It was official May 31. I got fired. Again. At least, that’s how it felt. Getting fired sucks, even when it’s not personal. Maybe especially then.

I’d actually known since the 9th. That’s when the conversational rubicon was first crossed, that moment when it’s spoken aloud that the company perhaps can’t keep your role intact. That you might be consulting part time rather than employed. It’s not personal, it’s business. It’s revenue, or a new direction, or something, anything other than you don’t fit here anymore.

Think: It’s not you, it’s me.

Uh huh. Right.

Once that conversation happens, it’s a matter of time. So like the sacrificial lamb speaking up to say, Could we just get this over with? I lay down on the altar of “business results” and waited for my heart to be cut out.

Because that’s what it feels like, getting fired.

In corporate speak, it’s not fired, of course. It’s downsized or laid off, or transitioned, never fired. Yeah, well, it feels like getting fired. And it sucks.

Things work out

For me, this turned out almost perfectly. I got a very good job offer the same day that my downsizing was formally announced. The new job is more money, for less time, with less stress. My small severance, in combination with a modest dip into savings, will get us through without skipping much of a beat. Insurance coverage will be ok. I actually knew about what was coming for a couple of weeks, which was more than I could say for the other two people who lost their jobs that day; they found out that morning. And I’ll be doing some consulting back to the company.

I really did understand the business rationale for cutting expenses, at least for my job. In fact, when I think like a consultant I’d recommend getting rid of me, too.

Getting fired still sucks.

There is just no way around the fact that involuntarily losing a job, for whatever reason, feels like a failure. What bubbles up are the people you’re letting down, the goals that will be left unfulfilled, the plans and projects unfinished. The priorities not met. For a leader, the other people not protected. That’s maybe the thing that sucks the worst.

Even when I understand why, getting fired still sucks.

Corporations aren’t people

To a corporation, firing someone is just business. To the person being fired, it’s personal; it sucks.

Corporations don’t feel or think. They aren’t loyal, because they aren’t people. They don’t take care of employees, because they aren’t people. Corporations aren’t job creators. And though this might frustrate my left-leaning readers, corporations also don’t screw workers. Corporations can’t be either good or evil, because they aren’t people. They can’t even be stupid.

What corporations do isn’t personal, because they aren’t people. But the problem is that, to those of us who work for them, it feels personal.

I think I finally understand the essence of the alienation that most employees feel: we keep expecting corporations to be fair, well-intentioned, and reasonable, and are disappointed when our lives are negatively affected by this or that business need. We blame the corporation, and fail to understand that corporations can’t be fair or unfair, well-intentioned or evil, reasonable or stubborn. Because they aren’t people.

Let’s talk

I’m finally writing the book I’ve been percolating for a few years, because I think I understand the problem at the heart of the corporate experience. My working title for the book is My Life as a Corporate Failure. More about that over time, but I’d really like to hear from you.

Have you been fired from, or quit, a job? How did it feel?

Do you feel like a success or failure at work, and how do you tell the difference?

When bad things happen at work, do you blame the company?

Let’s talk.

Dr. Les Kertay

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