Saturday, August 18, 2012

My 2011 Experience with Headcount Reduction

Hi all!

This week has been a tough one for employees at my previous job (RIM), and my heart goes out to all of them. Whether they were downsized, or just feared it watching the others go, the whole process is heartbreaking and has left me with scars that will never heal.

That being said, the process I underwent with my downsizing was mostly a good one.  That sounds silly, but I mean every word.

First of all, I was on vacation for the time that everyone was learning their fates, so although I heard news of some people being let go, I wasn't there to experience the terror first-hand, so it was all somewhat removed from me. I was also in a location where cell coverage isn't the best, so that built a stronger buffer between me and the news going around.  Looking back, I appreciate this the most. Even though worrying doesn't change anything, it's human nature to do it. This buffer allowed me not to worry, since I didn't have enough information to worry. Van Wilder says it perfectly, "Worrying is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn't get you anywhere." I immersed myself in enjoying my vacation and spending time with my family.  Awesome.

On the morning of my son's birthday, I got an email from my grandboss inviting me, and 4 other members of my 7 person team (all but 2) to a meeting. The tone of the invite indicated something was serious, but I didn't grasp how serious it was yet. I replied that I wouldn't be able to attend, but could I have the minutes of the meeting when it was over. My grandboss replied advising that this was something that couldn't be done over email. The possibilities kicked me in the gut. It could be anything, but it didn't sound good at all.

I fretted a bit, but I didn't have a clear direction for my worry - I kept thinking of different things it could have been, but the fact that 5 of us were called to a meeting kept me from thinking that I had lost my job. After all, they would probably tell us individually, right?

Then a call came in from one of the people who weren't invited to the meeting. He told me that he wasn't sure what was going on, but that 4 people all got called into a meeting, and then someone else came to get their stuff and put it in boxes.  He was terrified, thinking he would be next, and he didn't know that I was invited to the meeting too.

It was pretty much laid out for me, then, but I was glad to know before I officially knew, so that I could get my ducks in a row and prepare.  I backed up all my contacts and started the mental transition of doing something else for a living, and it was almost liberating. I started mentally making a plan of what I could do, and I had time to put some of those plans into action before I lost resources like my phone and my laptop.

My first day back to work was... weird. It was a Tuesday, and the area previously populated by my co-workers was empty. I emailed my grandboss to tell him that I was in the building, but didn't receive a reply for an agonizing hour and a half. I used the time to pack my stuff into my car, using the knowledge I gleaned from earlier to know that I wouldn't have a chance to come back to pack. When I was all done, I considered that maybe there was a mistake, and started to work for a bit, but then the reply to my email came and I went to a room where my grandboss was present via audio conference.

The package I was given was more than generous, which leads me to the second part of why it was a good thing. I was given time in lieu of notice, severance, and a month of career counselling including a resume polish process. I was told by my family to not sign anything in the room, and fully expected to be asked to, but I was told to take everything with me to consider it before I signed. Cool. I asked my questions, which seemed petty after having been handed this golden turd, but all of the questions were answered fully and completely, and I didn't feel like I was being hung out to dry, just a victim of unfortunate circumstances.

So that was that - the deal was done, and I headed to my car to drive away without a phone, laptop, or tablet, but I felt pretty good. I was treated more than fairly, and I bore the company no ill-will whatsoever. I was off to explore the wasteland of unemployment, but I was armed with resources provided by RIM, so I didn't feel impotent.

It turns out that I was able to get hired back on at RIM in a different role, which I was extremely glad for. Throughout the whole time, I had to defend the company, and let people know that they did what they had to do, and did it with compassion. In light of what I recently chose, I still have to defend them a fair bit, making sure everyone knows that the reason why I left was actually made harder by my treatment - not easier.  Downsizing is hard, but RIM did what they could to make it easy.


  1. Mike I have always respected you as a great coworker, great guy to talk to and above everything amazing person. This letter has proven that you are still amazing person and I am so proud that we worked on the same Team.

  2. Mike I have always respected you as a great coworker, great guy to talk to and above everything amazing person. This letter has proven that you are still amazing person and I am so proud that we worked on the same Team.

  3. Hi Michael. I spent 20+ years sitting on the other side of this story. I like to think that we did it better in the Public Service. We ensured that people were told one-on-one and we had the luxury of long notice periods, buy-out packages and consultation with unions.

    It is not a pleasant process no matter how it goes down. I'm glad that you were able to leave before this round of cuts. As you say, maybe your first layoff set you up for your switch - put your CV out there; got you ready for the possibility...