The Layoff

Thursday, February 19, 2009

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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Jason Eldredge said...

Classy post. I enjoy your blog - keep up the good work!

9:38 PM
Robin said...

Thank You for the inspirational story. I am a fairly new reader to your blog, but I have been loving it.

I am a federal employee who makes decisions on other peoples lives everyday. I am known for taking a persons word for it, if you tell me you're ill I believe you, etc. And I have always tried to treat those whom I am trying to help with the respect I would like to be shown. I truly believe you receive more than you give. As the circumstances in my own life have changed recently due to divorce, I am praying to be treated with respect also. As I too face some of the challenges those with whom I serve everyday are faced. When I tell them I totally understand their situation I do indeed !!

I always wanted to be one of those people who was kind and considerate in the face of serious challenges. I guess I am about to find out if I can pull it off !!

9:42 PM
Col.Smeag said...

In my chosen carreer I speak with many out of work Americans. Even when the economy was good, the other day I happend to speak to a homeless women who said ".. I've always been homeless, I can't do anything about it..."(paraphrased). On a sudden inspiration I told this dejected women "Look at were you live, Los Angeles. One of the largest cities in the country. When Los Angeles was just starting it was a buch of run dowm building with open sewers and was constantly flooded by the L.A. river. Today it is a major metropolitan city." I can'thelp but think that Heavenly Father gave this land to us "The promised land" It took man and his amaznig ability to think and reason that built this country up. I know with faith and determination this current crisis will pass and life will go on. I can't ever imagine this country NOT being great. It's good to see other so helpfull and resiliant to trials.

10:14 PM
Lorinda said...

thank you for blogging the best of what came out of a heartbreaking situation being faced in so many corners of the country. It was inspiring to feel the breeze through those 40 windows that were opened today of which you shared. May the grace of Jesus Christ go before you in the profession you are in - people.

11:06 PM
Jennifer said...

Thanks for the inspiring post.

5:12 AM
Rebekah said...

Good Job NMH!

6:11 AM
Shauna said...

Well said. I too love to see the best in people's worst situation. THe situation is bad--certainly not the people involved. Your writing today reminds me of the hope that comes when we have faith in God and act with charity. That is best any of us can do, no matter the situation.

Thanks for the uplifting post today. Keep up the good work.

6:31 AM
Ang said...

Beautiful post!

7:09 AM
Sandy said...

Great post - I'm very impressed with the good people who work with!

7:50 AM
Natalie said...

Being in HR right now must be hard! I am glad I got out of it. They just cut 20% of our employees at my old job. I wonder if I would have been one of them if I stayed.

7:53 AM
Maren Hansen said...

We just went through the hiring process post-grad school a couple years ago. It's TOUGH! Thanks for a peek at how things can go.

7:54 AM
Amy's Paradigm said...

Great Post!
I too wish I had known how people handle these things back in 2001. My darling husband had worked days to support the family while getting his MBA at night. Upon graduation he entered the high tech industry. He loved his job, his boss, and his employer. But with the dot com burst, the industry fell apart. His company fired the entire marketing department. All of his references were out of work as well as he.

I am not going to lie, it was tough. He was over-qualified to do the jobs he had done earlier in his life. We had two scary years. But during that time, I saw God's hand everywhere. Neighbors who "Didn't have room in their freezer for all the meat from their steer." Consulting jobs that provided just enough for the house payment and one Sunday in particular a little roast I planned to feed my family somehow lasting for the extra SIXTEEN people that had come at different times during the evening all need a meal.

I wish I had been like your wife confident and sure. I wasn't. I cried a lot. I took a lot of "emergency trips" to the temple to refind peace. But in that entire two years--we were always fine.

Thanks for sharing their wonderful example. I will be praying for their miracle.

10:24 AM

An exceptional post for a blog I read on a regular basis. I have been on edge as I wonder about the future of my job. This makes me realize I need to do the things necessary to increase my faith while living as providently as possible.

10:33 AM
WhiteEyebrows said...

I stumbled on your blog a while ago and have been following - but this story convinced me to comment.

While our religion has a long history of encouraging self-sufficiency, sometimes I wonder if we have done so at the expense of developing true faith - reliance - on God.

I think we can learn something from these people you've described.

1:28 PM
Christine #2 said...

I'm also in HR and the State of AZ is doing RIFs daily. Thanks for such a wonderful post.

6:10 PM
Kyli said...

Thank you for this post, it's what I needed to hear.

We are going through hard times right now. About 8-9 months ago we were in the temple and my husband and I both got a very strong, undeniable feeling that it was time to start a family. We discussed it and decided that my husband made enough money that we could afford to start a family, and besides, it was what the Lord wanted and who were we to disagree. So, we followed the promptings of the spirit, and I am now 7 months pregnant.

Well, in January, my husband lost two of his three incomes. So as of right now, we're really struggling to live. There are a lot of times where I find myself thinking, why would this happen? When we felt directed by the Lord that it was time to start a family, why did things suddenly go so wrong and make it so we can barely survive, let alone bring another life into this world. And, I'll admit I've been a little angry about this happening.

"When God closes a door, He opens a window" is exactly what I need to hear right now. I need to remember to have more faith and to trust the Lord that things will work out one way or another. Thank you for this post.

6:35 PM
Olivia said...

My husband might be getting laid off at the end of the year...but things are still up in the air. I too have been impressed with how his company has handles lots of notice, severence, and support. It's nice to know that "Big Business" sometimes still has a heart--more often than not probably.

7:49 AM
carrie said...

Thanks for sharing. What an uplifting story, during a time when circumstances aren't so positive.

9:30 AM
Sean said...

Awesome post again. I know exactly what goes on in someones life when this happens. I graduated with my BS in Info Sys in Dec 99 in the three years that followed I was out of work for a total of 1 year. The Lord definitely opened a window for us. I have now been an civilian employee in the Army for the past 6 1/2 years. The Lord does bless those that look to Him.

9:38 AM

We {thankfully} have never been in the position of those whose story you shared. I could just see them as you were describing them, and it brought me to tears {although I blame that on the pregnancy hormones :o)}. I can only hope that we would have their faith and optimism.

Thanks for another great post!

11:49 AM
Jamie said...

We've been lucky so far. In May of 1999, my husband got on with a company that he had been a consultant for. He mentioned the rumors going around about the smelter we were going to being closed soon, but we were told everything was okay. We ordered carpeting at the beginning of July and the next day the boss (who hired him) suggested we might want to cancel that order. I was thankful for the heads up, since we needed that $$$ when the smelter closed and we moved back up where we were living before (thankfully the company was able to place us). I like the heads up- it speaks more of respect for your employees.

1:01 PM
Motherboard said...

I remember Elder Holland giving a talk about this very thing-- back in 2002 or 2001 in General Conference. It is my favorite. Its easy once we cross to the other side of our trial to see how the window was opened-- and then wanting to go back and tell ourselves to not give up hope. Or faith.

What a great post from one of my favorite blogs!

2:06 PM
Dennis & Hollie said...

Thanks for this post. Very well done. Keep up the good work.

2:53 PM
Anonymous said...

Wow! I stopped by to get a laugh- and instead shed a tear. It is humbling what is going on around us- I pray that all those that have lost their jobs will find that window open... Our Stake President spoke to us today and talked about how if we are able we need to open our homes, hearts, and wallets to those who are in need. I pray that we will all have the faith and compassion to help one another during these difficult times. I am sure if we do- it will only make our nation stronger.

8:33 PM
Admiral Lily said...

Losing your job is always difficult. Losing it in a time of economic crisis is even worse. Kudos to all those who continue to have faith and positive outlook on their lives. God blesses those who are faithful and obedient.

11:44 AM
Linnae said...

Very classy post. And very inspirational. You write so well. I'm still amazed this is the "you" I knew in High School. Even though I didn't really "know" you. I love your blog.

1:08 PM
Will Hill said...

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Here's my Blog if anyone is interested.

1:29 AM
Shiree said...

Thanks for the optimism. My husband just graduated and we are having a hard time finding employment. I know that he is struggling right now and I have not been as optimistic as the NMW. I will try to do better.

9:12 AM
Pappy Yokum said...

Very good post indeed. It's great to hear not only of a company's compassion but also of employees who have the strength and integrity to face this trial with heads held high and determination to continue working hard to the end. Kudos to all those involved in this story.

11:57 AM