Lay Off and Self Care

After a particularly colorful debate following an interview for a development manager, I asked the senior developer why he wasn’t stepping up as the manager of that team.

“You have 20 years of experience – you already act as the architect for the team – you already schedule and resource plan for the team.  Why not take the title and the rest of the power and manage them directly?”
This man is pretty opinionated and shameless in terms of he acts and what he shares, but this question got him sort of sheepish.  He finally explained how he could not make the hard decisions – firing and laying people off.
“To think I could make a decision that negatively impacts that person’s family is something I cannot do or live with doing.”
I applauded him for knowing himself enough to know that excluded him from being a manager.  Many jump into a role like that, are faced with these hard decisions, and freak out or do nothing.
Ironically after he would accept no one as good enough to manage the development team, that role was given to me.
Even more ironic is that I had to lay someone off today.
As I was driving into work today, I realized that this layoff was going to be very different than others I have been a part of.  I work for a family owned and operated business, so we are not beholden to investors or wall street or anyone.  When I have worked for a publicly traded company, people waited for the layoff announcements and actions after the company reported a bad quarter or something.  But here, unless you are really paying attention, you have nothing to indicate that something may be happening.  So, this layoff had the possibility of being a huge, ugly surprise.
And it was.
He read the first 2 lines of the letter he was given and exploded.  “What do you mean, I only get 2 days of severance?!  Don’t you understand I have kids and a wife who just recently started back to school?? And I get 2 days?!?  And no notice – you gave me NO NOTICE!  This is a total shock – how can you just spring something like this on me?!?”
Years ago when I was early in my management career, I was “coached” through what to do and not to do for a layoff.  We had a kick ass HR team who knew it would go better for everyone if they helped people through it.  I spent the drive going through my memory recalling all of the things to do and not to do – to say and not to say.
Given his reaction, I was happy I had done that exercise.  It would have been really easy for me to make things worse by saying the wrong things or reacting the wrong way.  Hold the course, don’t go into the details of things, the decision has been made – no going back, it is what it is.
In the end, I got him to the point of acceptance that this was happening. No one was going to change their minds.  He couldn’t negotiate his way out of it.  He signed his paperwork, then went to pack and say good-bye.
I realized at lunch time that my body had been holding its breath, so to speak, the entire morning.  I think since I learned this was the path forward, that I had been holding the stress in my body.  But after doing the deed, my body exhaled – and I felt like shit.  Not because I felt what was done was wrong but because my body finally released the stress. The rest of the team was being silly and goofy and all. The stress and all from the announcement was better served just being off the wall and weird. I appreciated that – I laughed with them.  But the exhale – the letting go, for me, needed to be more.
Years ago, I was told the important piece of laying someone off.  This isn’t about me.  It is hard.  It is not easy.  It is a lot of very negative things.  But it isn’t about me.  I have a job in the end – they do not.  I understood that 20 years ago; and I get that even more now.   But no matter how much I get it or not – I was still holding onto the stress.
My light at the end of the tunnel was today is SB’s birthday.  We had made plans to get together.  Even after I had something come up that some would deem more important, I declined “I have a family thing I cannot miss”.  No lies – truth.  He is my family. I was not going to miss it – and I was not going to miss a chance to exhale after a shitty day like today.  Self-care.
So  tonight, I met SB for a meal.  We sipped beers.  We talked. We laughed. We basked in each other’s energy.  And I felt my body exhale even more.  I joked (only half hearted) that I wanted to just go home with him – curl up with him – and exhale even more.
Next week. Next week, we go away together.  Next week, we have and take the time.  Next week, I get my first break from work – the first one in over 6 months.  There are many reasons that make it time – but it is time.   I need it.

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