Thursday, March 12, 2009


Having depleted a lot of creative and emotional reserves with the previous post, it's taken me this long to come up with any sort of new topic. And so, I resort to a rather old one: The office.

Several months ago I described my co-worker Fredi. I know that she and her teammate Louise have been very bogged down with a combination of a bug-ridden new software system, new policies and procedures, year-end cleanup, and sheer volume of work. The woman who works with me was even pulled away from her job to help Fredi and Louise a couple of days a week. She came away from it feeling she'd accomplished nothing but fall behind with her own responsibilities. "They are SO disorganized!" she said, with more than a little disgust. Fredi's desk had become the one no one wanted to go near. If someone needed a document that Louise couldn't find, they would simply wait for Fredi to return, rather than take the risk of trying to wade through tottering stacks on the desk, the floor, and the overhead compartments.

In addition to a crushing workload, Fredi is also contending now with her mother, who fell recently and appears to be straying far off the road to recovery. As the elderly often will, she has decided she's "too old" to make the effort at rehab. Fredi had hoped she'd rally, but this seems not to be in the cards.

Last Friday I stayed late and heard Fredi & Louise's manager direct each of them to speak to him in his office -- Fredi first and then Louise. There was a tone to it that put me on the alert, whereas usually I'm so wrapped up in my own work, I'm oblivious to conversations around me unless they become unusually loud. I listened for Fredi, believing that if she got bad news from Taylor (i.e. a layoff), there would be a significant emotional reaction. But, she came out of Taylor's office and said to Louise "Your turn." All well and good, I thought, and went back to my own little world. Fredi left in her usual fashion: At top speed, with nary a word to anyone.

So Monday, I arrived at the office and saw out the corner of my eye that Fredi's cube was empty. This did not alarm me unduly -- with her mother's situation, she's already had to take time here and there for caregiver conferences and meetings to determine future placements. She tries to schedule them first thing in the morning, rather than cut a large chunk out of the day. It's been very stressful for her. She would often tell me how sleep was eluding her, due to worry and the feeling that there was no relief in sight.

A few minutes later, though, after I'd clocked in, hung up my jacket and started focusing on the day ahead, I took a second look at Fredi's cube and saw that all her many, many personal items were gone. Her workspace was stripped ... and her nameplate was blank.

Holy shit, I thought. I had few illusions about Fredi's stellar work habits and doubted very much that anyone else did ... but to pull the plug on someone who's maybe 6 years from retirement, someone with a disabled spouse, a house that won't sell, and now a mother headed into a decline, was truly heart-rending. I hoped they had at least offered her some sort of halfway decent severance -- she'd been with the company about ten years, I thought. And was Louise going to have to pull the entire load now? What was Fredi's husband, who still worked here, going to do? Would he quit in protest, or deliberately slack off at his job?

What a way to start a week.

And I spent the next half hour or so wondering how they'd managed to do this. Did they call her later Friday, or Saturday, perhaps? Or did she arrive first thing Monday morning and receive instructions to clean out her desk? It was, needless to say, difficult to concentrate on much else. I wanted badly to ask someone, but my manager and the others were walking back and forth, making casual conversation a bad option.

Interestingly, it was my manager who explained it. "We've had layoffs over the weekend," she said. I jerked my thumb toward Fredi's cube and said "So I've noticed."

My boss waved her hand in dismissal. "Oh, Fredi's fine. They sent her over to the local branch." The local branch is where all Fredi's closest friends are -- she left their group to come to our office about 3 years ago and has frequently talked about how much she missed them and their informal camaraderie. They are not a "corporate" bunch. They're a half-hour breakfast-at-your-desk and take-an-hour-to-peruse-the-new-Avon-catalog bunch.

It was by far the happiest moment I've had at work in a long time. I'm very glad for Fredi -- she still has her job and has escaped from this pressure cooker the rest of us are in. We exchanged a couple of brief e-mails and she confirmed what I'd surmised -- she's in the best of all possible worlds. She still gets to see her husband, since his work takes him here, there and everywhere.

It's been so busy since Monday, I haven't had a chance to ask Louise how she's holding up. I suppose I'll soon get a taste of whatever she's got going. The other person who does what I do is going in for some surgery tomorrow. It's a repeat of something she had before and that time, it kept her home for a few months. She claims she's determined to be out no more than a week, but I'll believe it when it happens. The timing's bad, though. My boss later went on to tell me that 2 other people DID get laid off Friday, and we're already seeing a lot of doubling-up of work loads.

The frantic pace does make the days and weeks go by faster. There is that.


Howard Bagby said...

We have had a lot of shake ups at the Wal-Mart I work at. Several people who have worked there for a few years have been fired. They were justifiable firings but people are being more cautious now. What they don't seem to grasp is if you do your job you don't have anything to worry about. I feel sorry for those who are gone but they were warned. Before they fire someone for poor productivity the give them what is called a D-Day or a decision day. They get one day off with pay to think about whether or not they want to remain at Wal-Mart. Of course if you steal or attack a co-worker there is no D-Day.

Volly said...

Up until this last round of layoffs, the process appeared based on merit (or lack thereof). If you gave the company an excuse to cut you, they would, with "the economy" as justification. Of course, most southern states, such as yours & mine, are "at-will" anyway, but this way the company could shed the deadwood gracefully.

This time, however, it appears more of a seniority thing. The two people laid off were relative newcomers (6 months to a year with the company). However, I suspect Fredi has been offered something like a D-day -- if she doesn't pick up the pace in her new position, well, I don't know what might happen then. I think what she's got would be considered a demotion by most people.

Kay Dennison said...

Sigh. Life in these United States isn't easy.