Office Closing

Have you ever, in the evening, reflected back on the past day and wondered in awe at how naive you were when you woke up that morning? Like when a day that started full of promise takes a hard right turn? Car accident. Kid sent home sick from school. Family medical emergency. You try and think about what it was like to not hold on to the information you currently have. Would you have done anything differently? Was there anything that could have helped you see this coming?

That’s been this year. That’s been this year for a lot of people.

I still remember the morning of March 25. I left the house at 6:30 a.m. so that I could meet my boss – she was proctoring my final exam for one of my certification courses. It was still dark out, and the steady stream of voices on NPR politely took turns piping through my car stereo. I was just crossing the train tracks near the Madison airport when the newscaster announced that Heinz had bought Kraft Foods in a merger facilitated by investors 3G and Warren Buffet. The experience was very dreamlike. So surreal.

Minutes later, I was the only person in the halls of the still-mostly-dark office building. Coming off the elevator, I found my boss texting on her phone in the conference room we’d pre-arranged. “Did you hear?…” I started. She shook her head in measured disbelief, “Jim [her husband]’s freaking out.” She’d just bought a house in Madison after spending 2 years commuting from 2 hours up north.

I settled in and took the exam. After I was finished, people had started populating the building and chatter ensued.

For three months following that day, anxious questions were lobbed at executives with not a lot of answers able to be given outside of the slim number of facts released at the announcement. Employees pored through the internet, unearthing somber tales of what went down when 3G took over Heinz. Our leadership tried to assure us that things would be different this time. Heinz was a struggling small company. Kraft is huge by comparison. “They’re looking to learn from us,” we heard.

The merger finalized in the days following the fourth of July holiday. Like a rollercoaster that had slowly been climbing a peak and just reached the crest, the weeks following were a blur.

Company-wide memos were released days later outlining policies on hiring and allowable expenses. Then the executive team was put in place in the span of just a couple of weeks. During this time, daily emails were released announcing newly-appointed executives and also announcing executives who would be leaving the organization. In project meetings, we joked about how similar our environment was to the Hunger Games. Canon booms. Playing the capital’s anthem. Faces of the departed flashing overhead.

Our executive structure was set 2 weeks following the finalization of the merger. Then managers and directors began to have meetings with HR. This was around mid-July. The month that followed was bar none the worst working environment I’ve worked in. Our management was told that they would be let go, but they were not allowed to tell the rest of the organization. Business as usual. For 3-4 weeks, basically the entire middle management of our company had to aid the transition of the new organization without divulging their fate to the rest of the employees.

Managers keeping face. Employees living in the dark. We knew something was coming, but no one could tell us details: what, when or how. We did this for a month.

Then August 12, we received the layoff notifications. I lost my job August 13. My situation is unique. I was kept on until November 20th to help my division transition to the new model. Their new way of doing things without my function on-site.

August 14, a rally was held with everyone remaining. Folks were told what the new structure is. Their new bosses. Some here in Madison reported locally while some report through a boss in Chicago.

From then on, I’ve been in a weird spot – bearing witness to a company dusting themselves off with the employees remaining following a huge layoff when I, myself was one of the people to have been let go. I’m like a ghost haunting a house. Not really a part of it, but still here somehow.

Now, yesterday, the rest of the people in the house that I haunt were put in a similar situation to me. Move… or leave. The house is closing its doors. So many people out of jobs. The corporate folks are lucky, they get a choice to keep their jobs if they are willing to move to Chicago. 700 plant employees won’t have a job come 2017.

It’s awful for everyone involved. We all saw it coming but were somehow in denial that it would actually happen. Pray for these people. Pray for their families. This has just been such a surreal year.

Comments

  1. it’s sober and so surreal to see your tag…layoff. I think of you so often and wish I could somehow help. Is that an open position? Is it near Madison? Could she contract? Can I give recommendations? If I were in her spot, what might I do? But, that’s the problem. It’s like having a child for the first time, or living through a death close to you. Only you can know the experience once you’ve gone through it… and fortunately (and unfortunately) i haven’t… yet. I admire your strength, your fortitude, you ability to keep brushing of all the ‘crude.’ And to still think of others through it all. Your time will come, I’m sure of it!

    • This is beautifully written! Thank you friend! I will bounce and be better for having had the experience. I will never forget 2015, that’s for sure!

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