"You'll Land on Your Feet" was written not only for the person who lost their job, but also for their friends, family members, and former coworkers so they can become better at offering words of empathy and encouragement.
Company owners, CEO's, Human Resource personnel and outplacement counselors will also benefit from reading "You'll Land on Your Feet" as it will give them insight into the emotional toll job elimination and its process can bring to the employee and their family.
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You'll Land on Your FeetHow Anyone Can Survive and Thrive After Job Loss
By André W. Renna
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 André W. Renna
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIt's Not You, It's Us "If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don't have integrity, nothing else matters" ~Alan Simpson
There are a number of ways people find out about their "destiny"—the elimination of their position. Some may have expected it, but most, I imagine, did not, particularly if you have had acceptable or even stellar performance reviews, have not stolen from the company, whacked a supervisor, or slept with the boss's spouse. You were probably just doing your job when you received that "odd" message to come to the "bosses" office or the head of HR (if your boss needed someone else to do the dirty work).
Some would have expected a routine update, while others were anxious about the spontaneous and urgent need to meet. In my case, my administrative assistant had received a request by the COO, whom I reported to, that I was to clear my schedule and be available the next day (Wednesday) at 9:15 A.M. The COO was leaving for vacation and wanted to meet with me before she left on Wednesday evening. Not an unusual request for a COO to meet with a Senior V.P. before they left town, except, this COO never felt that urgency before. So, even my administrative assistant thought it was odd. But, be that as it may, I cleared my schedule and assumed it was going to be just a benign encounter.
However, working late on Tuesday, the evening before the "scheduled meeting", I noticed that the COO's office light was on. Having planned to make a presentation to one of my many departments at 7:00 A.M. on Wednesday, I thought I would inform the COO so we were aligned on the operational communication that the staff would be receiving.
I stopped by the office and discussed the presentation; there was no issue as we had previously evaluated the action. I took the opportunity to ask about the topic for discussion when we meet on Wednesday so that I could be prepared to discuss. After evading the subject, ("we'll just talk tomorrow"), the COO finally stated that there had been some ongoing organizational structure evaluation underway which she would like to share with me. As a senior member of the leadership team, I was not involved in those "organizational evaluation discussions". OOOOHHHH! Probably missed a clue there!
This would not have been so suspect had the blood not rushed from the COO's face and a grim reaper expression develop. As I acknowledged our time to meet in the morning, and said goodnight, it struck me ... "Wait, something's not right here". I turned back and asked, appearing somewhat cavalier (which was more a defense mechanism than a comfort level) "do I have a job"? Imagine her surprise at the candid question. Imagine my surprise at the answer ... "you better sit down". (Ok, here is a defining moment in life).
After a 30 second explanation by someone I have worked with over the past 15 years as a peer, friend, then as a subordinate, I suddenly became "employee number 12345". "Well, we have decided to restructure, your position is eliminated, I will get the Sr.V.P. of HR, she will explain" (I guess that is actually less than 30 seconds unless you come from the South and speak really slowly!).
Then the uncomfortable and dramatic pause, until the entrance of the CDO, Chief Development Officer (who had been with the company less than one year). The CDO's compassionate opening line was "only you can throw us off our schedule, we were planning to speak with you tomorrow". My immediate thought was "that's your opening line with respect to this life altering event ... you've got to be kidding me"?!! Did she expect me to say, "Oh, I am so sorry to trouble you. How insensitive of me. Do you want me to come back tomorrow so you can fire me on schedule"? I held my tongue and said nothing since everything I wanted to say would have come out in "Brooklyn-ese", accompanied by Italian hand gestures.
That stellar opening line was followed by the classic diversionary tactic, "It's not you, It's us." Not sure what that means, but there was more to come: "You have done an outstanding job and have been a valued employee for years"; "This is not personal". That one kills me, well then can you tell me what the heck is more personal than being dumped? (Thanks mom for the expression!). And then the coup de' gras (are you sitting down?).... "your legacy is substantial at the organization", "what you have accomplished for the community and the organization will have impact into the future".
Wow! I wonder how many of you, at that point, were satisfied with the fact that your legacy would live on, and your contributions, would succeed you? If that scripted line wasn't as disingenuous and stated as if read from a teleprompter, it might have softened the devastating realization, that at 55, I would be looking for a new job. Does any of this sound familiar?
Before exiting the COO office to discuss the "generous" (depends on who's perspective) severance package, the final cliché (which I am grateful for at this time) was offered. (Drum roll, please) ... "I Know You Will Land on Your Feet".
Look, let's get something straight early on in the "journey" through this book: it is management's prerogative to change structure and to eliminate positions. There is need for a process and a consistent approach to confronting those of us who will be "severed" so as to protect the organization from any appearance of discrimination or constructive discharge. I get it. We all need to accept that. But, there are right ways and wrong ways to discharge employees, particularly those that have been contributing for decades and have had extraordinary level of commitment and loyalty to the organization (the "legacy club"). From the "research" (again recall the research is my personal interactions); it appears that many companies have just not come close to handling the discharges in a compassionate and professional manner.
I was actually fortunate. Others that were "eliminated" at my organization on the following day (remember I screwed up THEIR plans), were exposed to a harsher situation. They were escorted back to their office where empty boxes had been pre-constructed for them to pack their belongings. Oh yeah ... their peers, subordinates and friends, were at their work stations uncomfortably observing the "farewell". Some legacy and way to be remembered! I hope your fate was better. It is never going to be easy to be displaced, but there should be some recognition of the employee's dignity during the encounter. The bitterness that is felt at the time , and will resurface again and again, is not only due to the outcome ... no job, but I believe (as many have told me), the lasting effect of how it was handled that infamous day.
So, if you think your situation was unique and that you got blindsided and humiliated, keep in mind that it appears to be the way most of our last days went. At some point, you will need to deal with it and understand it really wasn't you; just some leadership team that believes they are doing the right thing for the many by sacrificing the few. And, unfortunately due to a lack of corporate compassion, a shortage of messengers that are skilled in empathy, coupled with a general concern of potential legal action by the employee, the likelihood of a well delivered "discharge" is slim.
Chapter TwoBitter? I'm Not Bitter ... I'm Pissed!
"Forego your anger for a moment and save yourself a hundred ways of trouble" ~Chinese Proverb
That day, or night when you return home, you have the very difficult task of telling your family, particularly your spouse (a term which may be politically incorrect, but hopefully does not cause you to toss the book at this point), that you "plan to sleep in tomorrow morning!" Some chose to call their spouse immediately upon exiting the company parking lot (as in my case). Others wait to get home first and address face-to-face upon their arrival.
Some hope to avoid communicating the news until the "right time" (whenever the heck that might be). One individual who I know, drove home (he was released in the morning), and as he was driving, he actually passed his wife driving in the opposite direction. When she immediately cell phoned him after they passed, he bailed out and said he had a meeting on the other side of town toward their home. He could not even inform her that evening, but eventually had to "man up" the next morning. I would not be surprised if some hold-off days before telling their spouse. Not sure where they go each day until they 'fess up", but that is none of my business.
No matter when you do it, it will rip at your gut. So, I figure, the sooner the better. It is probably one of the hardest things you will have to do. This is a normal reaction to an unpleasant situation. I don't know what the psychologists would say, but no matter how small, or large your ego is, facing the reality of being "discharged' is not easy. Hopefully, you have family, and friends who are supportive, compassionate and empathetic. Some may even be in the same situation–perhaps you can "journey" together!
Your first reaction, the defense mechanism we all have, will be to recoil and not want to broadcast your situation. Whether that is driven by your ego, your natural tendency to avoid uncomfortable discourse, or your still being in a state of disbelief, you must get passed that. Every outplacement advisor and recruitment professional (to be discussed in Chapter 6) that is ready to guide those of us on our "journey", will counsel you on the importance of letting people know that you are unemployed, available, and (by all previous indications of the leaders that let you go), a tremendous asset to any organization.
You will receive sage advice (which will be so counter intuitive to your urge to lash out), "You must shed your bitterness and put a positive spin on the course of events." OOOOHHHH! Do they know I just got screwed? Are they freakin' kidding me? They will advise you to practice saying such things as, "I had a fine run at the company and am grateful for that", "this is an opportunity for me to do something which I have always wanted to do", "this is not an end, but a new beginning", "as this door closes a new window opens" (any of these sound familiar?). Well, that sounds outstanding, except what we are thinking is more like, "I am really not bitter ... I am pissed" That's right I said it ... "I AM PISSED". And I may be pissed for a really long time. I may never end being pissed. That's my prerogative. So put all the lipstick on this pig that you want&ndsah;it is what it is. New beginning, closed doors, opened windows ... who am I? 14 years old and just got dumped by my girlfriend?!
I too recommend that before you go back out in the real world, certainly before you interact with potential business associates and future referral sources, that you get it under control. I don't mean just controlling the anger, and there WILL be anger, but your dialogue, even dialogue that appears to be said when you are composed.
As I mentioned, I am a New Yorker, a third generation Italian-American. Emotion and animation are part of my genetic composition. Dialogue, supplemented by hand movement and an occasional "Fuggedaboutit" were a part of my every day communication (outside of the professional setting.... well, for the most part). So, for me to be devoid of emotion and let this all "pass" was probably as difficult as it would be for anyone. But, with the help of my wife, children and friends (and of course mom), I did OK with the emotion. BUT, I really struggled with the "what to say" aspect for a long time. It wasn't a "high road, low road" issue for me, but more of a concern that it minimized the life changing circumstance that my family was now faced with. It made it appear that the "journey" was to be embraced and no big deal, even though the United States was experiencing one of the worst economic times in our history (in addition to my being 55 years old). I had a great deal of trouble getting past that.
My demeanor of "how to say it" (calm, non-threatening–without biting my hand–that's an Italian thing) started improving around the second month or so. But my wording, my phraseology, still left a lot to be desired. I am not proud of how long it took me to "adjust", and I would urge you to "fast forward" that part of the journey. You absolutely need to get that under control early as it does not speak well of you as a leader, and in some situations could even eliminate opportunities. From a practical side, it can potentially jeopardize your severance (that AMAZING package that the company gave you out of the kindness of their heart, the one without the gold watch for retiring gracefully).
Let me clarify. Instead of saying, "Yes, I hoped to retire from this company, but I guess someone else had other plans for me" (my early response), a more advantageous response would have been, "Yes, it is unfortunate, but I had a very good career and learned a great deal which I can apply elsewhere", or, "My talents and experiences have prepared me for many options, so I am taking some time to evaluate and develop a plan for my future". I must admit (now) those later words sound much better and reflect the characteristics that are needed in a leader.
As I said, the professionals will tell you to let it go, shed your bitterness and move on. I say, you earned the right to be bitter. I don't know anyone that has been in this situation without experiencing anger, disdain and being down right pissed off. Just don't let it get the best of you and manifest into a damaging attitude and presence. If you do that then, as a physician friend of mine counseled me, "you let the big uglies win" (he said it in Latin and it sounded better, but this was basically the message).
You can create a significant level of personal damage to your image and "hire-ability" by how you communicate after the discharge, especially for those in leadership positions. It is essential, as hard as it may be, to refrain from self-destructing. Remember, it may not have been "you" that created the predicament you are now in, but it is ALL you with regard to how you are perceived after the discharge.
I thought I knew what my physician friend was saying when he first called me and said, "Don't get sick over this", (mom said that repeatedly also), but it took me awhile to really figure it out. What he was saying was don't let them change who you are. Don't let them cause you to be a self doubter and, maybe worse, a vindictive, negative person. You may think you have lost your dignity, but you haven't. Not by the "discharge" action. But, if you are not careful, your bitterness will transcend to being chronically pissed off (I think that's a medical term, CPO), and will only hurt you and complicate what you are trying to do—change your life and "land softly". I wish I had taken my own advice earlier as I look back and think of all the first encounters which I could have done differently, better. Be pissed, you earned that right, but be smart, no one really wants to talk to or hire a pissed off individual.
"Self control is the quality that distinguishes the fittest to survive" ~George Bernard Shaw
Chapter ThreeHere's His Belongings
"While grief is fresh, every attempt to divert only irritates. You must wait till it be digested, and then amusement will dissipate the remains of it" ~Samuel Johnson
As I had mentioned earlier, one of the hardest aspects of this change is to tell your loved ones that your life is about to take an unexpected turn. I have spoken to so many individuals who have expressed that their family, particularly their spouse, was as devastated as they, if not more; although they are supportive, they too are going through a range (or is it rage) of emotions, including the heartbreak of seeing you distraught and struggling. Don't ever forget this. You are not the only one affected by this change. There is a sense of loss for those who care most about you. Understand that they need support as well and it is eating them up inside to see their husband, wife, mother, father, son or daughter in pain.
My outplacement advisor noted early on that I would be going through a process similar to the "stages of grief". Having recently lost a number of friends and relatives, including my father and, during the process of writing this book, my mother, I certainly understand the stages of grief. But I thought this was some stretch if she was trying to create a metaphor around death. Give me break. Cut the drama. But for most, this may be the case, even if you don't realize it at the time.
You may have expected this to be your "job for life". So when things change you will experience many different emotions. Since we are all different, you may not experience exactly what your friend did but the range of emotions will be similar. They are normal.. Be wary as you go from phase to phase and don't be averse to seeking professional help and guidance if you linger in the "Worry" and "Depression" phases.
Excerpted from You'll Land on Your Feet by André W. Renna Copyright © 2011 by André W. Renna. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Not You, It's Us....................1
Chapter 2: Bitter? I'm Not Bitter ... I'm Pissed!....................7
Chapter 3: Here's His Belongings....................11
Chapter 4: You're "Lucky" You Don't Work Here Anymore!....................15
Chapter 5: Now What Do I Do?....................21
Chapter 6: Do We Have a Plan For You!....................29
Chapter 7: "Hello, My Name is Bob." "Hi Bob!"....................43
Chapter 8: I Have a Few Irons in the Fire....................59
Chapter 9: Is He Driving You Nuts Yet?....................67
Chapter 10: Fuggedaboutit Consulting Services, Inc....................73
Chapter 11: If I Get My Real Estate License ... Shoot Me!....................81
Chapter 12: Things Will Work Out ... Mom Said So!....................87
Chapter 13: Maybe it's Time for the American Dream....................91
Chapter 14: I Can Always Drive a Limo....................101
Chapter 15: Retirement? Pension? Hmmm ....................105
Chapter 16: Cleared For Landing....................109
Appendix: Business Acquisition Due-Diligence Checklist....................117
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
"...as a leader, "You'll Land on Your Feet" made me reflect upon my own experiences. Having never been laid off..it helped me to understand the other perspective. It is an easy read and kept me interested. It includes personal reflections and some family dynamics (which is different than other books I have read). "You'll Land on Your Feet" will meet the expectation from the person who just got laid off..and will be inspirational to them. The book will (also) help a leader have a better understanding if faced with the uncomfortable situation of letting someone go durig a lay-off...or even termination. Your personal views are something that many people can relate to. The inserted humor lightens up the serious nature of the situation without taking away from the topic. I do believe that it was a good enough balance to make you want to read more". V.G., BSN, RN, NE-BC, Director, Clinical Services (for a large specialty physician practice)
What a great read, chock full of helpful advice of what to do and what NOT to do in the days and months following losing your job. From his own experience, the author takes the reader on his personal journey...sometimes serious, sometimes sarcastic, and sometimes funny. Every chapter in this book offers sage advice to help the displaced employee (unemployed) to "land softly". After reading this book, HR professionals may re-think how they discharge employees. The book also has a chapter on offering words of encouragement...and what NOT to say (e.g. "you're better off, or, You'll Land on Your Feet!). Yikes!