Saturday, 6 December 2008

Redundancies - a spectator sport?

I really don't want another week like this one.

Don't get me wrong, nobody got ill, the world didn't implode or anything like that, but it has been ever so slightly shit.

The nadir was Wednesday. The company I work for has recently bought a competitor. With another colleague, I've been working at the new company this week to help with the transition to the new (ie our existing) computer system.

To be fair to them all, it's gone pretty well. There have been no catastrophes and in general, fewer problems than expected.

Wednesday, however, was horrible. It was nothing to do with the computer and all to do with the fact that we've had to make seven people redundant.

Don't get me wrong; I am well aware that we live in times of mass redundancies. Every news bulletin talks of hundreds or thousands losing their jobs, but this week really brought home to me exactly what that means.

It was like a creeping death through the office. One by one, people were called in for their meeting. A few who have still got jobs have been demoted (there needs to be "alignment of roles"), so even those in employment weren't exactly thrilled. But the worst bit was when the person came out from their meeting accompanied by someone from HR. Then it was a rushed packing up of their personal belongings and carrying them out in a plastic bag (or whatever else they could find). There was no time to go around saying goodbye to people, exchanging phone numbers, or even shaking hands. The people involved were losing their jobs and as they packed up their things they were feeling rushed and losing a bit of dignity too. The reaction of the others in the office was also odd and yet understandable. Some colleagues couldn't look the "redundee" in the eye. Perhaps out of fear (if they hadn't yet had their meeting), perhaps out of guilt (if they already knew that they were okay), perhaps to avoid bursting into tears in the middle of the office. Personally, I have no such pride and did not try to fight the tears that came to my eyes or the crack in my voice, but I'm not saying this because I think it makes me a better person, it just makes me a person with less self control.

Everyone who wasn't coming back had gone by early afternoon, and those that were left were numb and drained. There was much talk of cracking open a bottle of wine with that night's dinner.

But the next day, it transpired that most people had just vegged out in front of the TV and let a soap opera and rest help them to rebuild.

So when you see that news item about another 1000 jobs going, please don't do what I had done, and allow large numbers to desensitise you to what this actually means. It means 1000 people with their pictures of their kids, their postcards from Florida and their special pen, mug or plant being shoved, without ceremony or care into a carrier bag, so that they don't keep the woman from HR waiting as she escorts them from the building. It means waking up the next day feeling guilty if you didn't go to the job centre on your way home from the office where you'd spent the last five years. It's about suddenly feeling lonely as your 9-5 social life is taken away from you. It's about fear of the future.

Forgive me if I'm painting a bleak picture. I know that there are many people for whom redundancy was the best thing that ever happened to them, how it spurred them on to make positive moves in their lives, how it jolted them out of a rut.

I truly hope that this happens to the seven people I saw lose their jobs this week and I hope it happens quickly, to take away the pain that I suspect they're feeling now.

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