Empty Cubicles

The day started off as drab and tedious as any other. Then:

“Can I see you in the empty office, please? Right Now?

When the company’s Chief Operating Officer utters those words without looking you square in the eye, it’s not usually a good sign; more so when his office is on another floor, he shows his face three times a year and usually only gets involved in the daily lives of the grunt staff when there’s bad news.

I’d been in this situation once before, back in 2006, while working my second and final financial administration job in Calgary, during my first expat experience.  I’d been hired by a manager  whose office was mysteriously vacated two weeks after my start date with no explanation given. Somehow, the company kept me on for a year even though I felt like a temp. Kind of like that Seinfeld episode where George works  on “The Pensky File”.

Perhaps the worst financial institution in Canada where I wasted one year

Perhaps the worst financial institution in Canada where I wasted one year

Two weeks after enjoying a generous 10% raise, they took me into an office and handed me a paper explaining my dismissal due to some lame excuse like “not communicating well with department staff”. All I had to do was sign a non disclosure agreement agreeing to keep my mouth shut ( I had no idea about what). In exchange for my signature, they handed me a check for $8,000 Canadian Dollars, and was promptly ushered out a side exit I’d never seen. They sent me a box with my stuff via messenger the next day. Good bye.

This time it was different. The current plan had both Diane and I working about five more years before attempting an early retirement. Paying off a house in the Land of Utopia called Northern California requires a lot of paychecks and patience no matter how diligent you are. So I was moderately concerned during that 13 second walk from my small cubicle to the office that used to house the company CEO (they forced him out two years ago).

stepford wife

The woman from Human Resources Woman looked kind of like her

Inside  the office was the dreaded HR Woman from hell. I’d seen her before; A year earlier they demanded a written explanation of my medical disability (legally blind in one eye). I thought nothing of it since it’s protected under the American Disabilities Act and prevents me from being fired simply because I can’t work overtime (not an advantage in today’s world). But I did wonder why they waited four years to ask.

The Woman from Hell looked like one of The Stepford Wives, old and wrinkly with a face that looked possessed and fully subservient to the conservative Japanese owned conglomeration that was the parent company of my dinky little investment advisor. With no hesitation she blurted out her pitch about the company losing money, blah blah blah and handed me an enormous Separation Guide Packet in a folder that could have held two years worth of work.

Before I could even realize what was happening the big boss gave his rehearsed line of pure bullshit which is really a disclaimer disguised as pep talk with phrases like

  • “This is not a reflection of your performance”
  • “We appreciate your service and value the contributions you made”
  • “We’re screwing you over anyway because there is nothing you can do and we don’t give a shit”

He didn’t really say that last one but that’s what my brain digested.

This company actually devised a legal separation plan, similar to a retirement benefits document. It’s even governed by a trustee and has a board of directors. The incorporation date is January 1st, 2009, exactly 2 ½ months after the now infamous Lehman Brothers bankruptcy. Translation: They obviously expected to lay off thousands of workers over the next God knows how many years. Too bad nobody except The Stepford Wife woman is privy to this document. I suspect it might deter some potential new hires.

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to receive severance or continuing pay, you’re probably familiar with the document you have to sign agreeing to waive every legal right of American Habeas Corpus in exchange for said consideration. You can sue them for wrongful termination if you refuse to sign but then you don’t get the money.Nobody ever does.

My workplace from 9/15/08 through 11/1/13 - five years of trudge and sludge.

The Old Office

So I agreed not to do anything remotely related to denouncing, degrading, defacing, or any other form of bad corporate behavior in exchange for 14 weeks full pay, my 2013 bonus, the annual profit-sharing payable to my 401k and a bunch of outplacement counseling that any normal person would consider demeaning.

And it gets better. In addition to the conditions set forth below, they then tell you that you MUST continue working until the last business day of the year or give up all separation consideration. What normal company wants a terminated employee moping around for two months? Not to mention an obvious lack of knowledge that today’s working generation potentially has enough hackers to bring a Fortune 500 company to its knees as a spiteful act of revenge.

Fortunately, my immediate manager agreed to a commuted sentence effective five weeks from that day. I’d be free to enjoy December with full pay without working. Yippee.

Not once did the CEO look me in the face. Then he told me to take the rest of the day off. And my manager proceeded to do my entire month-end task of tedious duties over the weekend from her home computer. That’s pretty much it. I walked to the elevator and left.

Embarcadero Station: where I exited the BART train at 5:30 AM every day for five years

Embarcadero Station: where I exited the BART train at 5:30 AM every day for five years

The finality sinks in once you get on the commuter train at lunch time with the derelicts, service workers with odd schedules, senior citizens who shop in the city and students that take one class per semester. I called Diane immediately because I didn’t  really know what else to do. We didn’t say much because we both knew layoffs were imminent and the odds of me being motivated enough to go through the exercise of feigning enthusiasm for another  job I’ll probably hate are zero to none.

And so began the Great Early Retirement Experiment. Thanks to age and current income requirements of the MM2H visa, this meant a minimum of 17 months of semi-retirement  for me, continuous work for Diane, living on one salary and a very long transitional period. But as I write this, work is a distant memory and I look forward to populating the blog with interesting stories, pictures and experiences . One chapter closes and another opens up.

Next: What does one every weekday for 8 hours do in a middle class suburb?

5 thoughts on “Empty Cubicles

  1. Chris Warren

    If you have not seen the now-classic 1999 movie “Office Space,” go rent it or stream it or find it on YouTube…or somewhere. Right now. It is a comedy that includes a lot of the things you raise in your article and you sound like the kind of person who would enjoy it.

    I am one of the lucky few who is in a stable and secure position. It’s not because I’m so awesome, it’s due to a lot of luck and being in a personal situation that offers a lot of insulation against the effects of job loss.

    But I do have several friends and relatives who are not so fortunate. It bothers me that I’m not wealthy or well connected enough to do much to help them. I’ve even written about them on my own blog, with the goal of offering some comfort to people in their situation, of which there are many.

    I hope you land on your feet and see better days ahead.

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    1. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

      Hi Chris
      Thanks for the comment. I have seen that movie and yes it’s hilarious. As for my situation, i knew it was a matter of time anyway so didn’t really surprise me that much. It’s the lines of bullshit this generation is asked to believe by government jobs reports that pretend the U.S. Fake economy based solely on credit and over extending is actually prospering. In reality the disparity graph is getting so huge we are about the same as Zimbabwe when it comes to the division of wealth. Sadly most Americans don’t see this and are stuck with a media that does little to inform. Anyway just my two cents. Don’t care anymore but writing this post helped vent my feelings at the time. I suppose time heals all and if you do the right thing and have enough of a stash and savings it shouldn’t matter anyway

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  2. Meredith

    Reblogged this on Covey View and commented:
    Rob’s blog, Empty Cubicles, is full of meaning because I watched an old (2009) film, Up In The Air with George Clooney. I heard some of the same phrases and saw the flimsy packet in which he (
    George) claimed spelled out the future as a dynasty builder for the person being let go. I wanted to be an expat a few years back because of the deplorable conditions politicians had brought down on our heads. 3 solid reasons that it wasn’t feasible for me:
    1. Health
    2. Age
    3. Money.

    Like

    Reply
  3. Meredith

    This was full of meaning just because I watched an old (2009) film, Up In The Air with George Clooney. I heard some of the same phrase and saw the flimsy packet in which he claimed lay your future as a dynasty builder. I wanted to be an expat a few years back because of the deplorable conditions politicians had brought down on our heads. 3 solid reasons it wasn’t feasible for me:
    1. Health
    2. Age
    3. Money.
    I’ll follow you with interest and best wishes.

    Like

    Reply

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