I can't get laid off

When your company's a sinking ship, that pink slip starts looking more like a ticket to the good life.

Published February 26, 2001 8:30PM (EST)

That cold day in November, I sat at my desk in fear and waited while four of the six co-workers in my group got laid off. I had a stomachache that would last for days. That was the first round.

During the second round of layoffs, I wasn't afraid. After all, I was covering for all the work that had once been done by my laid-off coworkers. The company needed me. The third time around, I was on vacation. Fourth: out of town on client business. Now it's February and I'm still waiting for that call -- only now, it's with anticipation. I'd love to be handed the pink slip from this foundering net-consulting firm, but apparently I'm too good to be let go.

Almost daily, I try to figure out how to get laid off. In November, I tried to volunteer, but the woman who was doing the deed just laughed. It seemed that they'd only lay you off if you hadn't billed any hours, or if someone on top hated you. Since I fit neither of these categories, I was "spared." But I keep trying.

The bottom line is, I don't want to be the president of a bankrupt company. And if we have one more layoff that doesn't include me that's just what I might be -- lifeboat-less on the Titanic while all my laid-off friends drink piña coladas on the shore. When did it start being bad to be good?

No one's really winning in this economy anymore -- except maybe my friend Mike, who got a giant severance package for something illegal that he witnessed, only to read on Fucked Company that his business filed for bankruptcy one week later. Or my former co-worker Sonny, who took the two months' severance and banked it because he got a new job the next week.

So, I take it back. There are people winning, just not the hard workers. These days, the real winners are those who manage to get out under the wire before stuff gets really bad. The payoff? One month to just sit around watching daytime TV and doing your laundry. A paid vacation. Then, a month of solid job searching. Did I mention that you're collecting unemployment this whole time? So, during those two months, you're actually making more than if you had to get up every day and watch your place of employment gasp its dying breaths.

This is negative reinforcement at its best: slack at work, get laid off, lay around, get new job, repeat. Or, work hard (like me), bill lots of hours, watch as your company goes under and fails to make payroll, go into debt with no job. This is making my already questionable work ethic (I'm writing this on company time right now) take a turn for the downright shameless.

At first, I thought I was noble, sticking by my employer till the bitter end. And, in fact, having survived four rounds of layoffs, I'm learning to set my own terms. I no longer worry about coming in late or taking too much time off, and I got "senior" added to my title. I've refused to travel as much as I used to and no one has said anything. They're probably even going to give me a raise.

Next week, I think I'm going to ask for an office. There are certainly enough empty ones in the building. What else? Funds are a little tight here, so I think the corporate jet is out of the question (though I know for a fact that the CEO has one). What else can I do? Streak through my office naked? I'll just get fired, and forfeit my ticket to the severance gravy train. Quit, and I'd be giving it up too. It's really just a matter of timing: do it just right and mine could be the last check the company accountant writes before signing the bankruptcy papers.

If the timing is wrong, I'm screwed, showing up for work to a padlocked office. Then the loyalty, the promotions, the "on my own terms" and the raise will be moot. I'll be dragged under with the company that refused to downsize me.

And I'll be paying for it. Consider this: Currently, my company can't afford to pay my $4,000 corporate AmEx bill (it keeps claiming "accounts payable glitches," but I know better). And if the company goes completely out of business (which is a good possibility), it won't pay. Who does AmEx call, then? You got it, me. I'm the company's last hope for survival, I'll be the last to go and I'll be the one holding the bag when it turns out the lights forever.

There will be no gold watch from this flagging behemoth, no five-year anniversary, no 401K vesting. If we're lucky, they'll go belly up in June, which gives me three more months to think of a way to join the laid-off masses. I think the key is that I just have to push them a little farther every day. Next, I'm going to stop showing up for mandatory meetings, work from home more frequently and tell people how disgruntled I am as often as possible.

I'm not sorry I was in on this little revolution. It got me some things I definitely could not have had otherwise: a great title that will still work in the legitimate business world, management experience, and a savings account that will allow me to return to grad school if the desire hits me. But there's just one thing I need for this meteoric rise and fall to be complete. I want the parting gift of severance, and I want it now.

By Lori Cox


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