Friday, December 5, 2008

A Corporate Kind of Parable

By the time we reach the tender age of 8, we find ourselves (among other things) chock-full of useful information picked up from afternoon story time or from reading fully-illustrated picture books. The morals of the stories are repeated in cartoons, afternoon specials and in made-for-TV movies in no short supply. From this important information, we learn the best material to build a house with is bricks (never, ever should one rely on straw or sticks), to do the best we can to avoid cackling old ladies who offer us apples and that the guy who looks like a beast that we keep turning down for a date could actually be our one true love. We even learn to be wary of the Boy Who Cried Wolf.

But for all the lessons learned, there is one that we are never taught and one that is never mentioned in Grimm's fairy tales -- the Girl Who Cried Layoffs. It happens when you are sitting quietly at your desk, responding to emails and wrapping up loose ends at the end of the day. In the middle of organizing your Outlook folders, you will hear choking, stunted sobs that could easily be confused for hiccups. You pause mid-type and listen harder. Yes, it is definitely crying. But what kind of crying? Is it the kind that happens after you hear bad news about someone you care about? The kind that happens after you bang your knee into an open drawer? Or some other kind?

Could it possibly be related to ... to the deafening quiet haunting the office of late? To the long faces everyone has shown up wearing in the past few weeks?

The crying will incite a level of fear and discomfort. There is something about it that will make you feel bad. But because it is not something you have seen before, it may be hard to recognize. The something making you feel bad won't be an ugly hag, a wolf dressed in grandmother's clothing or anything like that. It may be doubly hard to understand what is happening because everyone will call it by something else, never by what it actually really is. Upper management will call it a "reduction" or "taking a closer look at internal resources."

The crying will get louder and will be accompanied by the throwing of personal items into a box.

It will click then that the weeping lady has just been informed that she is a part of the "reduction." She will cry loudly and unabashedly which will make the meaning of "reduction" quite real. So unlike the Boy Who Cried Wolf, the Girl Who Cried Layoffs gives us all fair warning of what might soon happen to the rest of us.

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