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And so it begins… January 20, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, engineering, research, work.
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Yesterday afternoon, two emails came through at work letting us know that about 1/4 of the people working at our center would be dismissed.  This morning, the front page of the local paper had the story.

Our center has primarily been funded under earmarks along with some other projects coming through industry collaborations.  When congress cut all earmarks, we lost the most significant portion of our funding.  (I find this frustrating as cutting earmarks doesn’t actually reduce the budget…it just means that no portions of the existing budgets can be allocated to specific projects by congress.  So our center losing most of its funding changed nothing in terms of the US budget.)

Today was surreal.  Someone came up to tell me they were one of the ones let go.  Another person announced it at the end of the meeting.  I had no inkling before they said anything that they were on the list.  I didn’t take it well.

Right before Christmas, two people I know let me know they’d been laid off (both EEs in technology industries).  I’ve heard of companies pulling such tactics as they approach the end of their fiscal year.  I will say that despite the fact we knew things were going to be happening, I was hugely relieved that, in the case of our center, they at least waited until after the holidays so that people could enjoy the time with their families.

And the people that have been let go are not necessarily going because they weren’t smart or hard working.  That is both the hardest part and the best part.  I know that these people aren’t to blame for their predicament – it was simply a matter of whether their expertise is necessary on some of the projects we have coming in.  I’m confident these people can move on and still be successful.

On the other hand, it sort of flies in the face of the “work hard and you’ll always have a job” mentality that so many people put out there.  That’s simply not true…and that’s why this is really hard.  I’m also feeling a twinge of survivor guilt.  I still have my job, as does my husband.  It seems unfair that I just happened to luck out to have some of the skills that will be required moving forward.

Most of the people will still be around for a month, but it’s going to be hard to work as though nothing happened.  And after they’re gone, the place is going to be uncomfortably empty.

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Comments»

1. Kari - January 20, 2012

Ugh. I have been through massive company layoffs at two previous jobs, both times on the survivors’ side. I too suffered from survivor’s guilt. The first time it was sudden & unexpected, and I was the only one of my friends who was kept. The first day I went to work after the layoffs, I immediately wished I had been let go instead.

I don’t envy the position you are in. Speaking from experience though, you can and will survive the survivor’s guilt. Hang in there.

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2. Charles J Gervasi - January 21, 2012

We had many rounds of layoffs when I was a captive employee at a large electronics company. Even at the time it felt like people made a bigger deal of it than it was. Looking back 10 years later, the whole affair seems even more trivial. It wasn’t like the jobs being lost were more interesting or better paying than average.

My attitude now is I won’t take a client’s money unless I’m excited about the project. Similarly, a client should never use me if paying me is a strain and/or they’re not excited about what the project can do for them. If they’re struggling and loosing funding, I’d rather take a project with someone who’s in a solid position. When the other organization stops struggling and gets funding back, I want to schedule or squeeze in their project or ping my network for someone interested in helping. Carrying on giving me projects out of a misguided sense of charity helps neither one of us.

I know it’s a little different with captive jobs, but I don’t see why the same basic ideas doesn’t apply. If they’re struggling, that’s not the client/employer I want to work with. Instead I want to help orgs that are doing well do ever better.

I am interested in learning more about why people want to stay in an arrangement that’s not working out well.

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3. FrauTech - January 22, 2012

I think I read somewhere that being a survivor after a layoff is sometimes mentally more stressful than actually being laid off. Obviously this isn’t true in every person’s case. But many people are able to move on and find better opportunities after a job loss. Sticking around (and feeling the guilt as well as the increased work load and possibly angry/sad work environment) is more of a process you have to get past, not something with succinct beginnings and endings. So don’t minimalize your own feelings over this. It’s extremely difficult to stick around while your colleagues are getting laid off.

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