My friend Susan Diamond wrote about job firings on her “Prayables” blog (http://prayables.com) and received several varied responses. It got me thinking about my two terminations. They were actually diametrically opposed but stinging nonetheless.
After ten years in the publishing business, I wanted to make a change. Public relations was a logical area, where I thought an agency could use my experience as a writer and editor. The going was tough. “What makes you think you could do this work?” asked the head of a large agency, as if it were rocket science. I ended up taking a job with certainly the worst PR agency in the city: low pay, no benefits (but we were referred for health insurance to the wife of a judge who would later go to prison), lousy clients, outdated office equipment and a Neanderthal style of management. Still, I was learning the business . . . until four days before Christmas.
As a new employee of three months, I couldn’t accompany Janet and Marisa for our annual Florida trip to see the family. After being allowed time off to take them to the airport on Friday, I was called in early Monday morning and told that due to account losses (not my clients), I would be let go at the end of the year. They kept on a newer employee because she was making probably one-third less than me. My severance: I got to work the next two weeks before my New Year’s “gift.”
Needless to say, I was tres pissed. Regardless of how they phrased it, I felt like an idiot; three months on the job and I’m done. On the plus side, I received on-the-job training, and the firing provided inspiration to do well and succeed. Note to Mr. Agency Head: I had the Jay Mariotti taped messages on the Cubs playoff results robo-called to your home at 4:30 a.m., among other childish pranks.
The second firing 16 years later took place as a senior person at “One of the Best Companies to Work For.” My first year with the agency was great; our account group, which had long been the weakest part of the agency, grew significantly and competed well versus the city’s largest agencies. Early in the second year, however, the group leader who hired me left and was replaced by someone best characterized as A Small Man in More Ways Than One. That they tried to fire me for cause pretty much summed up their way of doing business. I had fair warning from an inside source and, due to their mishandling the situation, it ended up simply as the elimination of my practice area. They gave me the usual boilerplate explanation and the “have your lawyer review it” spiel, to which I replied, “My brother is with the largest labor-law firm in the country, and you can bet he’s going to take a good look at this” and walked out. Nothing gets a company’s attention faster than free legal advice.
There’s a saying “If you make everybody believe you wake up at the crack of dawn, you can sleep ‘til noon every day.” This company figured it could treat terminated employees like crap because of its wonderful reputation. Perhaps if one person had said, “We’re sorry this didn’t work out and won’t cause any great hardship” – after all, Marisa was in college then – or had sent out an e-mail before my last day so I wouldn’t have to explain myself on my way out, I might not have adamantly persued every last nickel of severance.
Thankfully, shortly thereafter I started an agency with my former boss over a weekend with two laptops and borrowed office space. My self-confidence was still intact. Within two years, we had 50 employees and became the tenth largest public relations agency in the city. This firing, too, was a good thing. I may not have “pursued my dreams,” as Susan writes, but I came out just fine.