In today’s work world, few of us will work long enough at one company to warrant a retirement party, including me. (Although I did have two nice send-offs after I left my last job after a 9 ½ year tenure, the longest time I’d ever worked for one organization.) Several mid-lifers I know have worked long-enough at one company to be in line for a retirement party.
Then came the recession.
The recession has meant that several of my friends and family members are being laid-off after decades of service without the retirement party or goodbye they thought they’d get (to say nothing of the pension).
Not ever expecting such a party, this wasn’t something I thought about until two things happened in the past year.
One was a paltry, tired, poor-excuse of a send-off I attended. It was for a woman I’d met when the foundation at which she worked funded a project I coordinated. The foundation was at one of the major Boston newspapers for which she worked for more than 40 years. Even though she was a victim of lay-offs, a good-bye party was thrown for her. It was such a poor excuse for a party that, in my opinion, it might as well not have been held. There was a cash bar, meager and pedestrian finger-food (not grand enough to be called hors d'oeuvres)and a generic and cheap gift.
This woman was a diligent and hard worker, the type large institutions rely on. She accepted the gift and well-wishes with the grace for which she is known but I felt bad for her. She deserved more. The paper should have featured a story about her and her service to the organization at the very least.
The second thing that happened involved my husband who was invited to a colleague’s retirement party at the public school system where he works. He gets invited to at least 2-3 of these every year. Last year, however, the invite brought up sadness for him because it came shortly following a lay-off notice, after 26 years of service.
“I guess I’ll never get a retirement party,” he said quietly, then put the invitation down and walked away.
“Wow,” I thought. Then I swallowed, went and sat with him. We ended up having quite a conversation about service, professionalism and how a lay-off disavowed the fact that one had been a loyal and good employee. Other issues that came up included feeling like the space one had worked in was covered up instantly without a backward glance by the institution. Initiatives he had started or brought to fruition would mostly depart with him. We discussed the brain drain and void in historical knowledge that remained at the institution. (We also discussed money, health care coverage, etc.) But, as much as anything, the idea of not having a gathering where colleagues would trade stories, share memories and send him off positively into his retirement years hurt.
No parties, send-offs, celebrations, acknowledgement-gatherings accompany lay-offs.
Sometimes people have to vacate or are escorted from their offices immediately with time only to pack up their office. Other times, one is a “dead person walking” having to work for weeks or even months with no real authority. In some ways, this is the worst way to leave.
Another teacher who had to take an early retirement shared how she expected that someone with her experience, accolades, and knowledge would find another position quickly. Nearly four years later, this hasn’t been the case and she’s had to string together consulting gigs when she can get them. Yet another former colleague who had a consulting practice and pulled in six figures, hasn’t been able to get a paying job in nearly a year.
Others of us are working beneath our abilities at far less than the salaries our skills and experience warrant (mostly eagerly because “something is better than nothing”)
It is devastating to be pushed out of place (and relevance) when you are vital and have knowledge, creativity and ideas to share (to say nothing of still need to earn a living.)
At each stage of life, one has to fight the boxes that society will try to make us fit: too old, too young, too much experience, not enough experience. We have to raise our voices for full-employment lest it be suggested, as one blogger did on a recent post here at BlogHer that we baby-boomers leave our jobs to make room for younger people to be employed (linked below).
My husband did get another job in the system but there’s no confidence on how long it will last as more lay-offs are coming and it feels doubtful that he will accumulate the years to retire. I have a consultancy lined up for the next couple of months and several one-shot gigs. I say yes to most everything these days. My friends and colleagues are redoubling efforts to have multiple income streams, to turn avocations into paid work, to figure out ways to shave years off of resumes, etc. (Technology worked to my advantage for one consultancy because it was all done via phone and email and I was hired before I had a face2face interview. I know I wouldn’t have been hired if they’d seen me first but by the time we met, I’d proven my mettle and was hired for a second project a year later).
Back to my original point for this post, I've decided that when a friend (or husband) gets laid-off after having provided significant service, I will help host or co-host a gathering to acknowledge their service. It will be personal, memorable, and the food will be hearty, delicious and plentiful! No one who's put in years of service deserves less.
Plan F Comes before Plan B by Lia Hempel
“Yes, I’ve been let go.” She said.
Turning around without yet looking up, I saw that her hands were holding two plastic shopping bags filled with the contents of her personal items from her desk. Here she was — another casualty of the economy, the third middle-aged woman from our office that had been let go in the past two days; the latest in the string of middle-aged women laid off, retired, let go, fired, since the economy nose-dived last year.
I’m a retiree with no plans of ever again entering the paid work force, but I’m nonetheless really worried about the grim unemployment statistics. I worry about the young people in my life who might be facing long-term joblessness, and I worry about the consequences for our society.
Should we do more to encourage those older workers who can afford it to retire and make room for young workers?
When you get the ax, should you suck it up quietly or make some noise? Going on record feels important to some of us. You want the bosses to know this is who I was, this is what I did, this is what I was planning, this is how I see that different decisions could have been made with this RIF. Does writing such a letter bring you closure or humiliation? (Sometimes writing down what you want to say clears it from your heart and mind enough that you don’t need to hand it in at all.)
Do you have a responsibility to leave a record? If you weren’t important enough to be kept, will anybody even read, let alone listen to, your thoughts and analysis?
Empty Desk Syndrome Promtoes Even More Disengaged Workforce by Elana Centor shares:
Maureen Rogers of Pink Slip experienced empty desk syndrome 20 years ago when she worked at Wang Labs Tower.
Once the layoffs began, there were some floors that were entirely wiped out, and it was ultra-depressing to cut-through one of these on your way to a meeting. Make that ultra-dark and ultra-depressing: if they turned off half the lights in the active areas, they turned off all the lights in the ghost-town floors.
But it was even more depressing to work in an area that was full one day, and more than decimated the next.
During the last major lay-off I was there for, everyone in the cubicles surrounding mine was let go.
Finally, I found this excerpt from The Disposable American: Layoffs and Their Consequences, by Louis Uchitelle, compelling and have ordered the book.
In a compelling narrative, the author traces the rise of job security in the United States to its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, and then the panicky U-turn. He describes the unraveling through the experiences of both executives and workers: three CEOs who ran the Stanley Works, the tool manufacturer, from 1968 through 2003, who gradually became more willing to engage in layoffs; highly skilled aircraft mechanics in Indianapolis discarded as United Airlines shut down a state-of-the-art maintenance facility, damaging the city as well as the workers; a human resources director at Citigroup, declared nonessential despite excellent performance; a banker in Connecticut lucky to find a lower-paying job in a state tourist office.
Uchitelle makes clear the ways in which layoffs are counterproductive, rarely promoting efficiency or profitability in the long term. He explains how our acquiescence encourages wasteful mergers, outsourcing, the shifting of production abroad, the loss of union protection, and wage stagnation.
Good and plenty!
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