An unintended blunder. A blunder that defines hindsight.
Early in my career I worked for a company that was having financial ups and downs. Seemed normal to me because I didn’t know any better. We were a pretty laid back company and dressing up for Halloween was encouraged. We even had a contest on the best dressed and employees brought in their favorite snacks. Admittedly I had fun with it — and it grew into a decent Halloween office party that employees looked forward to.
That morning I dressed up like the Grim Reaper — exactly like the above photo. I sat on one of the cushy sofas in our reception area and remained silent without moving or speaking. It was beautifully executed and as employees and the receptionist came into work, the first thing they saw was me sitting on the sofa in this scary creature costume — still and silent. Folks only figured out it was me because I was one who was in early in the morning and my office was empty.
Little did I know that a few weeks later we were “acquired” by a new organization — the first of several experiences being on both sides of corporate M&As – and the new organization immediately rolled out a company-wide layoff. Six of our 8 locations were closed with hundreds of employees laid off. Guess who had to spearhead this unfortunate event? Me. If you’ve ever lived through or have been impacted by a RIF, you know how it leaves folks in the organization feeling insecure and nervous to say the least.
I spent several weeks closing locations and laying off employees who were with the organization for years. Here I was visiting and meeting these employees, most for the first time, explaining a formal Severance Agreement and General Release that I barely understood myself. I threw up every night during that two-week nightmare.
Time passed, the dust settled and folks started to relax and work in our new organization. One day I walked into our company lunchroom and it only took one smart-ass clown to say, “Uh oh, better watch out, here comes the Grim Reaper.” A few employees laughed. It wasn’t funny to me. At. All. It became one of those inside jokes that stuck with a few people. I understand why it’s funny from their perspective but I didn’t appreciate the label on me personally or any jokes that involve people losing their jobs.
I left the company before the next Halloween and thank goodness the Grim Reaper joke finally died. Pun intended.
More importantly it was after that experience when I realized that implementing terminations would always be a part of the HR gig regardless of where I work. Doesn’t mean its easy — it’s never easy — it’s just a part of the job.