I write about my life and life itself seen through my eyes for who can write through the experiences of others if not their own?

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Survival of the Fittest

During my 14 years with the company I witnessed the rise and fall of an industry. After years of continuous growth and increased benefits, the stocks one day plummet. Long were gone the black tie Holiday parties, the first class travel with an open credit card to train staff in a newly acquired branch staying at expensive hotels. The frequent seminars were no longer in my calendar.

Poor decisions and under reserved claims brought the A.M BEST rating down from A to an alarming C in a matter of months. Rapidly, the company took drastic measurements to stop the fall by selling new acquisitions, company’s airplanes and ….laying off employees.

The first wave laid off newly hired employees, reduced the over staffing of the good days and got rid of some deadwood. It was sad but lightly felt. We all hoped for our company to get back to its peak.

Months went by and soon we realized the fall was unstoppable. A second wave of lay offs was imminent. This time, managers were asked to select carefully. Keep only the minimum, make sure the ones left can pick up the slack.

I had already been informed by my manager that the company had proposed a “stay put” incentive for some of us; a lump sum in exchange for a signed contract to stay with the company for 3 more years. I gladly accepted.

When the day came, the three story building was silent. Isolated phones rang and slowly employees walked over to Human Resources. One by one they would walk back to their desk this time with box in their hands and accompanied by a Human Resources official. Although I knew I was safe, each time the phone rang, I felt a chill running down my spine. It was as if I were witnessing a funeral, over and over again.

Employees were given the chance to lobby for a job with other managers. It was heartbreaking, some with tears in their eyes, waited for a manager to take them. We all held our breath and hugged the ones who were dismissed. I hugged many coworkers with whom I had spent years and shared precious memories. One by one, they left the building.

After that solemn Thursday was over, business resumed but not as usual.

Some were moved around part of the day from a desk to the reception, or to a register. People walked on egg shells. But what was more startling was that, instead of coming closer together in the face of fear and uncertainty, workers turned against each other. Tattle telling and animosity grew among some. It seemed that those who had been able to secure a position in a department where they had no experience became defensive. Back stabbing became a way to survive as becoming the bosses’ pet was.

The dream workplace became a nightmare.

I wonder if when faced with survival of any kind we become more primitive. But does primitive justify overlooking integrity and values? I don’t disagree with fighting for our lives and doing what we need to do to survive, but I disagree with stepping over others in order to achieve that purpose. I question disregarding other people’s wellbeing and fairness in order to save our skin.

I went back to my old place of employment many years later and when I walked around the building I couldn’t help feel sadness for a place that once was a dream job and later became a survival pit.

There are still a few survivors.