Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What it was like getting laid off, Pt. 1

Before I lost my job with the Idaho Statesman, I never had been laid off, fired or otherwise let go by an employer. I always left on my own terms. Yet, I always wondered what it would be like to be laid off, especially after hearing some of the horror stories from friends, family and strangers. I started wondering a lot more when losing my job became very probable. 

In the end, it was nothing like I imagined or dreamed. (Yeah, I started having layoff dreams; that's a fun thing to wake up from at 3 in the morning.) In fact, it was much more drawn out and much less anti-climatic than I had envisioned.

Here's how it all went down:

Feb. 5, 2009: The McClatchy Company, the Idaho Statesman's parent, issues a press release outlining its poor fourth-quarter performance and plan to reduce spending by $100 million to $110 million over the next 12 months. The plan includes freezing pension plans and 401(k) matches. Our publisher tells us it also means layoffs.

Feb. 6-March 8, 2009: Nothing, nothing and, uh, nothing. Unless you count the escalating rumors, hearsay and speculation inside and outside the newsroom. It's a great feeling when one of your sources calls to say they heard the paper was laying people off that day, only to have nothing happen and get nothing out of your superiors when you ask about it.

March 9, 2009: McClatchy issues a press release announcing 1,600 layoffs company-wide — about 15 percent of the entire operation — and pay cuts for those left standing. Specific layoffs for each newspaper are not provided, but the rumors start flying.

March 10-15, 2009: More rumors, hearsay and speculation. Have we mentioned newsroom anxiety and dread yet? A lot of that bandies about, too.

March 16, 2009: The Idaho Statesman announces 25 "voluntary/involuntary" layoffs and specific pay cut figures for those left standing. All areas of the paper's operations are affected.

March 17, 2009: I get called into a closed-door meeting along with six other reporters to get briefed on the voluntary/involuntary process. We are told that five of us will stay and two of us will go. (It later becomes six and one.) If no one volunteers, the cuts will be made starting at the bottom of the tenure scale. I am the least-tenured of the seven reporters.

March 18-22, 2009: Even more rumors, hearsay and speculation. Oh yeah, and more of that anxiety and dread.

March 23, 2009: The deadline for the voluntary layoff offer comes. No one takes the bait.

March 25, 2009: I receive confirmation that I will be laid off effective April 3. No alarms, no surprises.

March 26-April 2, 2009: I finish my assignments, tie up a few loose ends and sort through e-mails and files. Not much is expected of me, but I fulfill my duties nonetheless. Gallows humor gets me through.

April 3, 2009: I work my final day at the Idaho Statesman. My editor treats me to lunch with some coworkers — my "congratulations, you're laid off" luncheon, if you will.

The feeling, I must admit, was not resignation but relief. I think my blood pressure dropped 30 points when I walked out the door for the final time. 

I've since talked to some former coworkers who still have their jobs, and you can imagine what happened to the already-low morale come April 6 when yet another newsroom "restructuring" was announced. More work and less pay under the hot white light of the halogens.

My brother, who has been through a layoff before himself, said companies never handle the process the right way. But is there a right way? Any way you look at it, it's a shitty situation. The people getting laid off aren't happy about it, and the people doing the laying off aren't either. I suppose some stock holders were happy about it.

I don't have any hard feelings (mostly) — I did keep my subscription, after all. I suppose my only beef is with the process, which was frustratingly long and drawn out — nearly two months from beginning to end. The not knowing was maddening. I slept much better after I finally knew, even though I was one of the lucky 25 to lose my job.

For an industry that demands transparency from government and public figures, it was surprising (sort of) that the same level of transparency was not afforded to us. But I mostly blame corporate for that. At the Statesman level, everyone was as humane as I suppose they could have been in that situation. After all, my editor took me to lunch on my last day.

For Pt. 2 tomorrow, I'll cover the six-month lead-up to my inevitable layoff. Until then, have good mosh-pitting.


  1. cheap shot at shareholders. most stock shares are held en masse by groups such as Calif. teacher retirement fund, or mutual funds like Vanguard.
    there people's retirement funds are invested, responsibly, so they are not burdens to the state or family when they retire.
    your ire would make more sense directed at MNI mgt., which has been lame. or clueless newsroom managers who are low on the operating committee totem pole and just do what they are told.
    many 'bad guys' in this deal but not shareholders. they have seen investments fall from $70 a share five years ago to under $1. they are hardly profiting at your expense. if anything, you and other journos were overhead that could not be justified.
    find another line of work. newspapering is over as a field - see the 22 people in Seattle "running" the PI.
    good luck with retraining.

  2. Chad, don't know what's worse, knowing it's coming or getting hit with it like out of nowhere. It's like that age-old, morbid debate: is it better to know when you're gonna die or better to get hit by a bus or die in your sleep...

    I know about those lay off dreams. Still having 'em. It sucks.

    Good luck in getting rid of your demons and getting a job. You're a writer and you're writing. That's something and you're giving others who can't or won't talk, a voice. Good job.