Today marks the one year anniversary of what we now call around the office as “Black Thursday” — a day that I will unfortunately probably never forget.
I received a call from my boss on Thursday, January 3, 2013 while I was home sick with the flu. I don’t remember the entire conversation, but he did say he had to let the entire team go…except me. My eyes started to well up with tears and a panic crept into my chest. It was surreal. I had the flu bad enough that for a couple days all I did was lie in bed and stare at the ceiling or sleep. I was in no shape to handle this information, but I had no choice. He went on and said something about severance packages and how other people from different departments were getting let go too. I quickly asked if my husband, David, had been laid off. He said no assessment specialists were affected. Thank God. The conversation ended with him saying no one from our team was in the office and that with everything going on I should take all the time I needed to recover and we’d talk about how it would all work out once I came back in. That’s when it hit me: the realization that my boss and I had to undertake what was once 6 other people’s jobs.
I couldn’t handle this all in my house alone. I leashed up Dexter, put him in the car, and drove to my parents’ house. My dad is retired and my mom works from home. I knew I had a place to go. I saw Dad first. I told him the news and started bawling into his shoulder. He hugged me and said it wasn’t my fault. Part of me wanted to be laid off, too. I didn’t want to be the only survivor. It wasn’t fair. How could they only keep me and lay everyone else off? Mom came down the stairs shortly after. Once again, I had to say it out loud: “They let everyone go but me.” She said something along the lines of, “Oh my. What is wrong with these people?”
She had a point. Things had not been going well, but I had no idea it would come to this. How naive of me. The then-CEO of the company kept us in a state of perpetual hypergrowth. All of us were stressed and overworked because of the heaping pile of projects we had on our plate that had to be done on time, if not before, to please the business units (and in turn the senior leadership team). We weren’t keeping up. On top of that, the company was investing loads of money into a platform that didn’t fit our needs. Because they had invested so much, I’m guessing they had to counteract that by letting 100 or so employees go. It was heart-breaking. We’re not a huge company, maybe 1,000 employees? In other words, it felt like a big hit.
I didn’t know how to reach out to my team. What would I say? I still had a job and they didn’t. I would never fully understand what they were going through. Thankfully, a member of our team called me later that afternoon. We both cried together. She wasn’t angry with me. Instead, she felt bad that all this had to land on me. That I had to take everything on. She told our boss it would kill me. I believed her. I was a full-blown workaholic at that point. Fifty plus-hour weeks were not unusual. That being said, I couldn’t do that all the time week after week to cover 6 people’s jobs. I would be an emotional, stressed mess. Once I got back to work, my boss ordered me not to work over 40 hours. Perhaps he wanted to show upper management that we couldn’t handle all the work by ourselves or perhaps he wanted to save my sanity. Either way, I did as I was told for the most part.
Once I went back into work the following Monday, it was hard to face everyone. Again I felt like the bad guy and didn’t know what to say. The same colleague who called me the day of the layoff was the first to give me a hug. It was a nice comfort in a trying time.
Work life didn’t go back to normal. Those who got laid off were still urged to work for 2 weeks. That didn’t help productivity as you could imagine. Handling everything became a balancing act. I wanted to make sure I kept my job, so I did all the work I could to keep up, but I also wanted to support my team in any way I could. If some of them wanted to take a long lunch and get their nails done, I joined them.
At the 2 week mark, three more people were able to stay on until April, making us a team of 5. There were several back-and-forths about having them stay permanently, so my three colleagues were in limbo. I can’t imagine. It was as if our company was dangling a job in front of them. Torture. And of course, I wouldn’t blame them for turning the company down. They had just been let go — who’s to say that wouldn’t happen again?!
I’m happy to report they were offered their jobs back permanently and they accepted them. The company has hired a new CEO and the projects we’re working on have been planned out in a more thoughtful manner. Most of the people who were let go have since found jobs, and in some cases, better jobs.
These days we’re still anxious when we don’t have a full plate of work to do and a bit panicky when we see we have a meeting to discuss some news — almost as if we have a bit of post-layoff PTSD. Several of us made it through, but all of us will never forget Black Thursday.