Other People’s Layoffs, part 2

You’re a contractor, diligently working in your cubicle. You are disconnected from a lot of information-sharing and you don’t know many of the people around you.

How do you realize a layoff is happening?

Aural cues: Footsteps that are faster than normal. Maybe they’re even running. Bursts of conversation – a quick exclamation that instantly dies down to a low murmur. Silence, too, in place of the usual steady hum of conversations and phone calls.

Visual cues: More people than usual clustered in one cubicle. Lots of empty cubicles, maybe even an entire area suddenly devoid of people. Unusual behavior, like someone waving to someone else down one of those long cubicle corridors.

Maybe you hear someone crying. Maybe.

The air pressure changes and so does the light, just enough that you realize something is off.

You’re a full-time employee, head down, diligently working. Your manager pops her head into your cubicle. “Please come to my office,” she says. She’s calm, projecting reassurance, although you don’t know why. She’s gone before you can respond, and you hear her saying the same thing to your next door neighbor.

In a moment, most of your group is clustered in her office, silently gazing at one other. Some have figured out what’s going on, but if you’re younger or not very attentive to organizational behavior, you are still in the dark.

Your boss follows the last person in. She’s barely shut the door when she says “There’s a layoff going on. You’re in here because you are not being laid off. The people who are being laid off have been called to HR.”

She walks over to her desk, but remains standing, and tells you where the layoff is happening, how many people, and names anyone in your group who has been let go. She answers a few questions: Numbers have been down three quarters in a row. Decision was made to scale back on two initiatives. No plans for additional layoffs.

Then she says, “People will be coming back from HR to collect their things and leave for the day. They’ll have the opportunity to come back later to clear out their personal belongings if they can’t do it now. Feel free to talk to them and express your sympathy. I hope to have a department lunch next week with” and she names the person or people in your group who have been let go “and will keep you posted.”

She dismisses you.

I can’t remember if there’s a standard time of day when layoffs happen. I witnessed them a couple of times during the decades I contracted, and only experienced one myself. Did they happen before lunch, so shocked employees could talk freely during lunch and maybe get out of the office? Did they happen at the end of the day? I imagine it’s considered better to do it fairly early, so everyone has a chance to decompress in the first few hours after the unlucky ones leave.

December 16, 2020 COVID-19 Infections and Deaths

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