Layoffs right before Christmas are especially nasty.
I have only been at my new job for a few months, starting back in early August, so this was kind of a surprise. Although I should have realized something was up when the CEO kept repeating how much cash they had in the bank, that's usually a bad sign.
In the twelve years that my Clark Kent identity has worked in Silicon Valley, I have now borne witness to twelve layoffs, getting laid off myself twice (both from companies that were crashing hard). While I didn't get cut this time, and generally haven't for the most part, I feel for the people that have been tossed to the wind. Even though it's hard, I always make sure to catch up with people and say goodbyes, keep in touch, and exchange contact information, because well, it's really a small Valley.
I have seen terrible layoffs in the nearly twenty years since I graduated from KU-- RIFs done in the most brutally mishandled fashion, where all the windows get shattered out of one side of the building, and layoff lunches happening with such regularity that the restaurant asks, "Layoff or non-layoff section?". I have worked at companies in the Valley run by the worst kinds of corporate raiders that buy healthy companies and shut them down, bloodletting from both the acquirer and the acquiree. I have been at places where the VCs demand the bloodbath. I have seen managers that lay off everyone under them, and then are told to lay themselves off.
As layoff days go, at least the new place I'm working with was pretty civilized about the whole affair, but it's still hard.
I've seen people lose their houses, end up working at Home Depot after getting laid off from their tech job, move to other parts of the country, have their marriages fall apart, and sell everything they've ever owned.
The hard part is for the people that bring in their little kids to help them clean out the office they've worked in for years, there were lots of kids running around work yesterday.
I have survived (presumably) all three Bush Recessions that have generally accompanied these layoff days, but it leaves me a jaded, bitter and cynical burn-out always on the lookout for when the next big layoff is coming. I don't keep more personal stuff in my office than what can fit in one moving box, in general.
The two times I actually got laid off (2001 and 2005) I just made sure to get to the bank with my final paycheck before it could bounce. My only consolation is that I only have to worry about me, I don't have to worry about a wife or kids to feed.
Any concept of company loyalty died for me over a decade ago, I consider myself a roaming gunslinger ronin that goes from gig to gig and blows out of Dodge when things go to hell in a bucket. Other than one slight exception, I've never stayed at a place more than two years. (Currently on job #10 since graduation).
While I would like to eventually settle down and stay at one place for more than a year or three (especially as I'm going through my mid-life crisis now) I don't know if that can ever happen.
So in all I've seen, here are my Top Twelve signs that your company is having a layoff:
12. When the major company officers all go away at the same time for a few days
11. When the CFO gives the quarterly numbers at the all-hands, all the figures are in a REALLY small font
10. You start seeing lots of goodbye E-mails from people saying it's their last day.
9. You see lots of moving boxes in the hallway and your company isn't moving
8. Security guards roam the parking lot or parking garage where you never saw them before
7. You see lots of people walk around carrying the same 12"x9" manila envelopes ("the package").
6. Your manager comes to your office and says, "Hey, do you have a minute?" and he's carrying said envelope
5. If you're in IT/SysAdmin and your boss asks if you can disable all logins for the server tomorrow
4. All the contractors are let go, usually a day or two before the other shoe drops
3. Your badge to get in the building stops working for some mysterious reason
2. Somebody puts a chair through a conference room window (actually saw this once)
1. You find hard liquor bottles in the company breakroom and an E-mail from HR announcing their availability.
Tomorrow I get to sit through the usual survivor meeting where the CEO tells us that times are tough, that it was a painful decision, that we need to focus on our core competencies and redouble our efforts. I've sat through such meetings many times, even with CEOs that go so far as to harangue the survivors on how it's their fault and that they're really going to have to bust ass now or we're all gonna die. Those are just extra-special.
What I wish was that back when I was in college there was a class preparing you for layoff day. They never talked about all of this when I was getting my CS degree, even though it seems to go hand-in-hand with the biz. They could call it, "Intro to Working for The Man".
If I could send a word of advice to myself twenty years ago back when I was in school with what my road was going to be like, and I could only send song lyrics, it would be from Kenny Rogers' The Gambler, with the refrain, especially in the second line:
You got to know when to hold em, know when to fold 'em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
You never count your money when you're sittin' at the table.
There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin's done.