I have recently completed the first year with my current employer. Reading the letter from the HR congratulating me on passing my probation period, I could not help remembering a completely different letter I had to read two years ago. It was also signed by the HR but, rather than delivering happy news, began with a non-promising “We regret to inform you…” It was my redundancy notice.
I was working at a certain investment bank, and redundancies had been in the air for a while back then. Being the only Russian speaker in a team which was reducing its involvement in Russia after two years of hyperactivity, I had every reason to expect to be thrown overboard. Before going to a two-week holiday, I duly backed-up my contacts and work files. Just to be on the safe side, as they say.
I returned from holiday in May 2008, on a Tuesday – Monday was an Early May Bank Holiday in the UK. Amid the excitement from seeing some of the few friends I had at work, I caught a strange feeling in the air. People were looking suggestively at each other, like they were sharing a secret. The time had come – the redundancies were underway, and we heard soon enough about its first victims. One of my friends came in and could not log on to her computer in the morning. She was notified of her redundancy shortly afterwards and walked out having lost all files and contacts. Another friend burst into tears in front of the HR and had to be seen out, her handbag later delivered downstairs by a colleague. Another colleague had just had a second child, had taken a mortgage and was planning an exotic holiday, not a redundancy. It was really not the happiest day at the bank.
There were positive examples, too. A friend of mine was planning to quit the bank within weeks, but was instead asked to do so quicker and given a redundancy package to top it all. How lucky was that! I hated my job with passion no words could ever describe and felt sick just thinking about getting dragged into another time-wasting, hopeless project. I could not help feeling almost let down by the HR for not having been made redundant.
With this mood, I spent most of Tuesday pretending to be doing something and wondering how, despite my obvious lack of motivation and dinosaur experience in Russia’s cooling off electricity market, I was not being let go. Wednesday was exactly the same. My colleagues barely spoke to me. Only a handful of people bothered to acknowledge the fact that I had indeed returned from holiday – by at least a “hello” – let alone ask how my holiday was. No-one approached me with work requests. No-one was bothered that a young analyst was sitting there, totally un-staffed, reading industry news. I left at 7pm on both days – which, given my regular after-midnight working hours, was rather unusual.
Thursday morning flew by in exactly the same fashion as the two previous days – when, coming back from lunch, I bumped into my line manager – let’s call him Giuseppe. It suddenly struck me that he had been away for a while. He was a good guy, and we stopped for a small chat. He seemed somewhat nervous, however. Sorry, he had to rush upstairs. I shrugged off. Okay.
As soon as I had sat down at my desk, the phone rang. Giuseppe on the other end of the line was asking me to come up to the 7th floor. My first thought was that I was being given another useless project and had to join an urgent kick-off call upstairs. My second thought was less naïve. It was happening. At last.
…Giuseppe, some HR person and our sector head from New York (the latter patched in on the phone) all greeted me as I entered the room. I saw a package in Giuseppe’s hands and had my guesses confirmed. The New York head started banging on, in his best corporately adorned speak, about the “difficult market conditions”. I grew impatient. The freedom was so close. Why wouldn’t they just cut it short and let me go? I smiled as I nodded to everything my counterparts were saying. Of course I agreed. They looked strange at me. Perhaps it was unusual for someone to welcome their redundancy with a smile.
“We can get your belongings downstairs for you. Or, should you wish to pick them up yourself, you have ten minutes to do so”. Of course I’ll do it myself.
As I ran to the lifts, I bumped into a cheerful group of catering ladies, most of whom I knew well and received numerous treats from. I waved goodbye to them. I won’t be coming back.
One of my best mates, Rob, was sitting near the lifts. He was busy talking on the phone and tried to brush me aside. Wrong time to ignore me. I forced my redundancy notice under his nose and watched his eyes skim over it, his facial expression changing. Goodbye, buddy.
It was a beautiful day. The sun was streaming into the floor, splashing my desk with light. The desk where I had spent two years on pretty much permanent duty. The desk where I had sat during so many nights finishing some unmemorable work for someone even more unmemorable. The desk where I had cried, laughed, screamed and sang. I won’t be seeing it again.
The time was running out. I sat down and opened the “farewell email” which I had been preparing for over a year. I was planning to send it on the day I’d quit my job, but my job had pre-empted me. One click and it is sent to all of my contacts. Done.
A minute later, the first responses started to appear. “Good luck”. “Keep in touch”. “Congratulations”. Congratulations? I remembered that the email had been drafted as if I was leaving voluntarily. It was quite certainly giving the wrong impression. Bugger. The next minute, I was sending a follow-up message reading “For the avoidance of doubt, I have been fired!” That’ll do.
The HR had told me not to cause panic on the floor. Which panic? Everybody had already been fired on Tuesday; the reason my announcement had to wait was because my line manager was travelling. I looked around. Everybody was working as if nothing was going on. Nobody was paying any attention to me. Nothing new there, then.
“I’m leaving!” I said in a loud voice. A few heads turned, reflecting all kinds of facial expressions. A couple of people got up. My friend Luis and my colleague Josh. Why would Josh care? He never bothered even to say hello in the morning. Then I remembered. He really liked my ergonomic chair and always borrowed it while I was on holiday. Stuff your face, buddy. It’s yours now.
Giuseppe was getting nervous. I had to focus on packing my possessions and attacked my desk. The best looter would have been jealous. Rear-view mirror on my monitor? Useful for not letting those hostile colleagues approach you from behind. In. Latvian flag? National pride. Absolutely in. Rugby ball-shaped stress ball with “UBS” on it? I may be needing it a lot these days. In you go. A thick plastic stand with my name printed across? I looked at Luis. He nodded. In.
I pulled the drawers open. Couldn’t care less about those PowerPoint masterpieces, thank you very much. Ten small bottles of mineral water? The Greek guy next to me was always asking for one. I piled them on his desk. Knock yourself out, buddy. Fruit? Three of my bags were stuffed to bursting point. Bin. On top of my papers lay a colour print-out of a Greek flag. I sat it on top of my idle keyboard. That’s how I want them all to remember me. The crazy girl who liked Greece. So long, people.
“It’s time”. Giuseppe was standing next to me. With three bags strapped across myself in all directions, I walked towards the lifts like a loaded camel. Just before the doors, I looked back. The floor was half-empty. The quiet buzz of the air conditioner was only interrupted by the monotonous typing sound of the keyboard. The sun was flowing abundantly through the windows. Goodbye, UBS.
Outside, I checked my Blackberry. A hundred unanswered emails; I was going to read them now. Suddenly the screen blinked. “Reset your password”. Zero contacts. Zero text messages. Disabled email. Shoot. I looked at my entry pass and remembered the HR’s “your pass will become dysfunctional within half an hour”. I lifted my eyes. The building where I had spent a lifetime for my young years rose in front of me. But I could not come inside. There was no way back.
I had been let go.