Five weeks ago, the company I work for announced upcoming layoffs. The same day, my boss told me I was on the list to receive a “voluntary” severance offer. Later that day, I received the offer, so I had a choice to make:
- Take the offer and leave voluntarily.
- Decline the offer and take my chances.
Taking the offer would mean losing the best non-music-related job I’ve ever had in my long, illustrious life. It would also mean I couldn’t get unemployment insurance since I’d be quitting. A cash payout was part of the offer, but it wasn’t substantial enough to affect the decision.
Declining the offer meant gambling that I would survive the layoffs. It was a Sophie’s Choice with the added bonus of a potential penalty for loving your job and wanting to keep it.
The thing about “voluntary” layoffs is they’re only voluntary if enough people take the offer. If they don’t, then involuntary layoffs happen. And they flat out told me if I declined the voluntary offer, the involuntary severance payout would be significantly less.
How awful is that situation?
Pretty awful, I can tell you, after living through it. It was a couple of weeks of abject terror and panic and scrambling to find a new gig, which dragged on for a few additional weeks of elevated stress and fear. It was like the feeling you get the moment you’re fired (you’ve been fired, right? If not, we can’t be friends), only stretched out for over a month. It was fucked, as the kids say.
I chose to stay and take my chances.
Ayin and I went through a pros and cons exercise, which came out in favor of staying, so I declined the severance offer. Even though science told me it was the right decision, I was riddled with doubt. I’d pushed several thousand dollars off the table and said, “No, thanks,” at a time when I could be fired at a moment’s notice.
I won’t keep you in suspense. I learned yesterday that I would not be laid off, so the gamble paid off.
But lordy, lordy, butter and beans, what a miserable five weeks it’s been.
I’d been actively looking for a new job, of course, but nothing had come through. And even though Ayin and I laid out an action plan that would start the minute they told me I was laid off, it was still like waiting for a guillotine blade to fall. After about a month, I started feeling like I didn’t even care what happened anymore. Just let something happen already!
The company I work for didn’t invent the “voluntary” severance concept. Some criminally evil, heartless bastard did that. Probably J.P. Morgan or J.P. Getty or some other J.P. industrialist. Maybe it was Henry Ford. He hated his employees. The modern car companies certainly use the tactic all the time.
I understand the
cowardly logic behind it: “Hey if enough people volunteer to leave, we won’t have to fire anyone!” But it’s a scheme that only benefits the employer while somehow appearing vaguely altruistic because they’re dispensing envelopes full of cash and giving people a “choice.”
In actual practice, though, it was torture. Even now that I know my job is safe, I can’t just shake off five weeks of catastrophic thinking. Five weeks of looking for work, five weeks of thinking about how to cut the cost of everything. Five weeks of laying in bed looking at the ceiling when I should have been sleeping.
Eventually, things will cool out, but I still feel like I’m on high alert. Though I just had some herb, so soon I’ll be high and not so alert.
Things like this make me wonder why I stay in tech. Just about every tech company I’ve ever worked for has screwed me, laid me off, or sold the company out from under me. So why do I stay?
I’m essentially a writer for these companies, so I could be a writer for any kind of company. My first job was working as a printer for an insurance company. I did that for seven years. Sometimes, I feel like that’s what I need, something as boringly stable as a traditional, established business.
But really, every business is a tech business now, so I may as well go with what I know. This kind of thing is just part of it.