The Layoff

by Mark on October 14, 2010

We sit across a round metal table. A thick manila envelope is between us. We both know why we are meeting. Our eyes sag under the weight of dark bags. Very little sleep from the night before. One of us is facing a life change. Both of us are filled with regret.

In three decades I sat at this table a couple hundred times and became an expert at communicating sadness, shock, and disappointment. Many other moments in my life are forgotten, but each of these meetings is seared into my memory. One woman pleaded, “This is my life. These are my friends. What will I do?” One worker threw a chair at me. One man collapsed and wept on my shoulder as I held him up.

There are rules: sit with your back to the door; clear all throwable objects from the office; and stock-up on tissue. You greet them and shake hands. No small talk. Get to the point. You have fifteen to thirty seconds to convey the message. After that their mind shuts down and shock wraps them in its cold womb. Escort them to a hallway where they will not face the shame of running into a coworker. Make sure they leave with the envelope. Take a sip of water. Call in the next person.

My company was shrinking. Layoffs were not one-off events, but a season that reoccurred just as the leaves began scratching an ever-emptying parking lot. You try to justify how this was necessary for our shareholders or to protect the shrinking number of survivors, but there is guilt. Where did we go wrong? What could I have done better? The why’s mean little to the victims. Their lives, hopes, and dreams are all changing.

It has been two years since my last seat at that table. As a business professor, I stand before the CEO’s of tomorrow. My passion is on excellence. Color outside the lines! Make smart decisions. Drive growth. They enjoy my energy, but do not understand the urgency. I root for their success and pray a little round table with a thick manila envelope between two chairs is not in their future.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Mike Hoffman November 29, 2010 at 10:25 pm

Hello Mark, I was fooling around with the internet and stumbled across this! You have to be the same Mark F. Weber from Eastman Kodak, Dayton, Ohio fame. I hope you get this and respond to it at your convenience. My address is 5041 E. Calle de las Chacras, Tucson, Az. 85718. E-mail is and my phone number is 520-904-0531. I would love to see what has been going on the past nearly 31 years! Thanks, Michael Hoffman, Eastman Kodak,1977-1979.

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