"Gotta Minute?"

It was the last Thursday in April. The weather was beautiful. Spring had taken up permanent residence in Maryland. My company had decided to hold an all-hands meeting. There hadn’t been one since a year before and it was time to address the troops. There had been some changes recently. Roger, the VP of Business Development had left to join another company about six weeks before. He had brought quit a few people into the company to include me and Gale, the sole program managers in the company. George, the VP for HR, had also left to start his own security services company. He was originally hired as the security officer and was kind of pushed into also doing HR. He had expressed many times his distaste for all things HR. These two were very popular in the company and many were upset at their departure.

Mike started the meeting. It was a “the-company-is-great”, “this-past-year-was-a-little-rough-but-the-future-is-bright,” type of speech. Pretty normal, I thought, for a state of the company all-hands, though a little embellished. But that is what company Presidents do.

After Mike made his comments, he handed the presentation over to Todd. Todd brought up a slide showing the company’s organization chart. Mike, of course, was at the top as President, Todd, the Executive Vice President, directly below him followed by the different departments and their heads.

The various departments, Hardware, Operations, HR, etc, had their assigned employees listed under the department heads. Gale and I were not listed. We were unsure where we would end up. When we were first hired, we fell under Roger, the VP for Business Development. This was probably because he convinced the company to hire us. We then were given to Todd for awhile and then moved to Carol, the VP of Operations. Eventually, we went back to Todd after our relationship with Carol became extremely contentious.

“Well, we aren’t under Carol. But, we aren’t listed anywhere. There is no program management box on the chart,” Gale said to me. I just shrugged. Who knew at that point. We had been handed off so much I felt like the fruitcake at Christmas nobody wanted. I thought maybe they hadn’t figured it out, yet.

Todd went on for awhile and then Peter spoke about happenings in hardware and Anna talked about HR things. Mike wrapped up with more cheer-leading and thank yous to the employees and closed the meeting. At the end, we were given travel mugs emblazoned with the company logo as a gift to commemorate the company’s 10th anniversary.

The next day, Friday, Todd approached me around 10:00 in the hallway as I walked out of Allen’s office.

“Got a minute?”

“Sure,” I said. I grabbed my notepad and a pen and followed him down the hallway, away from his office and towards the other end of the hallway. Now, some would say I should have seen this coming. Maybe, deep down, I had a suspicion but I honestly was clueless as I walked behind him. Things were in the works. Maybe they wanted me to take on a new project, or maybe there was going to be another change in our assignments. There were no hints leading up to this.

Todd walked into Anna’s office. I thought, “Why are we going into Anna’s office? She’s HR. She works with Allen. They wouldn’t put us under her.” I walked in. Anna was at her desk, looking at her monitor. She smiled at me but really did not make eye contact and quickly looked back at the monitor. Todd told me to have a seat as he closed the door. I sat in the chair on the left and he sat in the chair on the right, the one that was turned to face me.

So now I am worried. It can never be good to have a closed door meeting in the HR Director’s office with the Executive Vice President. It’s kind of like going to the principal’s office in high school. “Have I done something to get in trouble?” I quickly started going over the last few weeks in my head. I couldn’t think of anything, not that I do things that normally get people into trouble. I take pride in my integrity and professionalism. I read once to ask yourself, “Would you be embarrassed if what you were doing was published in the Washington Post?” I always tried to conduct myself at work following that principle.

“We have to let you go.”

Just like that. No pleasantries. No foreplay. Just, boom! You’re fired. As he said this, Anna slid a letter across her desk towards me. They must have rehearsed how this would go down. Todd sounded like he was reading from a script and Anna’s sliding of the letter was very smooth, timed perfectly. The letter said pretty much said the same thing and listed the severance package, 30 days insurance, 30 days salary.

“Am I being fired for cause?” I asked.

“No.” Todd said. “We are very happy with the work you have done. We just can’t keep you here. The company is experiencing financial difficulties. I will be more than happy to give you a good reference as you look for a job.”

As Todd was talking, I had a hard time suppressing a smile. The scene from “Office Space” was going through my head where the Bob Slydell is telling Peter Gibbons about Michael and Samir being fired. Bob says, “We find it’s always better to fire people on a Friday. Studies have statistically shown that there’s less chance of an incident if you do it at the end of the week.” And here I was. Getting fired on a Friday morning. It wass too classic.

“So, when does this take affect. The end of the day?” I asked Todd.

“It takes affect immediately. But you can charge for a full eight hours.”

How gracious of them.

“Can I at least pack up my office.”

“Sure. Take as long as you need but we would like you out by noon.”

I walked out in shock. I had never been fired before. I’ve quit many times and had a temp job not extended after the contract was up but never just straight out fired. As I walked back toward my office, Todd waited a minute and then walked out, too, and headed for Gale’s office. Uh oh. She’s next. They’re getting rid of both of us. I wanted to warn her but there was no way without Todd seeing me. I kept walking and went into my office and just sat and stared. I knew I should call Jenny but I couldn’t. What would I say?

“Hi! How’s your day? Good, good. Hey guess what? I got fired!” No. Not yet.

I walked over to Allen’s office and told him. He was just as dumb struck. He said it sucked but wished me luck. He offered to help by contacting some people he knew. I told him thanks and that I had to pack up and walked out. Gale was walking out of Anna’s office. That was fast. We looked at each other and chuckled. As I turned back into my office, Todd passed me and asked Allen, “Got a minute?” Him too. Three in one day. It’s a bloodbath! Anybody else? I thought about it and probably not. All that is left is Alice, Carol’s sister and no way is she being fired. The other “not-an-engineer” was Larry, the sys admin guy. He was Sarah’s brother. They wouldn’t fire him, either. The rest were engineers and they valued their engineers above all others. So, just the three of us. All brought in by Roger.

The best part of the morning was when Allen got back to his office. I don’t know who he called but the conversation was great. His voice was cheerful but a little louder than normal. He left his door open so he could be heard in the back in the lab and all the way up to the reception area.

“Hi! Hey I just wanted to let you know that you won’t be able to reach me at this number. Yeah. I’ve just been FIRED. Yeah, really. I know. Hey, I gotta go. I have to pack up my office now. Talk to you later. ‘Bye.” I loved it.

The next two hours entailed the three of us packing up our stuff and making several trips to our cars. There was a little battle in getting our accounts turned back on so we could delete some things and copy email addresses. My account was off before I got back to our office. I got to suffer the indignity of having Larry look over my should as I went through my email files. Carol said it was because they had been burnt before by someone they fired. She tried to act very concerned and sorry about it but I could see the smile and glee just under the surface. She looked like she was about to burst.

I did eventually call Jenny. I waited until I took my first box down to the car and called her from there. She was surprisingly upbeat. I could barely talk. I was shell shocked, no words would come out. I told her I would call her after I left for good and went back up for the rest.

We made sure we walked out together. I wanted to say good bye to some of the engineers in the lab but the door was shut. I found out later they were told something was going on and not to come out. They didn’t want them to see the walking dead. We packed our last boxes and got in the elevator. I suggested lunch but we weren’t hungry. Besides, we were unemployed now. We can’t be wasting money at Panera anymore. We hugged once we got outside and promised to stay in touch. We tried to be optimistic and jovial but you could see in our eyes we were lying.

Talk about feeling like you’ve been punched. It was all so surreal. Wake and go to work as normal and by noon you are carrying boxes down to your car, worrying about your house payment. In one fell swoop, those bastards took my pride, my ego and my confidence. Two years later and I’m still trying to get them back.

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