My first time (getting laid off)
It was nearly ten years ago when it happened.
I was young, just barely into my 20s, and I was studying at college as a full-time student. I was living on my own, and I had a car, so I had quite a few bills to pay.
I worked at a transportation company as a general contractor, helping them unload the delivery trucks, load other trucks, and sort parcels to different destinations. My schedule was from 5ish to near midnight, depending on how busy we were, and I probably did something like 25 to 30 hours a week, clearing about $250 a week after taxes. It was a physically demanding job, and it didn’t pay that much above minimum wage, but it was a great way to make money for a student trying to pay his bills!
It was also a little dangerous, with heavy boxes and my crazy coworker driving the forklift around, and it was also a little uncomfortable, with hot steaming temperatures in the summer, and ice-cold temperatures in the winter (personally, I preferred the heat). I don’t know how I kept up the schedule when now I feel so tired after just a regular workday at the office, but I think the physical activity helped out. Anyways, I somehow managed it!
Working on contract
This was the second time I was working for them, and they had specifically asked for me since I had done a good job for them the last time around. I was on good terms with my coworkers, and with the foreman as well. I thought everything was going well, and I was happy to have the regular paycheck in exchange for some work. I felt comfortable and secure in my position.
However, things started to change over time. A new manager took over the branch, and then there were little changes here and there. One day, I saw my foreman working on a new conveyor system to move boxes from one place to another, and a coworker warned me that he had heard rumours that all of the contractors were going to be fired very soon.
You’re no longer needed around here
I heard what my coworker was saying, but I somehow didn’t process it. I felt that I was a good employee, and that I had been doing a good job. I felt like I was part of the team and deserved my position there, even if I was a contractor. They wouldn’t have called me back if I wasn’t a good employee, right?
Well, good employee or not, at the end of the day on Friday, I was called into the boss’s office and was told that my job was finished and that I wouldn’t be returning on Monday. I was fired, just like that. I was a contractor with an manpower agency, so they were fully within their rights to do that, without severance or anything else.
I took it personally at the time. I peeled out of the parking lot and had a hard time sleeping that night. I was so pissed that I could just be brushed into the street so easily. I wondered what I was going to do for money. It wasn’t even that great of a job, but it was paying the bills and I had made friends there. I felt like I had been punched in the face.
What I learned from the experience
Lesson #1: Pay attention to what’s being said between the lines
A company’s first responsibility is to its owners and shareholders (which is appropriate), but that also means that employees are often the last to know about anything, at least through official channels. Managers are reluctant to give out information for fear that they could damage the company’s interests (or violate various laws regarding insider trading and stuff like that).
However, there is a second source of information: the grapevine. If you pay attention to what’s being said between the lines, as well as to people’s emotions and moods, you can learn a lot that you won’t find out through the official channels. This information needs to also be taken with a grain (or many grains) of salt since it can’t be authenticated, but I would have been better prepared had I heeded my coworker’s warning and prepared for another job in advance.
Lesson #2: A job is not a right
Part of the reason I was so offended when I was laid off is that I somehow felt that I had the right to be there. I was doing a good job, and they had even called me back, so what right did they have to just toss me out like that? Wasn’t I part of the team? I took getting laid off so personally, because I saw it as a personal affront against my character.
I’ve since learned to see things in a somewhat different light. A job is really a mutual agreement between two parties, and it’s not something that either party can guarantee forever. I can quit any time as an employee, right? Well, in the same way, my job could also “quit” on me, and I need to be prepared for that. It doesn’t mean that it’s personal, even if it does hurt.
Instead of feeling bitter, I’ve realized that it’s more productive to look at what I can learn from the experience and grow as a person. A layoff may be just a step on the road to better things.
Lesson #3: Better things may be just around the corner.
A few months later, I was working for another company, making a higher hourly wage and working weekends only. There was paid overtime, and I was often able to do one or two 12-hour shifts on the weekend, pulling in more money than I was making at my previous job, and in less time, too. Since I was now in university, the new schedule really benefited me since I now had night classes, too. If I had still been at my old job, I would have had to quit anyways!
The extra income with the new job also helped to bridge the gap until I was doing my first paid internship. It was one step on the road to a brighter future.
So, reader, have you ever been laid off before? The first time was an unpleasant experience for me, but it was actually one of the best things for me in hindsight. My next job was much better for my schedule, and though I was bitter at the time, I learned from the experience, and things worked out in the end!