Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Rats in the Race

There was a time when I thought it was so enviable and metropolitan to be in the rat race. To go play Corporate America girl with the high and mighty cape of a costly suit adorning my body was fuel to my fire but it got old, quickly. I worked in a Fortune 500 company for a few years and somehow managed to weasel my way into Human Resources to secure a well-paying and respectable position. HR is the department that people whispered about around the water cooler and feared when rumors started flying about lay-offs. As a member of HR, you tend to flock with other members of that department only because no one else really wants to associate with you. You're the people everyone loves to hate when stinky things hit the fan... yet there are some who are bold enough to befriend someone in HR. I was one of those HR people who tended to hang with the outsiders. I wasn't into the corporate games and being a Yes-Woman is something I can only do to a small degree and for a short while. My loyalty was to the employee and in the company that I worked for that wasn't always the favored stance. Our department had balance which is best for any company. You have those who stand firm in the company rhetoric; those who fight for the people; and those who dangled their legs from the fence and view both sides with as much fairness as possible. I liked the group of folks I worked with, we had balance not only in company politics but in personalities and styles. I can honestly look back on that part of my work life and say that I enjoyed the job and the folks I worked with, which is comforting. I left them because of upper management changes and company-centric initiatives that I didn't agree with. It was a wise decision for me and one that I do not regret in the least.

Especially now.

The company started job cuts today. Again. I was in HR a few years back during a December downsizing... Happy Holidays, here's your box, no bow. It was a very difficult task to escort employees to their workspace to gather their personal belongings and hear them say "It'll be ok, call me" to co-workers they've become friends with over the years. Watching them remove their family photos from bookcases and desktops to take their spot in a box next to coffee cups and squishy balls seemed to diminish their importance in a way that I just couldn't justify in my mind. I had to separate myself as a human to complete this daunting task. For three straight days, people would see me on their floor and a suffocating silence would hush the air. I'd have to smile immediately and say "I'm having lunch with so-and-so... no worries" just to get them to take a breath that escaped them moments before. How can people enjoy their career with that much power? It didn't boost my ego in the least... instead, it hardened my heart to the reality of the workplace. I knew that I wasn't in the right environment for me and in time, the best career move I could make happened... I resigned from the company.

Many were saddened by the news. I was the HR employee many came to with personal and professional issues. They trusted me with their quandries, their dilemmas. They trusted the advice I'd offer and welcomed the silence I offered as they emptied what was on their chests. I was someone to come to for a breather when days were tense because I had toys and candy and an open-door policy that always said "Come in, you're welcome to stop by." I never knew what an impact I had on people until the week before I left the company. There were many emails and phone calls and people stopping by to say they just couldn't believe I was leaving. Some folks who stopped by were people I'd met only once but they felt compelled to tell me that I would be sorely missed. I was "the one person in HR" that people could relate to and that was the highest compliment I could ever wish to receive. I respected our employees for their dedication and intelligence. Their skills and humor. They were a top-notch group and were never given the respect they deserved.

Some things never change.

I had lunch with an ex co-worker today and the issue of job cuts came up in our conversation. As I mentioned, today the company initiated yet another round of cuts, this time up to 1,000 jobs will be lost. One thousand families will be subjected to the stress and turmoil of losing a strong financial foundation and benefits that protect them. I knew it was coming and many in the company did too since rumors always have a way of becoming truth. My friend seemed to be handling it well and is looking forward to a vacation with his wife and child next week. He's considering his options in case he is the one to receive a visit from an employee of HR. One who isn't on his floor to meet him for lunch.


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