Layoffs Are Not Fun

layoffs are not funHaving been laid off twice in my adult life, I can clearly say they are not fun. In fact, they can be downright scary.  I have decided to share a part of my past that was previously something I was somewhat embarrassed about.  Now that I look back, the first time was college graduate me just not being ready for post-college life and the second time was a financially strong soon to be dad.

Casinos Are Not Great Employers

My first job out of college was an internship for $10 an hour at a Casino working for the Financial Controller. I had free reign to work overtime, pick my projects, and did not have a lot of accountability.  In short, it was a great situation.  At first, I was disappointed I didn’t land a prestigious analyst job at Sprint, but getting lost and being late to the interview process probably hurt my chances.

After about 2 months, one of the revenue audit supervisors left for a higher paying job at another casino (same job different address). The manager approached me about moving into the supervisor role.  I was excited as I would get my own office and share 14 or 15 employees with the other supervisor.  Interestingly enough, I knew what the old supervisor was making so when they offered me less, I asked for more due to my finance and economics degrees (she had only a high school diploma).  Despite my lack of experience, I was confident that my strong computer skills made me more valuable.  They caved gave me a couple thousand more than she was previously making and I was now a supervisor!

Things were great for a few months. Then the corporate headquarters started making changes.  Suddenly my boss was gone and there was not a second controller in finance.  While the first one was still there, I was no longer in his chain of command.  The new boss was more about having meetings and making herself look good than developing me as an employee.  It was clear after a couple weeks that she did not value my skill set very much.

One night, I was still at work sometime after 7 pm and was summoned to her office. I knew when the HR person that had originally hired me was in there that I was being fired.  I had to hold back tears as I really enjoyed what I did, despite the self-serving new boss.  I got about a 4 week severance package in return for agreeing to not sue or cause any problems.  The funny thing is, my boss was blaming me for a fine the casino received that was her fault.  She had demanded to review reports before they were sent to the state and did not return it to me before a noon deadline one day.  She said I didn’t follow up on it, so it was my fault.

What did I learn from that experience? Well, don’t buy a new car and keep your convertible.  I think that is actually two mistakes in one!  Don’t live off of credit cards, either.  While I wasn’t going crazy, I certainly was not saving at a high rate and had almost no savings.  The severance package went quickly and I am not ashamed to say I used unemployment after that.  Not everyone on unemployment plans to stay on it.  I have always looked at that program differently since then.

I was able to find a new job paying about 10% less in a few months. I don’t remember exactly, but I am pretty sure I used credit cards to make sure I could keep enough in the bank to pay rent.  I did not want to be a burden on my two roommates.

At my next job, I definitely tried to keep my head down. I also made sure to sign up for the retirement plan.

Being on the Other Side is Not Fun Either

Over my career I have been in management (at least a supervisor) for over 80% of the time. My last stretch as a financial analyst was the last time I had no direct reports and that was over 10 years ago.  In that 12 or so years in management, I have had to let go lots of people.  A few times were enjoyable because my bullshit radar had missed and I had hired a dud or even a complete a-hole.  However, the majority were sad.  It was especially hard when they were good people, but either a poor worker or caught in the seniority during layoffs dilemma.

neither side of a layoff is fun

I have been on both sides of this situation

One thing I learned over time is that you should hold people accountable for their work. That way they know where they stand with you.  If you don’t give them constant feedback, they might be clueless as to their performance level.  If you wait until review time to unload, your worker isn’t going to light it up with high quality work the rest of the year.

The reason I mention that philosophy is that if you are communicating and using data for accountability, some low performers may opt out and find a new gig without you having to let them go. Although, I have to say you can still be surprised.  Let me talk about the second time I was unexpectedly let go.

Déjà vu Happening All Over Again

I relocated from Kansas to California in 2010. In exchange for transferring to work at a manufacturing plant, I got a hefty raise and a great relocation package.  I was able to sell my old house, buy a new one, and move all of my stuff at zero cost.  I even got like $1,000 to drive my car out West.

One reason to relocate, was the experience was setting me up for future opportunities with the international company I was working for at the time. I had been there a little over 4 years at the time and had been promoted once.  I wanted the next promotional to be a Vice President of Finance for one of the companies under the huge international umbrella.

Fast forward to January 2012. I had been in California for about 2 years and really like my boss and co-workers.  I started to get a strange feeling as there had been tension with corporate lately.  The new VP of Finance (who was previously a peer) was somehow very sensitive to my comments and actions.  He repeatedly tried to get me in trouble with my boss (the VP was a dotted line reporting relationship).  He read too much into my inquiries and seemed threatened by my ideas.  I do not have a great filter at work, I tend to say what I think especially if I disagree with something (true to this day).

I also had a weird meeting with the President of the company. The previous President loved me and he had been very supportive of my career.  He was eventually forced out (officially retired).  The new a-hole surprised us with a visit and wanted to meet with me.  Behind closed doors he was extremely unprofessional.  I am not sure if this was his version of a pep talk, but he told me to focus on finance and not worry about project management.  That proved difficult since the project managers reported to me!

At that point I started taking some personal items home with me. I don’t remember if both of those examples happened in January, but they were close enough in succession for me to wonder if something was going on. I cleaned up my office and made copies of personal files I had saved on my work laptop.

I even had a weird interaction with the HR manager. I was trying to set-up a meeting to go over something and she was vague about when she could meet.  I thought that was odd, until the next morning when my boss called my office phone and asked me to come over to the HR managers office in the next building.  I knew as I walked over there something was afoot.

Turns out most of the finance department at that site was being eliminated. I was the first, then they let go my other finance employees.  I didn’t even get to talk to them first.  It was fairly humiliating.  I went home at around 9am.  I then proceeded to spend about 10 straight hours playing Civilization 5 (my favorite strategy game).

The funny thing was that I was not that stressed out. Yes, I was 1,500 miles from friends and family.  However, I had already found my future wife and she was my support system.  My fiancé and I had a baby on the way and that was bigger than finding a job.  I had plenty of money in the bank already and with the vacation cash out and severance, I had about 3 months of additional salary to add.

I started a new job within about 7 weeks, so I pretended that I was getting paid twice for the first month or so! My financial situation actually improved due to the change.  I took a small pay cut to start, but didn’t care.  I rolled my 401k into Scottrade and it is up about 60% in 3 years.

While I went a bit crazy buying stuff for baby #1, I was already drastically switching my financial lifestyle. No longer was I going to Vegas every few weeks and honestly, I rarely miss it.  Despite the thousands of diapers, having a son run up to me when I get home from work yelling “Daddy” is a better feeling than winning a big pot in poker at the casino.

Fast Forward 3 Years

Three years later and I realize what a blessing it was to escape that toxic situation. I am now married with two young kids and I have the CFO position I have always wanted.  It turns out a local company was looking for a director of finance way back in 2012 and I just happened to stumble upon it and arrange an interview (as mentioned above I was on “vacation” for two months between the two jobs).  4 months later I was the CFO and trying to learn all about health care.

I have had to let some people go at this job, too. I guess the circle of life and all that applies.

My job still has a lot of stress, but I worry less about my next career move and more about making sure our patients are getting the care that they need. Something changed and it was more than my view on money.  Marriage and kids certainly affect your priorities as well. 

My income is much higher (lower bonus, better salary) and I have dramatically increased my savings rate. I no longer worry about buying designer clothes to wear to work.  I try to fix some of my household maintenance issues that I would have never tried a few years ago.  I am content using my money to buy my independence instead.  But, yes, I still want an apple watch…

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4 Responses

  1. Neat post Vawt. Fortunately I’ve never been laid off. I had an internship before my senior year of college in 2008 and after the 10 weeks they offered me a full-time position to start when I graduated in 2009. The finance/accounting job market at that time was not the best, especially for new college grads so I didn’t test my luck and interview elsewhere – even though I wanted to. I left that company after 2 years to go to a bigger company for better pay and work. I’ve been here ever since.

    I sometimes joke that I’d love to get laid off. I’d get paid out a hefty PTO balance and some severance. I would take the time to travel a little and slowly interview for my next position, which could quite possible pay more. But I’ve also put myself in a situation where I have a high savings rate and my monthly fixed expenses are quite low, so a layoff would not negatively effect me. Much easier to say for someone with their personal finance ducks in a row and no dependents to support. I’m glad you were able to turn your layoffs into great opportunities!

    • vawt says:

      I should write a post about my after college experience, too. I was so close to an elite job at a midwest investment bank, but things fell apart! Glad to hear things have gone well for you. Keep that savings rate up and you won’t have to worry about it!

  2. Steve says:

    Nice post, Vawt – I enjoyed reading about your story and your work history, which I’m sure is not uncommon for many of us. I think you have the absolute right attitude now by saving plenty and enjoying what you do…even if there is a significant level of stress involved. Congrats on holding the position that you’ve always wanted, too.

    Strangely enough, I’m actually hoping for a layoff around summertime of 2016, a half year before my planned retirement date. We’ll see how it turns out!

    • vawt says:

      Thanks Steve. Saving more certainly gives you more choices down the road at the expense of more “stuff” now.

      Good luck on your layoff I guess?

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