has no meaning unless you know, like any of you who read this site do, how to decipher the bullshit (again, more proper use, something I was good at today) contained therein.  He used the typical cliches: “it is with great difficulty” and “Regretfully” and, my favorite, “exceptionally difficult decision to make.”  Not that difficult in a business sense: Airborne drivers make around 10 an hour, DHL drivers make around 20.  Hmmmm . . .  so the CEO is thinking:   “I have a decision to make and since ethics and morality have little or no influence in any decisions I’ve made in the past, it’s certainly not necessary for me to break with tradition at this stage of my career and try to implement them now, besides that’s simply not the industry standard.”

In defense of DHL, something difficult for me at this point, they are paying us through October 31 and offering us a severance package based upon years of service.  So I’ll have about six months to find something else which is a lot better than, say, one week.  Ironically, I’ve often said that seniority has no meaning at DHL, but they proved me wrong today.

One of the things I’ve written about often on this site is language and its utter lack of meaning in the workplace.  What can you believe?  It seems nothing.  In some literature (a loose, loose term in this context) we received soon after we heard about the Airborne deal these words appeared:

. . . we do know that the company is committed to growth, which will ultimately result in increased opportunities and stability for all employees.[italics mine]

Veterans of the corporate world will notice immediately the strategically placed word “ultimately.”  They also know that “opportunities” in this absurdest of realms can be a new job title or the unemployment line.  And apparently “stability” has taken on an additional definition.  I hope someone has contacted  The Oxford English Dictionary.

Some months ago we also received “The Corporate Song.”  I’m not kidding here–I wish I was.  It was a professionally produced CD and the title of the song is “Hand in Hand.”  Listening to it is an extremely dangerous task, but one of the duties that I must take on as Editor of The Corporate Asylum so that I can share with you these lyrics from the chorus:

Hand in Hand we will be strong enough
Stronger than before
Hand in Hand we will be strong enough
Stronger than before*

Someone let go of roughly 2,500 pairs of hands today all across the U.S. of A.  I guess we were all holding on to the wrong hand.   On the cover of the CD  Klaus Zumwinkel, CEO of Deutsche Post, wrote, “Music is a universal language.  When I listen to this song, I feel the spirit of our group with its strong brands.”

I don’t feel that spirit and as the day has lingered on I find my stiff upper lip beginning to sag.  A lot of it has to do with the way in which this was handled.  To be told to come to your job “ready to work” only to find out you do not have one is belittling.  To be let go in spite of your quality of work, years of service, job knowledge and integrity is dehumanizing because those things that make us human were not a consideration in the decision.

In a sense I feel some relief.  The corporate world has left a mark on me and if at all possible I do not plan to return to it.  As I said earlier, this is probably a fitting end, but it is not one that I would wish on anybody.

Let us not, however, finish here.  Let us conclude with some laughter and gaiety from Scott Adams’  Dogbert’s Top Secret Management Handbook.  This comes under the heading of “Downsizing.”

You probably refer to your employees as the company’s “most valuable assets,” and with good reason–every time you get rid of one, earnings increase, and so too does the value of your stock options and bonus.  It’s like printing money.

The employees who stay behind become shell-shocked, bitter, and overworked.  But amazingly, this has no impact on you whatsoever.

Well, hey, it is funny in a cynical, sarcastic and truthful sort of way.  Anyway, it made me laugh—-and that’s a good sign.  You have a great week.  I’ll give it a shot and why not?—I’m on a long paid vacation.

*Publisher: Deutsche Post World Net
Words by Marc Marshall

Forbes Story


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