Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Last night as I drove to the stone carving class I teach I had a thought.

I've been unemployed for almost two weeks now, and I am noting some things about my own behavior and expecations that are interesting, at least to me.  Conversation at the class expanded on the issues as well.

Four years ago, when I stopped working the first time, I transitioned out of my job carefully.  I documented what I did for my co-workers extensively and handed off the tasking to others.  In addition, the nature of my work was somewhat different then.  While I worked on big, important systems with hundreds of thousands of users, I wasn't generally on call for support.  At least not regularly.  In a pinch I might get a call but I wasn't on the hot seat on a day to day basis.

During the last year things were different, and my exit was more abrupt.

This time I was working on systems that required more supervision and manual intervention.  That meant I was on call - 24x7 - for problems that customers, support, or automated tools might find.  In addition, every time I opened up my email I first looked for notifications about anything that might have gone wrong or that customers needed assistance with.  Those always took priority and required fixing.

Living like that meant there was always a level of adrenaline in my bloodstream.  Even now, just writing about it, I can feel it.  Keeping the system working and the customers happy was, effectively, a constant, low level engagement of my fight or flight reflex.  For the last year my body has been adjusting itself to that level of stress.  Now I have to become adjusted to a much lower level of stress and that's taking longer than I'd like.

There are behavioral things that go with this change too.  While working, my morning ritual was to get up, throw on some clothes, and check email to see what (if anything) needed work.  If something needed attention it got it, before breakfast or a shower, and well before driving to the office.  Correspondingly I'd check email several times a night while at home for the same reason, and deal with anything that came up then too. 
Now, of course, there's no reason to check email that often, but I still do.  Maybe that will change with time.

Last night, as I mentioned, those at my class pointed out other things that go with a high stress job, things that are missing now.  The feeling of being needed and the status that goes with being the one others turn to, for example. And yes, I am vain enough to care about those things - just about all of us are - and their absence is another thing I have to adjust to.

It turns out that being RIFed is very different from quitting on your own.  I know I've mentioned that before, but two weeks later the difference still looms large.  I couldn't discuss my departure in advance with anyone at the office, of course, so there was no ability to plan and hand things off carefully, as I would have liked.  That leaves me with guilt about what those who remain are dealing with, and a lack of resolution on my side.

I suspect this level of discomfort will go on for some time, no matter how much I wish I could get past it more quickly.  Just about everyone who is let go from any job probably suffers similar issues.  For me it only drives home the point that many companies should treat their employees a whole lot better than they do.  Letting people go should be the very last resort.  And if it really becomes neccessary, involving them in the process and giving them time to make the transition would be smarter for everyone involved.

At least, that's how it looks to me.  I'd much rather have taken a couple of weeks at the office to hand off my work to others and make sure - as best I could - that they knew what they were getting into.  Instead I was walked to the door because that was company policy.  Not good.  For me or the company.  Oh well.