Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Revisiting the Outplacement Lady

In talking to people who have been through a layoff, I've found that each of them has one little piece of the termination experience that stands out for them. A colleague of mine, let go at the same time I was, said: "The one thing I keep going back to is the guy I had never seen or heard from before whose main concern was how many boxes I would need [for my personal belongings]." For another friend who was abruptly booted from a high-level position, it was "the HR bureaucrat who said, 'Can we order you a car service?' as they were asking me to leave right then and there."

For me, it was the outplacement lady. I described the experience in Publishers Weekly: This woman I had never met before promised to call me at home that night, just to make sure everything was all right. "I assured her that I had friends and loved ones and a dog who all took an interest in these matters," I wrote, "and that they could handle that end of things." Our meeting was a short one.

Weeks later I decided to take advantage of the outplacement services that were available to me as part of my severance. I did this grudgingly and was pleasantly surprised. My outplacement rep's name is Larry too, which keeps things simple for both of us. He's been great with advice and suggestions, and about keeping in touch. When I told him my strategy of publicizing myself, he applauded it as a creative approach and "an outstanding way to market." But then he asked where he could see some of the results.

Uh-oh. I sent him the Publishers Weekly essay reluctantly because of that episode with his colleague. Being a coward, I tried to position it for him. "Hope you're not put off by the reference to my experience with the outplacement rep," I wrote (you could almost hear me saying Heh heh.). "This is meant to reflect my state of mind immediately after getting the bad news, rather than any objective response." Weasel!

Here's what the other Larry said:
I was not put off by the article. I think we need a touch of reality, and to listen to what we are saying. I put this in the category of: "Doesn't he look good in that casket?" Yes, we say some stupid, even insensitive things at times, but I hope that maybe some of this is only because we don't know what to say.
It's easy to forget, when you're the one being laid off, that the people on the other side of the situation aren't having any fun either. The outplacement lady made an offer that seemed absurd to me, and I gave her snark in return. Maybe she could have couched it better, but maybe I could have listened better too--what she was really doing was offering to help. It's hard to keep a clear head in those situations, and to know the right thing to do, and that's true for everyone involved. I was having a bad day, yes, but in retrospect, she probably deserved better than what I gave her.

Better to come to wisdom late than not at all. Thanks, Larry.

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