Friday, November 27, 2009

The Human Cost

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned that I've recently joined the ranks of the unemployed. This only happened to me one other time, near the beginning of my career. Back then, I had a new job within about a month. Even this time around, I already have a couple of prospects, one of them quite promising. Even if those don't pan out, my status as a long-tenured worker qualifies me to receive employment insurance benefits for almost a year, my wife still contributes her small, minimum-wage income to our budget, and I've had some financial help from my extended family as well. I'm not too concerned about my family's financial well-being ... not yet, anyway.

There's a psychological side to this as well. I've heard the loss of one's job compared to the loss of a loved one. I agree that there are some similarities. The full impact of the loss doesn't sink in right away. It takes some time to come to grips with the new reality. The first week or two spent at home feels something like a regular vacation. It's not until the third or fourth week that you begin to understand that you're not going back to the place where you've become accustomed to spending the better part of your waking hours, in some cases for most of your adult life, ever again. You begin to feel lost; to wonder, "What's next? Where do I go from here?"

Then a sense of futility begins to take hold. You think about all of the things that you did while employed; the projects, the meetings, the routine operations, and you realize that, now, it's all gone. In the long run, none of it mattered, and your best efforts weren't enough to save the organization. Suddenly, all those years begin to seem like so much wasted time.

I'd like to share a sad story that was told to me by a former fellow employee just yesterday, because it really crystallized for me the human cost that's so often overlooked by the unfeeling financiers who make the decisions that so profoundly impact the lives of real people, based only on dollars and cents. After the news broke that the organization was in receivership, she walked into the office of one of the plant managers and found him gathering up his personal belongings. Having finished packing everything into a cardboard box, he took one last look around his office and, seeming satisfied that he'd forgotten nothing, he prepared to take the box out to his car. His visitor noticed that his gold quarter-century service pin (he had been with the company for over twenty-five years) was still on his desk, and warned him that he'd forgotten it.

"No, I'm leaving it," he replied, "it doesn't mean anything anymore."

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