Sometimes my job is hard.
I oversee Human Resources for six manufacturing facilities in the southeast and east coast for a large Fortune 500 company. Working in a regional HR role is both challenging and rewarding because it allows me to spend a significant amount of time in shaping strategy and playing a key role in the overall success of our business while still remaining close to the employees in the plants. My style at work is to have much more of a spine than Toby in The Office while not being quite as evil as Catbert.
Call me Tobybert.
While in general my job is complex and very demanding, I can normally handle the stress, the fast pace and the constant threat of being sued. But there is one part of my job that is particularly difficult.
Unfortunately, this has been the major part of my job since the day I was hired. I have handled at least two major layoffs or consolidations every year over the past five years. It seems that just as soon as one RIF is complete, it is time to start planning another one. My company is not alone in this nor are these decisions taken lightly. This is just reality for the vast majority of employers in my industry involved in US manufacturing.
Three weeks ago I was responsible for planning and administering a reduction in force of more than twenty of the people who work in my plant. It takes several weeks to determine which departments to include, how many positions to reduce, how to restructure shifts and job duties of the remaining employees, and objectively selecting the individuals who will be let go while making sure our decisions are legally defensible. During this lengthy process I know which employees will lose their jobs as I pass them in the halls every day, watch them work hard, and talk with them about their families.
At the same time we were planning the RIF at my plant I was overseeing two additional restructurings in my region. Those layoffs, one of which included the complete closure of one of our smaller plants later this year, were announced today. I had to travel to the facility that will be closed to assist the Plant Manager who made the announcement and to field questions from the forty employees who were told that they would be losing their jobs.
Their response to the news was inspiring.
A few employees responded with tears. Each one of them had a coworker who gave them a shoulder to cry on or a hand to hold as we gave them the somber news. Several employees openly expressed their gratitude for the leadership and compassion of our outstanding Plant Manager and the ideal work environment she created for them. Others thanked me that the company is giving them several months advance notice before losing their jobs. A few commented that they appreciated the company's generous severance and outplacement policies. Yet another told her coworkers how important it was for the facility to remain focused on getting quality products delivered on time to our customers up until the day the doors are shut, because that is the type of people and operation we have at that location. Heads nodded in agreement.
There was no bitterness. No anger. No resentment. Just professionalism, class, dignity and faith.
As the meeting concluded one of the more senior employees in the plant spoke up. He is an openly God-fearing man and many people in the plant look to him as a spiritual leader of sorts. He invited anybody who was willing to join hands in prayer before going home. I did not see anybody leave. As I held hands with a 6'4" African American maintenance worker to my left and my HR Administrator to my right, we bowed our heads and listened to a good man speak with our Heavenly Father. His prayer was full of faith, humility, hope and gratitude. After we each said our "amen", many people embraced and expressed their love and appreciation for their coworkers before returning home to deliver the bad news to their families.
More than one of them told me, "When God closes a door, he always opens a window."
I have been praying that everything will work out well for my coworkers because I know what it feels like to be desperate for work. In 2001 I quit my job and moved my wife and 4-week-old son from Provo, Utah to Tucson, Arizona where I would begin my MBA studies at the U. of A. At the time I enrolled in the MBA program there was a 97% job placement rate at graduation with average salaries earning double what I had been making at the job I left behind. September 11th happened a month after I started my Master's program and on-campus recruiting dried up completely. As graduation began approaching in 2003 I had three companies that were recruiting me. Each of them subsequently sent me rejection letters within five days of each other in what turned out to be one of the worst weeks of my life.
I was confused, angry and disillusioned. I felt like a complete failure as a provider for my young family. There were several nights where insomnia and worry overpowered sleep and I watched the sun rise while lying in bed. The Normal Mormon Wife continued to brim with faith, optimism and confidence in me. Scripture study and prayer took on a whole new meaning in my life and became more sincere. While these things lifted me up, the constant weight of facing the prospect of not being able to provide for my family nearly crushed me. It was a bleak time in my normally charmed life.
And then the phone rang.
The company I had interned for suddenly had a job opening in North Carolina. I interviewed a few days later and had a job offer almost immediately after my interview. We relocated to NC one week after graduation and our life here has been full of blessings and happiness.
I wish I could go back in time and let the desperate, dejected 2003 version of myself see the way my coworkers handled their setback today. Their examples would have made my time of trial much easier to endure. I would have known that when it seems like all doors have been closed, God opens a window.
Based on the faith and determination of my coworkers, it's going to get drafty in that plant over the next few months.
That's what happens when forty windows are opened.
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