Friday, June 12, 2009

Gallows Humor

My place of employment has fallen on hard times. The company has had to seek protection from its creditors. Many people confuse this with filing for bankruptcy. I want to state, unequivocally and for the record, that the company has not filed for bankruptcy. It's one step away from filing for bankruptcy.

I see this type of "gallows humor" among those few of us who remain employed there an awful lot these days. For example, Scott Adams recently published this Dilbert comic (which I have linked to on rather than pasting here for you to read, because the last thing I need now is to be sued by a millionaire cartoonist) whose chief humor comes from how eerily close the depicted scenario is to the situation at my office. There have, in fact, been massive layoffs over the past year. The last round came right after the company filed for protection from its creditors. Needless to say, those employees who remain are just a little paranoid about things like managers who abruptly fall silent when they (the paranoid employees) appear.

In fact, one of my co-workers had been away on long term disability (or so I thought) since just before the axe fell most recently. The similarity to the Dilbert comic ends there, though. In our case, the guy who was away got layed off anyway. Seems he wasn't technically on long term disability at all, no doubt a clever maneuver on the part of the Human Resources department, who already knew that he was in their sights.

Dilbert comics are a particularly popular source of gallows humor during times of corporate stress. Here's another one that was very popular with our accounting staff, because it was just a little too close to the truth.

Recently, somebody (whose identity I'm withholding to protect the guilty) circulated the following through our inter-office e-mail:

For all you Working People and anyone else needing it...

There are times when additional support is necessary to get through a grueling day at work. Here's one suggestion.

A Master Reference binder has been created for all who may need to reference it. Inside this binder you will find solutions to everyday problems. If you are having problems with the photocopier, having difficulty dealing with co-workers , having computer problems...please come and get the red binder and it will help you through your issue. You may refer to the red binder as often as you wish.

Use the red binder for all is guaranteed to make you stress-free and relaxed.

We don't just rely on outside sources for our dark humor. One day last week, everyone was working away as usual, when all the lights suddenly went off. One of our accountants immediately shouted "Uh, Barb, could you pay that invoice now, please?"

Our Network Administrator, Randy, was one of those who were recently layed off. All of the most recent layoffs are technically temporary 13-week layoffs, another wily maneuver by our Human Resources department, designed to postpone the company's obligation to pay severance to those affected, which it would be obligated to pay if the layoffs were permanent, although everyone knows that none of these people are coming back.

I recently sent an e-mail about a red binder (oops - did I type that out loud?) to an inter-office mailing list which still included Randy. A short while later, I received an automatic Out of Office notification from Randy, informing me that he is out of the office and will be returning on August 31 - exactly 13 weeks from the day that he was "temporarily" layed off. Now, Randy isn't naiive enough to actually believe that he will be recalled at the end of August. He's just that witty (not to mention sarcastic).

Speaking of automatic Out of Office notifications, some things that make me laugh aren't necessarily intended to be funny. My boss told me recently that our CEO (a new guy, who replaced the previous CEO right after the company filed for creditor protection) complained about our inter-company e-mail system. We don't use Microsoft Outlook. When you set up an automatic Out of Office notification on our system, it is necessary to manually turn it back off again upon returning to the office, else anyone e-mailing you continues to be told that you are out of the office, even after you've returned. This annoyed the new Head Honcho, who was used to using Outlook which, apparently, turns off its Out of Office notifications automatically on the appointed return date.

Now, this guy is at the helm of a company which is under government protection from its creditors and may be a heartbeat away from insolvency, and his biggest concern is that he has to manually disable his Out of Office notification??? I'm sorry, but I can't help but find that hilarious.

Okay, maybe I'm being unduly pessimistic, but I've been through this situation before with another company some years ago, and it did not end well. Incidentally, I do not work for General Motors, unfortunately, otherwise I'd be much more optimistic of my prospects. In fact, I'd be laughing all the way to the bank, and screw you other taxpayers anyway. I didn't pay into my pension fund, and somebody has to, so it may as well be you.

On a more serious note, the real tragedy, in my humble opinion, when a going concern does fail, is that the last few employees remaining when the ship finally sinks are the brightest, the hardest-working, the most dedicated and the most indispensable people that the company had in its employ, and I'm not just saying that because I seem to be one of them. Let's face it; those people are still there after everyone else has been cut because they truly make a contribution that the organization cannot afford to do without. Unfortunately, if the company ultimately declares bankruptcy, they're also the ones who get screwed, being sent to the unemployment lines with no severance and, in some cases, without even the full pay still owed to them. The secured creditors come first. Sucks to be you.

This is not meant to reflect negatively on those who have been laid off. Many good people have been let go and I believe that many organizations, during troubled times, fall into the trap of cutting too deeply. But those who were laid off earlier were at least given severance packages to help cushion the blow. The most recent victims, as well as those who remain, may not be so lucky.

Those fellow employees of mine who remain with the company are the salt of the earth. I have nothing but the deepest respect and admiration for every one of them. There's Harve, the Pay Master, who has over 30 years with the company and has already been given notice that he's to be layed off this summer because payroll is being outsourced. I could understand if he were bitter and resentful. I could certainly understand if he stopped giving a damn and just coasted through his remaining time doing as little as possible. Yet he still carries out his duties in a competent and professional manner. More than that, he's been patiently passing along his knowledge and experience to the Human Resources department, which will be assuming some of his duties.

There's Jo-Anne, one of my fellows in the MIS department, whose organizational skills, understanding of the business and its needs and calm, patient manner with users calling the Help Desk, leaves me feeling envious of her more often than I'd care to admit. During a recent MIS department meeting with the Restructuring Officer, Jo-Anne sincerely and selflessly asked him to consider her if there were to be any more cuts in MIS, because she'd prefer unemployment over having to work with even fewer of her remaining colleagues.

There's Tina, our feisty, petite credit manager who spends her days on the phone with delinquent customers, many of whom don't always address her exactly cordially, and yet retains a healthy sense of humor and a peppy demeanor.

There's Craig, a relatively recent addition to our Finance department who ... well, what doesn't Craig do? People are in and out of his office all day long looking for information, advice, the solution to some problem, or all of the above. He's so rarely wrong about anything that the our International Controller actually noted the date and time on her white board on one of the rare occasions that he was mistaken. "Craig was Wrong", read the notice, "June 8, 2009 - 3:12 pm".

There's Erin, our Sales Controller, who just recently returned from maternity leave, was immediately promoted and fills the thankless role of liaison between upper management, the Sales department and MIS.

The list goes on and on. I've chosen to mention only a very few examples because this is a blog, not a novel. However, if you're a co-worker of mine and are reading this (as I know that some of my co-workers do - outside of office hours, of course!) know that you're aces in my book, whether or not I've mentioned you by name. If the worst should eventually come to pass, I will miss you all dearly.

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