Monday, October 31, 2011

The Layoff Project: "I seem to have lost purpose."

RK was a researcher at a major pharmaceutical company for 30 years. His layoff story is below. [Please note that I have redacted some of the profanity.]
My layoff was a disaster for me, it began as follows, just to give some background. 
The company was useless in the entire process (well almost useless).  
I received the E-mail from my [posterior]-crawler boss asking me to attend a meeting with him and HR in two days, no subject for the meeting, just the time and place. So I went to see him.
“What is the meeting about”, I asked? “Sorry I can’t tell you”, he said!!! ”Well”, I said, “if that’s the case I’m not coming”. “OH” he said, “no need to be like that.” I said “if I don’t know what it’s about how can I prepare?.” “Well”, he said, “I think we may have something for you, so I think you should come”. By that he meant early retirement. So I turned up for the meeting. 
The first meeting: 
There we were, [posterior]-crawler, me, a woman from HR and her boss, all seated in a meeting cage in an open plan office, surrounded by worker ants and boxed in by smoked glass! He started if off by introducing them then got right down to it. “There has been a re-organisation in development and your job is one of the 96 which will go” (to China). “Thank you”, I said. “There is a package currently being worked out by the board of directors and a workers committee.” “Oh” said I. Turning to the HR boss, employed, I asked what the package was. He said, “Sorry I can’t give you any details it’s still secret.” So I said, “WHAT THE [Anglo-Saxon curse word], you invite me here to tell me that you can’t tell me anything, that’s ridiculous.” “Why waste my time, you should have phoned me up or just sent a mail.”  
By this time I was cooking. He said, “We don’t do things that way! But we should know the details within the next 2 weeks.” “OK”, I said and stormed out and went home. Two weeks came and went, I started cleaning out the office, slowly, nothing from HR. I stayed at home, sometimes went in and continued to clean out my stuff. On a Thursday two days before the end of the month the [posterior]-crawler phoned me, “Can you come in tomorrow at 4 p.m. and sign the various contracts?” “No”, I said. “Monday at 8pm.” 
So it was; I signed the papers, no choice in the matter, either sign and get money, or not sign and get instant dismissal. I had 6 months to find another job within the company or I was on the street.  
Question: What can a synthetic organic chemist do within a pharma company apart from synthetic organic chemistry? The answer is NOTHING. What a hatful of [posterior orifices]. 
I signed on with the unemployment office the next day.  
The months came and went, as did a few other meetings, which were with HR and a waste of time, I just went in to get my stuff and on the 30th November 2010 I signed over the PC etc. to my [posterior orifice] of a boss. After 30 years I was tossed out like some sort of toxic waste. 
During the period of notice I saw and spoke to no one, I just left.  
What should you do the first week? 
Well once the initial shock is over you realize you can’t really fight them, so start cleaning out the office, although I stayed at home. Started cleaning up the mess the next week.

How can your family and friends help?
They can’t really help, friends in other companies just sympathized but there by the “Grace of God go I” was really the response.

Was the help the company offered you (outplacement, etc.) useful?  
No, not really. They offered a reasonable severance package plus full salary for the 6 month notice period and I did not have to work, could spend my time looking for other job or cleaning out the office. But as I said above what else can you do in such a company, and if you had managed to find another job within, the Damocles sword would always be hanging over your head.

What financial advice can you offer? 
Don’t spend much money. In this country the tax is a year behind, I received all the severance pay at the end of the year, which meant it went on the tax for for 2010. This effectively doubled my tax bill and I had to sell my company shares to pay it off. So make sure any severance is paid to you in the next tax year, when you are unemployed. But then you won’t get so much unemployment benefit, roundabouts and swings I guess.

What should/did you do? 
Not a lot I could do. I applied for a few jobs but at my age it was always a “no” we were looking for something subtly different was the usual reply.

What should you NOT do?
Try and not get depressed

When did you start looking for another position?
Immediately, but it did not last long

How painful was finding another position?
Very painful and I found it embarrassing. The rejection, in spite of experience, they were not interested in that at my age you may not fit in the team too well!

What should someone be emotionally prepared for?
Several things; not being able to discuss chemistry. At one stroke all access to the literature is gone (I don’t want to go back and use the library). You can’t get references anymore, no refereeing, no nothing. That hits, and still hits me hard.

How did you spend your typical day?
I sort out my database of compounds I have made over the years, sort out my literature collection, but for what? I should have done it years ago. It’s of no use now.

I go have a beer most days. Do a bit in the garden. But I seem to have lost purpose. It is very easy to get into a routine and one must make a real effort not to do this, although it’s easier said than done.

What behaviors do you think were helpful or not helpful?
The company behavior was not helpful, once the deed was done they did not really give a s--t. On to the next problem for them. Perhaps I could have done more to help myself, but what for? (Depressed?)

Have you found new work? What was helpful there?
Still unemployed and will remain so.

CJ here again. Thanks to RK for his story and my very best wishes to him and all of us.

The Layoff Project is an attempt to collect the oral histories of chemists who have been affected by the changes in the pharmaceutical and chemical industries. The explanatory post is here; stories can be left in the comments or e-mailed to chemjobber -at- gmail/dot/com. Confidentiality and anonymity is guaranteed. 

10 comments:

  1. CJ - You missed an "ass" above.

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  2. Having inappropriate giggles at [poseterior]-crawler and [posterior orifice].

    But seriously, that story was really depressing. I hope RK finds some kind of new position that he/she enjoys.

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  3. Wow, after reading RK's account, I'm glad that I wasn't too distraught by my layoff. Does a career in organic chemistry have to be like "The Shawshank Redemption"? After being institutionalized for so long, how can anyone expect an smooth career transition?

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  4. "There we were, [posterior]-crawler, me, a woman from HR and her boss, all seated in a meeting cage in an open plan office, surrounded by worker ants and boxed in by smoked glass!"

    OMG, he was in one of those "labs of the future" being set up at Novartis! Anyway, I'm surprised that RK was allowed to apply for another job within the company. While I understand that he was upset, losing his composure in front of HR and his [posterior]-crawler manager probably didn't win him brownie points. At least he wasn't escorted out by armed security.

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  5. That is a pretty sad post. It reminds me of reading about guys who lose their jobs after 30 years at the same paper mill or car factory. Unfortunately, it's also probably pretty representative, at least for people who have spent decades at the same place (though from the author's tone it seems he did not have much respect for at least some of his coworkers).

    It does seem to be a pretty cold reality, though. Where do old chemists go? From my, admittedly limited, experience in biotech they're certainly not working in any labs. It almost seems that you have X years to jump to the executive track (and continue with the company) or you're out after 50 (40?) or so. Seems similar to the notion of "up or out" at law and accounting firms (lawyers and accountants have the advantage that their labors are of immediate benefit, and can make money hanging up a shingle).

    Clearly this is not an issue in academia, but I think it's pretty critical (we're all either, or---hopefully--will be, old.) Where do the old chemists go?

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  6. "Where do the old chemists go?"

    There's another verse to "Lake of Fire" to be written here.

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  7. I have to agree with Anon @ 7:25 PM. I understand that RK was upset - who wouldn't be? But you have to hold it together, not just because of HR and [posterior]-crawler, but because word spreads fast. If you develop a reputation for flying off the handle or behaving inappropriately or unprofessionally, word will spread.

    Here is an example: former colleagues have told me the story of someone who was laid off with a decent severence package, with one month's notice. I don't know if he was expected to show up for work every day during that one month period, but he did, and announced that if he was no longer employed with the company, he was no longer subject to HR's rules. He then proceeded to make inappropriate comments to any and all women in his vicinity. You can imagine what those women will say if anyone ever asks if they've worked with this guy.

    Yes, the layoff process is inhumane and sometimes degrading. But sometimes you just have to suck it up and take the high road.

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  8. RK answers via e-mail:

    @ Anonymous,
    I don't think I was "institutionalised" Where I worked, you just did not change your job every 5 years, you tended to remain until retirement. Anyway I never swallowed the company bull+%.
    I was not after, and was never been after brownie points, I wanted the truth out of them and didn't get it!

    @ bbooooooya, co-workers must earn respect, telling lies or half-truths does not get that in my book.

    @ Anonymous (second post) after that I was not in interested in any word spreading. I was never unprofessional, sometimes cross/did not agree with management decisions, but I always said so.

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  9. Up until very recently, most organic chemists have felt that they were masters of their own destiny with corporate speak, politics, and self degrading formalities largely beneath them. The record of chemical research spoke for itself, and stuff will get done, profitably, by and by.

    I'm not exactly sure how this guy couldn't fall into the trap, especially since everyone involved screwed up from a personal standpoint. I'm not even sure what the correct diplomatic process would be if RK had the crystal ball into the future and understood his future employment prospects. "I'm sorry boss, you seem to have a bit of a foot in your mouth, let's try this again."

    I guess I have to empathize a little bit.

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  10. Depressing post, but I am sure it's much more depressing for RK. RK, hang in there. Perhaps, there is something you are very good at and interested in outside the Organic Chemistry.

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