A series of articles about being given working notice shortly before retirement
Senior Project Manager
Retired November 10, 2016
In my previous article, I mentioned that, after 28 years of dedicated service to my organization, I went through a working notice: my layoff date was 18 months after receiving my letter of termination. This article continues my journey from that devastating day to some acceptance and peace of mind.
In my group of 12 senior project managers, only four avoided being laid off. In the days following our one-on-one meetings with Human Resources, we found little comfort in the numerous meetings with our manager. Although she was compassionate, and listened while we vented, we had trouble assimilating the news, understanding, and planning forward. Like my colleagues, I was stunned. I was angry. I was sad. I was defeated. They say you go through the phases of mourning when you’re laid off. I believe it. I mourned the pride in my work, my dedication, my self-worth, and my self-confidence.
Even though Human Resources didn’t post the names of those who had received their termination letters, everyone talked… for weeks: “Oh my God, I heard so and so got her notice. She’s leaving on June 8th.” We’d discover who had been laid off when we’d see groups meeting for goodbye lunches. During my 18-month period, all my colleagues and friends left, one by one.
Going to project team meetings, I felt like people looked at me and thought, “Is she one of them? I wonder when she’s leaving.” I felt the shame of not being good enough. And if I weren’t good enough, why was I still there working? And when I looked around the room at the others, I wondered why they were being kept on, when I felt I could do a better job. I found it very hard to focus on my project issues, deliverables, targets. I no longer cared about doing a good job, going the extra mile. Why should I? Who cared about the success of my company? Who cared about my own performance?
My mind was all over the place, both with my emotions and the practicalities of my situation.
And I was so angry! So angry! I’d worked diligently for 28 years. I had even helped them plan downsizing in previous years! As a manager, I had had to lay off some of my own people. I knew that meant finding the people who were the weakest links. Now facing being laid off myself, I questioned why I was considered a weak link. What had I failed to do in my work? And I was only five years from fully-paid retirement. I’d been dreaming about it for so long. They owed me.
What was I going to do? Call a lawyer? I’d heard through the grapevine that some employees had already seen lawyers about their own layoffs. One was recommended to me. After meeting him, I wrote my history and what outcomes I wanted from my partnership with this lawyer. He wrote an elaborate letter to my company’s lawyer. Sparing you the details, I can say that my company’s response was even worse than the terms of my termination letter. Considering a lawsuit, my lawyer found out from a precedent in Vancouver that the lawsuit outcome might be even worse than the initial terms. I gave up.
Although I refrained from making disparaging remarks to anyone at the office, I brought plenty home to my husband.
The real kicker was that I couldn’t afford my $5,700 per month leukemia pills. I need to pay them until I’m 65, when OHIP picks up the slack. My company offered to transfer my insurance coverage from an employee plan to an independent plan. Because of the leukemia, however, that insurance company didn’t want me. After researching insurance coverages with other companies, I discovered that none wanted me. I was panicking! Then, good news: my husband checked with his company’s insurance. He was told that it would pay the full amount. Yay!
What we didn’t know at the time was that my husband’s boss was negotiating with another insurance company in order to lower insurance costs, starting in the new year. This new insurance company paid only $10,000 per year for meds, rather than the $90,000 coverage I had received from the previous company. That wouldn’t even cover two months of pills!!! The situation was making me crazy! What could I do now? I had heard many years ago about the Trillium Foundation, but I never thought it was for me. Still, I did some research and learned that it could take me on. Phew! I could breathe again! Because of the slow process of all the confirmation letters and red tape, I ended up paying $20,000 before I started to see reimbursements from Trillium. Yikes! I was accumulating travel points on my Mastercard, for sure!
During the early days and weeks following the layoff announcement, the eight people in my group regularly met outside the office. We also helped each other through emails. Each of us experienced our mourning differently. Some took it in stride, some stayed angry and frustrated, some shut down. They helped me to realize we were all living this terrible time together. I helped them by sharing my lawyer’s advice and by giving encouragement.
Gradually, though, I had to let them go. I wanted to be strong for them, but I could barely be strong for me. I felt I had to detach myself from what reminded me of those terrible hours and days and weeks, in order to focus on my situation and my healing.
I was managing a few projects when I received my letter of termination. As the weeks and months progressed, one by one I completed these projects. During the many years I was project manager, I was given new projects as soon as, or even before, projects were completed. Now, none were given to me, or to my seven colleagues. I worried at my desk, waiting for emails or phone calls assigning new projects. None came.
During that 18-month period, my manager was assigned to another department. The new manager never called to introduce himself; he never invited me to group meetings. A few months after his appointment, he was replaced by another manager. Again, no news. I found out about these changes through the company’s phonebook. It turned into an absurd game, figuring out who was my boss each week.
Through baby steps, I started to accept my situation. If the executives wanted to pay me every month for doing nothing, that was their decision. I came to realize that it was unhealthy for me to worry about a decision over which I had no power. It was eating me up inside. So, I started to think outside of myself, beyond my desk, my home, and my despair. Finally, I started my healing… towards a more positive energy… towards the possibility of smiling again.