In my dad’s day there they called it personnel and it was in the main hospital, which our family referred to as the Zoo. Now they’d stuffed HR into the old Presbyterian parsonage so none of the hospital patients, a population already vulnerable and litigious, need risk any disgruntled employee-inflicted collateral damage. It was shabby, but cozy, with a fireplace in reception like a ski lodge, that winter day I laid off three of my own reports, tasked with telling each privately and also at the same time.
How would that work, exactly? I asked my boss. Figure it out, he said, practicing his golf swing in his mind, in my mind.
As Lay Off #1 left, I phoned Lay Off #3, while ushering in Lay Off #2, a former high school gymnast. (I expected she would land well.) By the time #3 arrived she’d heard from #1, and burst into my office, back from lunch wearing a wooly cap with flying ties, yelling, “So, are you planning to lay me off, too?” She thought she would be getting a promotion, or, at worst, extra work; thought she was safe with 25 years of seniority, as a former lab tech, but we’d checked. We were HR, after all. So, um, yeah.
I thought of my dad, union steward turned personnel tester, shuddering whenever he had to cross a picket line.
Alas, #3’s teenage daughter was dating the CEO’s son. So, guess who got fired next? (Not my boss.)
Not sure what happened to #1, but I ran into #2 and #3 at a networking event and we bonded like those videos of a mom dog nursing kittens. True to form, #2 had developed a drinking problem, but then tumbled into her new career as an employee assistance counselor, and #3 now worked in employee relations. Was it wrong to feel I helped deploy them to their respective rightful paths? No wonder I ended up as an outplacement counselor.
When they tore down the building last year, sheltering urban wildlife of various species tumbled from their sanctuary, exposed, dizzy with freedom.
Of course, nowadays, most of us work remote.
A graduate of Warren Wilson College’s Program for Writers, Julie Benesh is recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Grant and her writing can be found in Bestial Noise: A Tin House Fiction Reader, Tin House Magazine (print), Crab Orchard Review, Florida Review, Gulf Stream, Hobart, New World Writing, Cleaver, Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and many other places. Read more at juliebenesh.com. She is a professor and management consultant by day.