First Person: When the goin' gets tough

Is any job in any company ever really secure? Read why you should have an emergency plan ready, just in case the hammer falls in your direction.

Monday should be renamed "Unday." Mondays have the unpleasant, undesired reputation for being the most un-looked-forward-to day of the week. This first day of the workweek is when unpleasant, unasked-for events sometimes unveil themselves in an unbecoming fashion.

The unsuspecting are unaware that as they unbundle themselves for a new workweek, unseen happenings have already unraveled, undermining one's underpinnings, undoing one's understanding, and undauntedly catapulting one toward unemployment. My co-worker has a figurine of a very droopy-looking businessman with the following caption written below it: "If it's Monday, don't tell me until Friday."

Black Monday
Ever had a Monday similar to the above? I have—and not too long ago either. Here’s my story. The department that I work in submits applications to a certain Federal government entity for approval and authorization. Let's call it the Bureau of Applications. Sounds official enough.

The engineers in my department put in countless hours of research and development in order to submit these applications. It's all we do. It's our bread and butter. One Monday, first thing and without warning, the bureau dropped a bomb by announcing a major change in its rules and regulations in its processing procedures. A "temporary" freeze was placed on the filing of applications until further notice. We've seen this "temporary" freeze before. Two-and-a-half years ago, the same bureau put a "temporary" freeze on another similar application. We're still waiting for the freeze to be lifted.

The aftermath
Once the shock had passed and we had thoroughly pored over the notice, looking for some definitiveness, clarification, and/or loophole (and finding none), we began surveying the damage. The new rules basically nullified scores of already pending applications and put us out of the running for filing any new ones until after the freeze is lifted, if it's ever lifted. Spirits were down. Chaos was settling in. Some began writing damage reports. Some discussed contingencies. Some just clocked out.

The day after
Damage reporting continued. Contingency plans looked weak. While some kept busy with these tasks, others (the ones who clocked out early the day before) discussed career options. What's going to happen to us and to our jobs? Are we just going to "stay busy" during the unknown interim? Are they going to shut down the department?

Will I be transferred to another department within the company? Will I have to take a pay cut if I am? Will I be let go? Who will go first? Who will maintain what we have? Should I start looking for another job? Should I volunteer to be let go in exchange for severance? Should I quit? How will I support my family? How will I pay the bills?

I wasn't expecting this. I'm not prepared for this. Where's the management? When is somebody going to say something? What time is the meeting? How long before someone from the administration will come and answer our questions?

The questions were endless and unanswered. Eight hours of this kind of talk is draining. No, exhausting. More than a week went by, and there was no direct word from the administration. There was simply a message forwarded secondhand to “carry on as usual.”

It was clear that the administration had no answers and so was just keeping quiet until they could “figure something out.” Too much time had gone by with no direction given. Meanwhile, the employees had “figured things out” for themselves.

One engineer submitted his two-week notice. Another was content to be transferred to another department, be let go, or stay. Whatever the company wanted to do, he was willing to follow. Two other engineers who were near the end of their employment contracts with the company settled to simply “stay busy” while actively seeking other employment. They were prepared to leave at the first opportunity.

Still, one other remained undauntedly, yet perhaps unrealistically optimistic. He believed that things would work out and he was planning to stick it out no matter what the outcome.

Looking back
As with any major catastrophe—natural, personal, or otherwise—it is important to learn from it in order to prevent it from happening again—or at least to be prepared for it the next time. I think most would agree that the lessons that stick are the hardest learned.

Hopefully, those in executive and management positions should be appalled after reading this story. Where was the company administration through all of this? Did anyone care? Why wasn’t this catastrophe handled properly? Simply put, the administration in this story was out of touch and unprepared. They didn’t listen to the people in the trenches and didn’t seem to care about how the “bureau bomb” was affecting them. Also, the company was not prepared for the unexpected. As a result, the company lost months of production, several key employees, and the respect of the ones who stayed. That respect must now be re-earned.

Those who left the company are better off for it. While they needed to leave jobs they loved, they are now receiving better pay and better treatment from their new employers. Those who stayed were left with the overwhelming task of cleaning up the rubble and sorting out what could be saved and what was lost.

Some might say that the employees who left were “lucky” to get other employment so quickly. I heard a saying once from an instructor that “luck” is where preparation meets opportunity. The employees who left weren’t lucky—they were prepared, or at least were able to make quick preparations. It’s unfortunate that they had to follow through with such preparations, but that was the key element that helped them through a bad situation.

A word to the wise
Just as you would prepare for an unexpected hurricane, tornado, or earthquake, or for a definite event like most did for Y2K, you should prepare yourself for an unexpected vocational storm that might put you out of a job. Like other emergency preparations, you hope and pray that you’ll never have to follow through with them. However, if and when the time ever comes, you have the security in knowing that you are prepared.

Todd LeFort is a contributing author for TechRepublic. He works as a network administrator in Northwest Florida. Todd is planning to relocate to Connecticut in the summer of 2000 and is currently looking for employment opportunities there. To comment on this article, please post a comment below or follow this link to write to Todd.

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