Life at Up Up and Away Investment Management International: Chapter 4: (A serialized novel by Robert K. Stephen)

Chapter 4

My reaction to the Blessed Event and what yours should be!

Most victims of the Blessed Event exhibit a whole series of emotions that kick in, most of which are potentially self destructive and unhelpful. Now, if you have been around long enough at largecorp countless of your colleagues have been “downsized” because of a “restructuring” or “outsourcing” or even due to COVID-19. These terms appear neutral most likely due to their invention at largecorp sponsored faculties of management. I prefer the word “terminated” because it is crueller and more realistic. Being fired is not a neutral event. I do not like the term “laid-off” because a layoff is a temporary loss of employment with a possibility of a return to work. “Let-go” is a bit namby pamby.

In hindsight, my advice to you if you are victimized by a “Blessed Event” is to take it in the present moment as an opportunity to take the next step in your career or economic survival if you feel there really is no career for you. If you are angry and bitter that is OK but realize that it is what it is and it is in relation to a past event that has happened that you may have no control over. As they say in mindfulness there is no sense in getting tangled up with negative thoughts. Know that they are there, acknowledge them but do not let them strangle you. At best, you might learn a lesson or two about your experience at largecorp. Put them in your war chest of corporate experience.

In my experience at CRAP I saw no wrong in what I did in standing up against Brian Cochon for the rights of beneficiaries of pension funds which employers were raiding for the recovery of pension fund expenses that they had paid. A fiduciary of a pension fund, such as CRAP, has the obligation to protect the right of the beneficiaries of a pension fund. In standing up to the bullying of large law firms acting on behalf of employers seeking to extract pension fund expenses paid by them to their pension funds and knowing the law in this area, I viewed them as bandits seeking to raid the pension fund. In my view, I was also protecting the interests of CRAP which acted as pension fund recordkeeper because if paid out as commanded by its clients it might very find itself in court for breach of its duty to act as a fiduciary for a pension fund.

Now Felicity Poker was so blinded to hopping to the commands of the largecorps she had previously been retained for at Ooze & Ooze that she couldn’t understand (or didn’t want to) the liability CRAP was incurring by obeying the illegal command of employers to pay out to themselves pension fund expenses they had previously paid into the pension fund. I think Poker was so used to promoting and plotting the whims of her large corporate clients and saying yes to their every goal she had been corrupted of independent legal judgement hence breaching her fiduciary duties to CRAP.

I also was proud of the offer of nomination I had received to a panel advising the Ontario government as to pensions, my publications, speaking engagements and appointment to an industry committee executive. I did nothing wrong except for threatening the reputation of Felicity Poker whose whole goal in her past life was billable hours and not serving the legal community. That slavishness to her corporate clients was hard to break despite the fact she now worked at CRAP. She was big law firm material supposedly above lowly corporate in-house counsel that never had the “intelligence” to work for the big law firms. Why then was CRAP inundated by resumés from lawyers working in these prestigious law firms? I saw resumés coming in on the fax machine from Ooze & Ooze lawyers. In short, they were sickened by the burn-out conditions they slaved in. They wanted an independent life. Poker had chosen money and status over a life. Beluga, our former general counsel, may have acted like an absent landlord but he never bothered his charges.

For those not in the legal profession I will tell you most lawyers working for huge prestigious national law firms view in-house corporate counsel as inferior to private practice lawyers. They are so blinded by their haughty image and lust for wealth they fail to see how destructive their life is to themselves and their family. They fail to see the importance of having a life. It takes a toll and it is not surprising that provincial law societies have remarkably busy addiction and mental stress hotlines for their lawyer membership. 

In retrospect I believe that Poker was jealous of the success and recognition I had obtained in the insurance community.

Once the Blessed Event has happened to you there may be those victims saying that this is the best thing that ever happened to them. In many cases, it indeed will be the best event that ever happened to you. There is no harm grieving, being angry and feeling betrayed. That’s normal for a limited amount of time but the emphasis is on” limited”.

I was younger then and I had never had my employment terminated so I was an emotional Newbie to the emotions that followed which in retrospect must affect everyone who faces the Blessed Event. I was devastated, angry and bitter. It took me years to recover. One thought that remains with me even now is the hope that Felicity Poker and Brian Cochon, swine that they were, rot in hell. However, I realized long ago there was little purpose wasting emotional real estate over them. 

I think the foremost reaction most victims encounter is shock unless of course you saw it coming or have had this happen to you previously. How could this have happened! Over and over this phrase will batter your ego. You were doing an excellent job as measured by corporate employee performance ratings. You were a 4 out of 5 employee in your “performance appraisal” for the past several years. You were quite proud of yourself.

That’s your first mistake at largecorp which is assuming an excellent job performance protects you. You must realize that legally largecorp can toss you out at their will provided they provide you with severance as required by statutory and common law which in very general terms translates into a month of salary for each year of service.

How could the Blessed Event strike me? I worked at least two nights a week close to midnight. I never ate more than three shrimp at the client Christmas reception and nodded and said hello to the Executive Vice-President of Re-engineering in the elevator every morning. I was tough yet fair and willing to compromise.

Yes, a true model employee and well regarded in the external legal community yet it was all bullshit now. All that Human Resources Department palavering was not worth the e-mail it was written on.

My advice to you is do your best to avoid looking shocked and please no tears. If the Terminator is in the room he or she probably hates your guts and that is why you have been chosen for the Blessed Event. You made an enemy despite the “excellent job” you were doing. Your Terminator crushing you like a fly is a dream come true for the Terminator. You were hated more than the others who survived the Blessed Event although their day will come as it always does.

Of course, there are some downsizings planned by bean counters with no connection to you. They’ll establish a termination number or percentage of employees to be fired and leave it up to the Senior Management Team to approve and give the orders to middle management to execute the terminations. This sounds neutral but why was it you that was picked? It is beginning to sound less neutral when you start asking yourself this question.

It may have been that your inter-personal skills were not up to largecorps, invisible code of brown nosing, flattering, sucking up or trumpeting false praises. So why all the doublespeak from the Human Resources Department about team spirit, customer service and global inclusion? My thought that all these phrases are there to mask hatred and arrogance that largecorp’s  SMT has for their charges and for that matter amongst their own caste. How did these executives reach the upper ranks of largecorp? They are there stuffing their loot bags like bandits without getting apprehended and of course never walking the talk rammed down the throats of employees like gavage. At this point of extreme greed, it is up to the securities regulators to apprehend as many crooks as they can. However, as we have seen as late there are more crooks in the executive floors than the regulators can ensnare. Let us be fair! Most of the SMT are not criminals. They are just greedy and some may be psychopathic.

My advice so far has been not to be tangled up in negative emotions and focus on the present. This is the essence of mindfulness; I agree getting tangled up may leave you running backwards however let’s bend the mindfulness rules and say your anger may be a useful source of energy for your gruelling job search. What better force to keep you going on from the 230th rejection letter to number 231 resumé and cover letter being sent out? It gives you adrenaline. Cherish and guard it. Know when to use it. It should be an energizing factor in your job search. However, to avoid being labelled as a potential “toxic employee” keep your cool in your networking and job interviews.

If you appear angry and bitter to your network and prospective employers it might be perceived as a justification as why you were terminated. Angry people are not marketable. Your goal is to fool a prospective employer into thinking you will be a committed employee and not one that is bitter, resentful and holds grudges.

In interviews your anger must be transformed into joy and glee about having the opportunity to fill the position! Golly gee the Blessed Event is a gift from the Virgin Mary. It provided you an opportunity. In fact you might have even convinced yourself you are the best candidate. You are the best at masking your true emotions to better pursue an opportunity where your strengths can be showcased? You can put a happy face on and lie left right and centre as your outplacement counsellors have taught you. This is the ideal employee!

In summation don’t bellyache, whine and complain. Just use that negative energy to move on down the road.

I hope my discussion on anger has not put you in a bad mood particularly as you have just purchased a Tony Robbins video and I have put your upbeat mood in the rubbish bin. I want to be like Tony Robbins and get on the lecture circuit. Therefore, I have told you that anger may be one of your best weapons in your job search if managed carefully. The more outlandish the statement the better my chances of enraging some professor in a largecorp funded faculty of business and getting the publicity, I need for fame and fortune. Of course, like Tony I believe in what I write!

Anger is good for you! What rubbish you say. Tony Hornet is desperate. Yes, I want to establish a new management institute and through my lectures and books I will revolutionize management. I am going to revolutionize the downsizing function (amongst other issues) and make a fortune doing it. Now I have told you my intentions I have experienced a profound sense of relief. Sorry, just being a bit sarcastic here.

Speaking of being relieved, many of you hit by the Blessed Event are in fact relieved by it! If you were miserable as most employees are in today’s brutal downsizing-outsourcing corporate environment. You are now liberated and if close to retirement, mortgage free and saved your ass off and blessed with a generous severance package you have made it to the finish line. Yes, the downsized are not all miserable bastards. In today’s largecorp environment making it to 54 without being tossed in the street is nothing short of a miracle. Of course, senior executives are an exception to the rule as they are usually so filthy rich they can say good-bye at 62 and enjoy their membership to the golf course, summer home, retirement compensation arrangements and endless vacations. If particularly well connected (as opposed to skilled) they will have snagged a consulting contract for a few more years and board positions with friendly executive pals.

Getting personal I will readily admit to the “Relief Factor”. I had finally escaped a stifling bureaucracy imposed by Felicity Poker. No more Library Committee, Computer Committee, Social Committee and Budget Committee. Most importantly no doughnuts and coffee early every Friday morning. Her pets were appointed to chair of these Committees but at least I was Vice-Chair of the powerful Library Committee. Wo hoo!

Speaking of relief, I was delighted to have been turfed before the Legal Department’s summer picnic which was being held at the Toronto Islands. I am sure like me the last thing you want to do is sacrifice your Saturday roasting weenies and jumping in potato sacks while Felicity Poker watched thinking what a solid department she had created. If there is anything I hate it is the corporation stealing my time on a week-end. The moral of the story is that there may be a silver lining in every cloud. At least I was saved from the idiotic picnic scheme designed by the Social Committee. 

Not to beat the Relief Factor to death I can relate to you the story of Ron who had worked in the department I had once worked in as a client relationship manager. Ron had 39 years of experience and was growing sick and tired of the differing waves of corporate ideology over the years that focussed on “corporate excellence”, “operational excellence” then “relationship management.”. Ron had it right. Make the client happy with good service while offering reasonable protection to CARP. It was as simple as that, but the Human Resources Department in conjunction with the Marketing Department had to be kept busy and worked to continually develop new corporate ideological standards to impose upon confused employees and it was becoming increasingly confusing and annoying for Ron. Ron wanted the “Blessed Event”. In fact, he was begging for it to be put out of his misery like a dog with rabies.

Ron had no debts, a retirement cottage and expected a large inheritance in the future. He was the first to call me at home after the Blessed Event hit me. He was royally pissed it had not been him! A word of advice. If you are seeking the ultimate relief of the Blessed Event don’t advertise you are looking for it. Word gets out and the SMT knows they might be able to buy you out with a cheap severance package or even worse let you sweat it out until you couldn’t stand it anymore and then you’d leave without largecorp having to pay a severance package.

It is natural after the Blessed Event to panic particularly about financial matters especially where you have a mortgage debt and a family to support. Could I manage these expenses and for how long? You just must manage the best you can and avoid the panic getting the better of you lest you face bouts of anxiety.

Insecurity will also gnaw away at you. Will you ever be employed again? I say have confidence in your abilities. You most likely had the correct technical skills but failed to successfully navigate the hidden culture of largecorp which was far less pleasant than what the Human Resources Department was telling you was necessary to succeed namely treachery and backstabbing.

I am sorry if you fell for the Human Resources Department’s party line that you as a worthy employee were worth listening to. Focus groups, employee surveys, open door policies, global inclusion and talent development. Follow the palaver and do an excellent job and you’ll have continual employment! Pipe dream. I’d like to encourage you by saying you did a good and honest job and never should have been turfed. The shareholders one day will realize that the SMT and Human Resources Department folks weren’t doing a decent job and they should have been terminated and not you.

I am trying to get you out of your termination rut by writing this book so you can discover yourself and feel as if you were a decent human being. I am doing this by attacking the pig heads than run largecorp and have temporarily ruined your life by turfing you.   

There is no need to be humiliated. Most of you are good hard-working employees that are the victims of hatred or of a downsizing, expense reduction or outsourcing programme that takes no hostages.

It’s awfully difficult not to be embarrassed when someone asks a turfed employee what they do for a living. The best advice I can give is to hold your head up high and give a well rehearsed line that due to a corporate restructuring you were “downsized” and are now taking the time to find a position that best suits your talent. Of course, my advice is worth shit as you will feel awful when asked this insensitive question You are a social leper. You have no choice but to live with it. Limp on to a greater future.

Now looking on the positive side remember that Andy Warhol once said that everyone would be famous for 5 minutes. Being turfed gave me a few minutes of fame as dazed colleagues said why in earth would a great employee like you be turfed? By the reactions of my colleagues, I realized I had become a watercooler hero raised to fame by the Blessed Event! The same day I was turfed 10 or so of my fellow employees took me out to several bars spewing their venom against CRAP. It becomes a heartwarming experience to have your colleagues say how much they appreciated your support with the SMT being referred to as poltroons and backstabbing double dealers. However, one can’t be honest for very long if one wants to survive in largecorp. You’ve gone and are quickly forgotten as your colleagues keep hoping for the next direct deposit of salary to be made. 

You may wish to jot down which colleagues and clients gave you a courtesy call after the Blessed Event. Not that you are petty or nasty but you may just want to keep track of who your friends are. You may wish to repay their insensitivity one day. Does the absence of a call denote an enemy? You be the judge. In some cases the calls may be sincere and encouraging while others are fishing expeditions trying to wheedle out juicy news to discuss over coffee with their friends.

Perhaps the nicest call I received after the Blessed Event was from legal counsel Tommy Bland who worked with a large U.S. automaker with operations in Canada. He was positively outraged about what had happened. Strangely some three months later I had to give him the same call as he too had been felled by the Blessed Event.

So, you have been a victim of a corporate hit. Keep your chin up and realize it is normal to be shocked, humiliated, angry and panic stricken. You did your job well but next time you are going to learn how to act better in the largecorp way which is to lie better and not mean what you say. You were just a bit slow to learn the survival game, but you are learning it now. All said and done you are in a better position today than you were in yesterday. It’s quite simple. Find yourself a new job and “repay” a few favours when the chance arises

Before you move on to pick up the pieces of your shattered corporate life there are few players acting in the Theatre of the Downsized that are going to appear on the stage. You have surfaced from the depths of the coal mine and are now in the sunshine. You can either be burnt or emerge with a glorious tan. Think of what’s to come as a little lotion to get you that nice tan.                                                                                                                     

Published by Robert K Sephen (CSW)

Robert K Stephen writes about food and drink, travel, and lifestyle issues. He is one of the few non-national writers to be certified as a wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators, in Washington, DC. Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. He also holds a Mindfulness Certification from the University of Leiden and the University of Toronto. Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he has established this publication. His motto is, "Have Story, Will Write."

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