As this festive time of year approaches, I am reminded that tis the season to lay off staff (fa la la la … la la la LA!).
I know it doesn’t scan as happily as the traditional carol, which is apt for such sad tidings. In the past week alone I’ve heard of two colleagues who are now facing a bleak midwinter; I’m sure with ‘austerity measures’ bearing down there will be more to come.
I’ve been made redundant three times in my life. It’s never a nice thing. The first time I was only in my early 20s, with no children to support, just rent and food to find.
I was working in a London ad agency as a copywriter, and my team mate (art director) and I knew redundancy was on the cards for us. Things had been too quiet in the creative department, and no briefs to work on were coming our way.
Management couldn’t look us in the eye.
But we kept on going in to work.
Gritting our teeth.
Brassing it out.
I think they were expecting (hoping) we would get the message. Fall on our swords of wounded pride and just leave quietly.
But we needed the money, so we kept on painfully going in to ‘work’. Sitting all day with nothing to do.
After a few weeks of this, management moved us out of our nice agency front office with big windows, and installed another creative team.
An old desk was dragged into the ‘video library’ for us. That was our new work station. Basically a corridor with shelves of videos in it.
BUT WE ENDURED.
We still (dutifully) kept going in.
Playing ignorant. Trying to eke out another pay check before the axe would fall.
We papered the walls (well, the video cassette shelves) with ads. But we knew we were a lost cause. No one could look us in the eye. No one came in to ask about our work, or give us deadlines.
We were being cut out of the picture.
That’s one of the worst things about the ‘R’ word; people’s embarrassment and wish that you would ‘just go away quietly.’
The Creative Director had lost faith in us. He kept pulling everything we created into pieces. Meaningless shredded thoughts that led us nowhere but the door.
Even worse, we had lost faith in ourselves.
I vividly remember the day the CD hovered in the corridor/doorway after a board meeting. He was ashamed.
He knew we’d done nothing wrong. But we were Out.
Eventually, he mumbled, “Well… let’s call this your last week then.”
The horror and half-hung terror of the past months washed over us.
I don’t know what possessed me. But I decided to make a joke out of the horrible, drawn-out situation we’d been putting ourselves through.
I put my head into my hands and theatrically shrieked in sorrow and pain.
“Aieeeeee!!! No! OHHHH NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!”
“No. no. NO. I’ve got bills to pay – a cat to feed … ”
At this point I put on a fake Cockney accent, like Dodger from Oliver Twist, and I began imploring him with open arms, begging him for mercy.
“Avent we always dun our best for yoo, guv’nor? We’ve worked our fingers to the bone for you — we ‘ave! To THE BONE!”
“And what ‘ave we got to show for it? BONY FINGERS.’ And I remember showing him my fingers.
I imagine with 25 years of hindsight that I thought I was being hilarious. Cutting through the horrible tension. Getting across our sadness in an acceptably humorous way.
Showing him that we knew he was the creative Good Guy and we didn’t bear a grudge.
After my performance, we watched him, with bowed head, walk backwards out of our ‘room’.
Me and D looked at each other with resignation (ha ha) and began to pack up our desk bits and pieces.
But 5 minutes later, the CD was back. Hovering, shamefaced around our ‘doorway’.
“OK … I’ve got you another 2 weeks,” he says.
Me and D didn’t know whether to laugh with the relief of 2 more weeks in a warm, safe agency environment … or to cry with the knowledge of having to drag ourselves through more invisibilized wretched torture.
But it meant 2 weeks more money. So I guess sometimes it pays to beg.