Loyalty and Layoffs

I wanna talk to the fulltimers in the audience today. Huddle up close, gang. This is going to be a tough one. To paraphrase my close personal friend Blaise Pascal, “I write you a long letter because I’m too damn angry to write you a short one.”

But first, let’s start with a happy memory.

DATELINE: Summer 2002

I was happy on the DigiStar team at Evans & Sutherland. I was working at one of the premier graphics companies in the world. Does your team have its own movie theater? We had our own frickin’ planetarium. My teammates were brilliant and great to work with. I’d been promised a fat bonus–about a month’s pay–if I could finish the core of the control system UI in under 12 months, and I was a couple months ahead of schedule–in fact I pretty much already had it in the bag if you didn’t count UI polish and the odd bug or two turned up by QA. Plus did I mention we had our own frickin’ planetarium?

I logged into my computer that morning and there was a message from Jim Oyler, President and CEO, telling all of us that though we were losing still more “team members” today, that he knew he could count on “the rest of the family” to be brave and take up the slack. I was bummed to find out that the company had let more people go, but I was really happy at my job and sure, I’d be glad to help Jim Oyler, President and CEO, take up the slack.

“Hey Dave,” came the voice of Neil, my boss’ boss, from the entrance to my cubicle. “Can I talk to you in the conference room?”

“Sure–” I said, as I turned around and spied the huge stack of papers in Neil’s hand, the topmost sheet of which was boldly titled Exit Checklist.

“Aw, crap, Neil! I’m getting laid off?!?” I blurted out.

We were in a cube farm. Neil had the good grace to look around sheepishly, and in a low voice said, “Yeah. I’m sorry, man. Can we go talk in the conference room?”

“Dang it…” I said, more quietly. “This was the best job I’ve ever had. Yeah, let’s go.”

So just like that, out of the blue, the best job I’d ever had was over with no warning. Neil started the exit interview with “This came down from over my head. I can’t tell you how upset I am about this. Terence (Neil’s boss, our VP) specifically named you because your piece is finished.”

I joked about failing “to commit job security in the code”. Neil laughed, and as we went through the checklist it started to hit me how much I was going to miss everyone on the team. I started on the DigiStar team on Monday, September 10th, 2001–and we had all bonded the next morning as we watched the 9/11 attacks play out on the news. I don’t know if these people were “family” but they were close to me.

The blow was softened by my getting a ridiculous severance package–all my vacation days paid out in cash before I walked out the door that day, plus six weeks of severance pay–all after just 18 months at the company! We’d had 2 rounds of layoffs before in my stint there, and I knew the policy was 1 week of severance per year of employment, so I wasn’t about to argue. As I walked back to my desk to clean it out, my team lead stopped by to tell me that I had her to thank for the severance package.

“I told them they had to pay you your bonus or I’d quit. Legal said that we can’t give a performance bonus and lay someone off at the same time. I told them that you getting laid off was bullshit in the first place, and they agreed to round up your second year and convert your bonus into a month’s extra severance.”

Janet was an amazing team lead. She was a wicked smart programmer but also had a killer instinct for office politics. (In fact, she told me on my first day to do my best to “stay off Terence’s radar”, because he had a nasty habit of laying off contractors and new people.) She also had my psyche dialed in perfectly, and broke me out of my impostor syndrome in my first (and, it would turn out, only) performance review by saying: “The thing that makes you unique on this team is that more than anybody else here you really love this shit. I mean, I go home and read a book, and I can tell you go home and write more code. You are the only employee I have ever managed that I think could get away with giving me a snow job. You could straight up tell me you spent the last two weeks dewarbling the frobblebats in the compiler and I would believe you.”

“Seriously?” I asked.

“Seriously. But don’t ever try it or I will fire your ass.”

I loved Janet, but I also feared her. I also respected her and would go to the mat for her in a heartbeat. I didn’t understand for years later that this was because she regularly went to the mat for her teammates, and when she did, she almost always won. I was too young to really understand how much political capital Janet had just laid on the line for me–a soon-to-be ex-employee that she would probably never see again–but even still I was deeply moved by the gesture.

They could have frogmarched me out of the building, given me squat, and told me I had to like it. Instead, they gave me generous severance, outplacement counseling, free admission to a really good jobhunting seminar, and best of all they let me take all day to clean out my desk and say my goodbyes. I took them up on the offer. It was 4:45pm when I finally walked out the door to go pick up my last check from HR. They had to fish it out of the mail drop because everyone else in the layoff had cleared out before noon, so HR had assumed I must not have come in to work that day and probably didn’t know I’d been laid off.

It didn’t really hit me for about a week that I’d just been screwed out of the best job I’d ever had by an accountant who couldn’t keep the company books straight and an executive team who couldn’t steer the company in any straight direction, let alone a viable one. And that I’d sat at my desk and silently eaten up every word of propaganda spewed out of the mouth of Jim Oyler, President and CEO, about being brave, taking up the slack, and most sickening of all, of “being a family”.

Meanwhile, Back in the Present…

Fast forward to today. A former client of mine held an all-hands meeting today to announce that they had lost their primary revenue stream and that the business was no longer a going concern. As a result, for all 400+ employees of the company, today would be their last day. There would be no severance package. They would not be receiving their last paycheck today, but at the regular payroll time when the accounting department–which was also now unemployed–could be bothered to get around to it. The company had a “Paid Time Off” policy instead of a vacation policy, which is legalese for “we don’t have to pay out any vacation time when we let you go.” In short, 400 people got told they were out in the cold with nothing more than a creepy speech about being proud of what they’d accomplished. He even asked them to not say bad things about the company in the days ahead because it would cheapen and demean them all.

I really, really want to go off on a tangent about all the bad things I have to say about that company and its top management in particular. It wouldn’t cheapen the fine folks that worked there and believed in the company one whit. But I’m not going to, because believe it or not, I have something much more important to talk about right now.

Most of the (now ex-)employees of my (now very ex-)client are in a blind, terrified scramble right now because they made a critical career mistake: They put their loyalty in the company. They put so much loyalty into the company, in fact, that they stopped nurturing themselves and growing and building their careers as a separate entity apart from the company. This was not entirely their fault; the company aggressively encouraged this. But let me be perfectly clear: that was straight-up pure evil.

Loyalty to a Corporation is SICK.

Being struck from the rolls at Evans & Sutherland out of the blue permanently broke me of any notion of job security, but more importantly it broke me of the concept of loyalty to a corporation. I’d been freelancing on and off for a decade, but after that day I went hardcore.

As a freelancer I occasionally experience friction with the full-time employees over tribal identity issues. I get called a mercenary. I’m told I’m not loyal. They say I’m not a company man, a patriot, a true believer. My point is that it gets made known to me, in many ways and forms, that I may work there, but I am NOT “part of the family”. Well, let’s get two things straight right now:

  1. You’re goddamn right I’m not
  2. And neither are you, you dumb shit

A corporation is not a living creature. It has no soul. It has no heart. It has no feelings. It can neither experience towards you nor enjoy from you even the concept of loyalty. It is a legal fiction, and it exists for one purpose only: to make profit. If you assist in this goal in the long term, your ongoing association with the organization is facilitated. If you detract from it consistently, you will be cut. Family is “where they have to take you in no matter what you’ve done.” A corporation is… well, it’s sort of the exact opposite of this.

Being loyal to a corporation is sick. It is genuine madness.

But Isn’t Loyalty a Good Thing?

Sure it is! Just be careful where you place it.

We Have an Awesome CEO…

No! Bad peon! No career enlightenment for you! The CEO of your company is a paid sociopath. I mean that in the nicest way possible, of course, but it is literally their actual job description to place the interests of a soulless legal fiction over the needs and desires of living, breathing, human beings with actual feelings. He or she probably isn’t inherently evil. But if they can find a way to make the company 100% more profitable by firing you, they have to do it. That is exactly what their job is. They are the chief stewards of an intangible set of legal rules comprising an attempt to get money.

I’ve worked with some genuinely charismatic CEO’s, and it’s hard to not feel loyal to them. And that’s okay! I am totally fine with you being loyal to another person! But seriously, out of everybody at your company, the CEO is your worst possible choice. If they don’t fire you when they should, they can be held liable for incompetence by the board of directors. And well they should! Because the board of directors are the circle of acolytes gathered around the altar of the soulless legal fiction, and if the soulless legal fiction needs your blood to survive, the circle makes sure the CEO doesn’t flinch from the knife.

So before you give your loyalty to a CEO, ask yourself this one critical question: would this person still have my respect and admiration if they fired me?

I’ve only been in that situation once, and I thought about it beforehand, and the answer was yes, and the answer is still yes. I would go back to work for him a heartbeat. Though I’m not sure he’d have me back, come to think of it, because I engineered my own termination at that company… and that wasn’t even in like the top five weirdest things that happened between us.

So, yes. You can be loyal to a CEO. But be loyal to them as a person, not as a position, because the day will come when you have to part ways, and it will break your heart how easy it is for your CEO.


What About Being Loyal to The Team?

I’m just gonna say it: Nope.

Surprised? Haven’t you been listening?

Your team is just another organization, a concept, an ideogram on an org chart. The Team is just a story you tell yourself about the collection of people that work in the same room as you. It’s just another fiction. Ask yourself this question: if the CEO replaced everyone on The Team with incompetent nephews (important: their incompetent nephews, not yours; I can see how that would complicate the issue), would your loyalty to The Team remain undimmed when the servers go down at 11pm on a Friday night?

The people that work in the same room as you are real. It is totally okay to love them. In fact, I encourage it! Be loyal to them! Go to the mat for them. But for heaven’s sake, don’t be loyal to “The Team”.

For the buzzword bingo players out there: you are “a team player” if you love your teammates and show them love and loyalty. But anybody claiming to have loyalty to “The Team” is engaging in office politics.

What About Loyalty to the Project?

Um. Let me get back to you on this one. I’m on a good rant here and I want to say no but my pants will just outright burst into flames if I do.

I fall in love with projects. My wife says I get married to them. For hundreds upon hundreds of nights she has known the loneliness of an empty bed as I toil the night away on the latest hot young project to catch my eye, so I guess she’s qualified to make that judgment.

You know, I was about to take this all the way to an adultery metaphor but I’m going to stop here instead and just say it’s probably bad for your relationship. I would tell you not to fall in love with a project but I’ve tried six times and I just can’t do it without making dreamy eyes.

But again, that’s love. Not loyalty. I might discount my rates to work on a really amazing project, but would I charge less because I felt I owed it to the project? Not a cent.

Be Loyal to One Person: You.

I guess I should say “be loyal to one person at your work” because it’s totally fine to be loyal to your family, your friends, your neighbors, your favorite sportsball team, your fellow citizens, and a whole host of other people that for one reason or another, you love.

Be loyal to yourself. Or, if you prefer, be loyal to yourself first. Show your strongest allegiance there. I don’t mean conceit, and I don’t mean selfishness, and I don’t mean be a jerk to other people. You cannot know or show true love until you truly love–and by this I mean proactively care for–yourself.

So if the company wants you to work nights and weekends, you need to ask yourself right now if your job is worth it. If the answer is yes, great! Choose to work late. If it’s not, choose to stand up, grab your coat, and clock out. You’ll either still have a job in the morning, or you’ll have stopped putting off that hunt for a better job that you’ve been cheating yourself out of.

And if you’re not sure? If you’re sitting on the bubble, trying to decide? That little L-word is going to pop up. And when it does? You squash it. Loyalty to a corporation is madness, and any CEO worth their salt will try to get you to buy into it for exactly as long as it suits their needs to keep you around.

Own Your Career. Because This WILL Happen To You.

Your career is yours and yours alone, whether you want it to be or not. The sooner you own it, and take responsibility for all of the consequences of said ownership, the sooner you will find yourself creating your own safety from the corporate predators who pillage and destroy in service to the soulless legal fiction they call your master. Not their master, by the way. Yours.

Anybody who wants to relieve you of the hassles and responsibilities of owning your own career wants to shackle you to an oar. They want the exact opposite of what’s good for you. They want you to toil away blissfully for years–which you will do!–until one day the drumbeat stops. You’ll step out into the sun, blinking tears away in the brightness, and realize that the deck crew is gone, they’ve taken all the rations, pirates are attacking, the boat is sinking, and all you have to show for the last three years of rowing is a pair of sackcloth britches and a piece of rope to hold them up. They didn’t even let you take the time off to get your MCOR (Microciscoware Certified Oar Rower) so you don’t even have that to put on your resume. And also the piece of rope is technically company property so you need to leave that on the boat before you throw yourself to the sharks.


I’d like to think that if the soulless legal fiction at the heart of your company suddenly became sentient, it would also immediately grow a conscience and feel terrible about all the things it’s done and not just automatically be utterly evil.

But it’s not sentient, and it’s not even necessarily evil–as long as its business model isn’t predatory, immoral or illegal. It’s just a collection of rules put down on paper. It is a thing. And not even a physical thing. A real thing, yes, but not a tangible one. Just a logical construct, fit only for one purpose: acquiring profit.

Being loyal to that is mere insanity. But being loyal to that over yourself is sickness.

Please, choose right now: Get medicine. Own your self, and your career.

Start saving yourself.

174 thoughts on “Loyalty and Layoffs

  1. awax1217

    I understand fully. I use to teacher at the college level. I started to see the writing on the wall when students started to question accreditation issues. I then found out with a little researching that I was a small cog in a system that took advantage of my students. We were being used as carrot sticks to keep them in a college where if they graduated they still could not get a meaningful job. Finally I was fired. It hurt since I was there for seven years and I truly cared for my students. But I went home took a shower and felt cleaner. I then picked myself up and got another gig. In my case my ego was hurt. I did a great job, accolades up the wazzu, students for the most part thought highly of me and yet I was cut. Loyalty is a strange bedfellow.

    1. dbrady Post author

      That is such a great visual: “I went home took a shower and felt cleaner.” Uuuuugh, yes. I know exactly that feeling.

      Thank you!

    2. Stromm sarnac

      “It didn’t really hit me for about a week that I’d just been screwed out of the best job I’d ever”

      You weren’t screwed out of a job. You had no right to that job or any other, same as the rest of us.

      You were let to because the numbers didn’t work. Same as almost all of us who have been let go like that.

      Instead of burning bridges and showing future employers that they shouldn’t trust you either, you should have kept your mouth (fingers really) shut.

      1. dbrady Post author

        Thank you for this comment. I mean that sincerely. I found your post challenging at first–as I’m sure you intended–but then I found it interesting, so sure, I’ll take a moment to reply. First, let me say that this post was absolutely intended for you. You were–you are–my target audience. Secondly, yes, I wrote this post in anger, and though I don’t regret it I do recognize that I made a key error: I failed to clarify the difference between loyalty and trust, and this has led to a lot of reactions similar to yours. If I haven’t permanently lost you as a reader I hope you’ll take a moment to read Loyalty and Trust, but if you’re done with me and my last communication to you will be the email notification of this reply, let me say that I agree with you completely, and that we should show loyalty to our employers, but we should not trust them with our careers, because–as you say–nobody has a right to a job or any other.

        My reply to you got so long that I ended up posting it as an open letter. You can read the rest of it here: Loyalty and Daring, but if you choose not to then I thank you again and wish you all the best.

  2. moodsnmoments

    lovely and meaningful write-up – this is one of the biggest and most brutal truth. bingo, you have helped many people, including me. ‘Be Loyal to One Person: You.’ – superb!!!
    thanks for sharing and congratulations on being freshly pressed.

  3. dswidow

    I completely agree. Your job is not your life; it is a source of income. Do the best you can, but don’t ever confuse the loyalty that is owed family, friends and yourself with what is owed to your employer.

    1. dbrady Post author

      Sometimes it’s okay to love your job; but yeah. I once heard some great advice: “Make your first and greatest love your hobby, and your second greatest love your vocation. That way you’ll always have something better to come home to.” Unfortunately, I heard that great advice FAR too late for me. Computers and solving hard tech problems will always be my first and deepest love. As a result, I can’t help jumping in with both feet sometimes. But that’s okay. I’ve just learned that sometimes you have to jump OUT with both feet.


  4. Marsha in the D

    I escaped my full time job with my life and my benefits after watching 16 years of layoffs around me. I was always told I was on the bubble. The last years were not filled with loyalty or love. Don’t love something that can’t love you back.

  5. Maria M

    A great read, there were many times that I grimaced and thought, ‘that sounds like me’, during and before my layoff. I agree with your statement: Be Loyal to One Person: You.

    Luckily for me it was the best thing that happened to me, and I am now living for me ..and writing.

    1. dbrady Post author

      Awesome! Thank you for posting this. And if I may offer a piece of advice I failed to follow for a long time before this blog post ripped itself out of me: KEEP WRITING! KEEP WRITING KEEP WRITING! 🙂 Thank you again, and welcome.

  6. lucy

    Reblogged this on silverlining and commented:
    Wow, thanks for sharing this. It has given me a wake up call alright. I was recently made redundant from a job I loved and really believed I was part of a working ‘family’. My heart felt like it was literally broken and I went through a grieving process like someone close to me had died. I spent days crying when no one was around, in disbelief that I was laid off? I couldn’t get my head around it, especially when they had cared and helped me through some of the toughest years in my life. I had a goal to at least reach 10 years working with them in order to reach my long service leave, but mostly because I have never felt like I did towards a company I worked for like I did toward them. I know certain management that had to tell me were quite sorry it had come to this, but I was one of over 120 others that had to be told that day. I actually felt for the managers who had the unpleasant task of telling everyone and I even said ‘I don’t envy you right now, it must be the worst part of your job’. Reading your blog has made the penny drop for me, and my loyalty to the company was ridiculous. My loyalty was misdirected, but now I see the truth and am much better for it, so thanks again. Major reality check!!

    1. dbrady Post author

      Okay, first of all, welcome, and *hugggg*. Second of all… hang in there. I know EXACTLY that feel–even to the part where I sincerely told the headsman how sorry I was for how he must feel as I lay my head on the chopping block for him. UGH! I’ve been wondering which thing I needed to follow up on most, and this is it right here. Please stick around. Next post is for you. 🙂

      1. lucy

        Thanks for your warm welcome and **lots of hugs** right back at ya!!!
        I’m definitely going to hang in there. Coming across your blog was no coincidence. I think everything happens for a reason, it’s just that we don’t always know what that reason is until later. I can’t wait for your next instalment and feel very privileged it’s for me. Thank you again 😊

  7. neonspndx

    I’m curious how old you are. This kind of talk is “usually” reserved for Gen Y (which I’m a member of). Honestly – I couldn’t agree more. I was laid off from my first job out of college (6 years ago) after 10 months. I hated that job from day 1 so it worked out but I will say this… I started looking for a job on day 2 of my time there. I toiled with the idea of leaving. I wondered if the job I really wanted would ever come along. I was lost. I was confused. I thought Holy Crap do I have to come to this job everyday forever?!?! While I was busy ducking out of the office to head to interviews during lunch and trying desperately to find a new gig, my company was slowly going under due to 2008 conditions. Sometime 10 months into my start there, they laid most of the office off. I’ll never forget that day because I was 1) stunned 2) relieved 3) scared. I’ll never forget the director who started crying and said she was sorry that she was showing me such a poor example of office loyalty at my first job out of college. I said “yeah.” and walked out. I said goodbye to no one. I took nothing except my purse. I was in the building for less than 5 minutes after that. I walked out into the sunshine, I took a walk to Central Park, I called my family and 3 hours later was applying to new jobs. I think I learned many valuable lessons from that experience, one of the main ones being that NO it’s not about loyalty. And the fact that I’m in my 20s has nothing to do with that. The landscape of the business world has changed and my loyalty belongs to no one else but me.

    Thank you for writing this! Definitely made me think.

    1. dbrady Post author

      Wow. Thank you for sharing this. That first one’s tough. Getting through the bitterness to reach a more balanced state can be tricky.

      I’m in my early 40’s. I’m Gen X, but I came pretty late to the party so I have a pretty good mix of Gen Y traits as well. Like Gen X, I’ve actually SEEN a few adults win the “job for life” lottery, but more like Gen Y, I’ve never believed in it. Gen Y tends to believe that the JFL is a mythical creature. I know it was real, but I watched firsthand as it went extinct. Gen X, tends to feel eternally hopeful that the next job will be “the one”, then betrayed when it isn’t. I’ve made my peace with reality and found a set of loyalties that make me healthy, happy and productive–and believe it or not, very desirable to companies. Just not in the messed-up dysfunctional way they want. 🙂

      Thanks again!

      1. John E

        I’m on the GenX/GenY bubble myself (b.1969). My father worked for AT&T, and for a long time it was JFL. Great benefits, corporate paid move (twice), etc. Then one day AT&T decided it didn’t want to be in the business he was a part of (a move he made at corporate request) so they spun it off and sold it. Four years later he was laid off.

        Then again, I have a close friend who was laid off from a ministry…. wrap your head around THAT concept… :p

  8. bernasvibe

    This is an excellent must-read for Gen Y’ers..It IS just the way it is & enlightened Gen Y’ers are geared up and prepared for this..We co-raised our sons to always, always have a Plan B..And it better be a dang good one too! Job security doesn’t exist anymore..On all fronts and not just corporations..I like the term @ Own yourself /career. With the current trend of jobhopping for faster upward mobility = more money; that inofitself automatically sets the mindset of loyalty to self & loyalty to a company/business/corporation ONLY until a better deal comes along..I’ve co-raised sons who are on the brink of wielding PHDs & Masters ; taught them to get as educated as they could possibly endure…YET still that won’t buy them job security..Even the top CEO’s don’t have job security; if the company folds its all over for all. This is a VERY timely and excellent write! I even read alot of the comments that followed…2 thumbs UP & write ON

  9. blissluk

    Extremely powerful post with epic content! I am glad to have read this as it really touched me and made me aware to safe myself first before going blindly through this world. Thanks for your wisdom, David! We need more of that.

  10. Emilie Bee

    I’m a Milennial and I recently quit my first “real job”–a corporate desk job where all I did was work for the Man–after only 6 months. I knew right away that it wasn’t the job for me, but I felt like I was conforming to what my idea of a Successful Adult was by sitting in an office all day and with an ever-growing list of clients to take care of. In a way, I felt pressured to appreciate my job because like most people in my generation, I had previously been a highly-educated-but-underemployed college grad.

    I was miserable for the time I was there, but I felt like I was failing in some way if I quit, My work misery bled into my non-work life and my friends and family started referring to me as an Evil Twin of myself. The end (or the light at the end of the tunnel) came when I took a few days personal time and my job was calling me at all hours to deal with a crisis that i could do nothing about (I was over 300 miles away), I realized that it was NOT worth it. Instead of returning to my desk on Monday morning, I went in, turned in my computer, explained to my supervisor exactly what was wrong and kindly asked that they accept my resignation. They did. I walked out feeling like I could fly.

    Two months later I regret nothing. Only one of my friend’s parents told me that quitting was a bad idea: he said I was a failure who couldn’t hack it in the real world. I don’t see it that way; I was loyal to myself when it mattered and even though I’m living paycheck to paycheck now, I’m so much happier.

    1. dbrady Post author

      AWESOME. Thank you for sharing this!

      I hesitate to comment on the families of people I’ve only just met, but even if your friend’s dad was motivated out of fear for you being unemployed, to move from actions, saying “you shouldn’t have quit”, to character, saying “you are a failure”… that’s dirty pool. In my opinion–which is almost completely uninformed aside from that one sentence, but I’m entitled to it anyway AND I’m going to foist it on you right now whether you like it or not–what was I saying? Oh yeah. In my opinion, you’re right and he’s wrong. Totally.

      Never let that loyalty to yourself go. Especially now that you’re living paycheck to paycheck, now is the time to network and build your skills so you can move on and move up, either inside the company you’re at now, or by leaving for an better opportunity someday.

      Thanks again and good luck!

  11. Vanp

    What do you mean by “loyalty to a company?” Does it mean – whole-heartedly working on a project? Do you basically want to differentiate between what one “really” wants to do vs what one actually does in a job? Don’t you think things can overlap at times? Or it might be simply bad luck for you to get fired because you really loved the job but things really didn’t work out for you at that organization?

    1. dbrady Post author

      Good questions! Loyalty means allegiance, which often entails making sacrifices. Having that kind of loyalty towards a company isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I definitely think that doing your best work on a project is the only ethical thing you can do if you have chosen to cash the paychecks the company is giving you.

      I’m working on a followup post to clarify this, but the bottom line is that yes, you can love your job and even your company–I have frequently (and recently) “chosen to stay late” when asked to by a company because I felt the job was worth it–but don’t stop investing in yourself. To do so is to make yourself vulnerable to betrayal by an entity that does not have a concept of “trust”.


  12. Peter

    Nice read. three major careers in my life. Military: Involuntary. Medical: Parental impetus. Education: Self directed. On the first day of teaching I said when this stops being fun I will quit; eighteen years later I did. Love what you work, build yourself, don’t be afraid to leave when the fun stops.

  13. ablog4mymuse

    The title alone drew me in, and I am SO glad I stayed & read it to the very end. I’m going to try to not go all War & Peace lengthy here, but be warned: I love to write.

    I was laid off from my job of 13 years in 2009..huge, global finance company in corporate America..my first REAL job after being a single, unemployed, stay-at-home mom. There’s a lot of back story there, but I think I just figured out what my opening blog will be! So anyway, I was an administrative assistant, and I really LIKED my job & the people I worked with (and for). So even though I knew there were layoffs going on all around me, each time the office grapevine revealed that someone else in such-and-such a department had been released, my co-workers & I would breathe that long, pent-up breath that we still had OUR jobs.

    Until that Monday morning when I walked in, put my purse in its spot, hit the computer’s power button and went to get my usual glass of cold water. I was logging in to the network when my phone rang. It was HR. I didn’t think anything was out of the ordinary because I had been applying for a new position in Technology, so i was expecting some really good news on the status of that.

    Long story short..I entered HR’s office, had a seat…and basically felt like the floor — no, not just the rug, the entire floor — was being yanked out from under me when I heard the words “You know our company has been experiencing some economical setbacks..I’m sorry to say that effectively immediately, you are relieved of your services with Global Company X.” There was more talk about severance, benefits, alumni perks..the whole shpeel..but I don’t even know what half of it was. I wasn’t escorted out, but I couldn’t go back to my desk either. My purse & my jacket were brought upstairs to me, and a waiting company-paid-for cab took me home. A couple of days later, my personal effects from my desk were delivered to my home by the same office courier I had signed my initials for office deliveries.

    I called the director that I supported (she was travelling on business; I called her cell phone), and she was shocked (downright pissed, I think) that she hadn’t been told anything about my pending layoff. And when I spoke to other AA friends, that was the general consensus throughout the office. Everyone thought I was on vacation! They had no idea that I had joined the ranks of the “involuntarily unemployed” because, after all, I had been with them for THIRTEEN YEARS!!

    So fast forwarding, I was unemployed for 16 months. I didn’t immediately look for another job ‘cuz well..I was still getting a direct deposit of my pay from Global Company X. I went on a couple of trips to visit family that had already been paid for prior to that day. I moved to a state I swore I’d never live in again once I left, but family obligations overrode that. I enrolled in community college, got my Associates degree in Business Office Technology & Administration (it helped that I had a ton of transferable credits from previous stints in college, but I wanted a piece of paper to show I had the book knowledge as well as the hands’ on knowledge of being a kick’ass administrative/executive assistant). I completely, totally despise the job I’m doing now (under-utilizing my skills once again with ZERO chance of advancement but hey..it pays the bills!)..the above comment from neonspndx actually reads parallel to how I feel about my current job (detested it from Day 1, was looking for another job on Day 2)..LOL — and still looking, I’ve been on a score of interviews, but I keep getting the same old ‘thanks for your interest, but we went with someone else’ rejection letter. I have another interview next Wednesday which I almost said to hell with it & ignored, but my butt-kicking back-patters (aka my closest friends) wouldn’t let me & encouraged me to call the personnel dept back & schedule. So I went online yesterday, made some adjustments to my online application (I had my salary listed as $40K minimum..I dropped it to $36K ‘cuz I figure no matter what, the state that I’m living in — even for a government job — is NOT going to meet the former..college degree or not).

    1. dbrady Post author

      Wow. Thank you for sharing this. I’m glad you had some severance and a safety net to help you get to school to get that degree. I tried that route, but I ran out safety net first (after I ran out of ritalin, heh–formal schooling and I just don’t mix).

      I definitely think you’ve got your first blog post right here if you choose to start blogging! (I would caution you to be careful that your opinion of your current job doesn’t get back to your current employer, though.) Either way, it can be a blessing to hate your job–it teaches you the exact kind of loyalty I’m promoting here: do your job and earn your pay, but never stop building your skills and investing in yourself! Note that making friends and building your professional network DEFINITELY counts as “investing in yourself”! In fact I would say that’s the #1 thing people should do whether they’re employed or not. Also, if you haven’t read “What Color Is Your Parachute?”, I recommend it.

      Thanks again and good luck!

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  15. J Roycroft

    I learned the hard way. My life lesson after getting let go from a job of 22 years with the same company is this…Consider every job opportunity as a temporary position. Never again will I assume I will retire from any company. At 52 years old, I was fortunate enough to land a better paying job after 4 weeks of searching.
    Congrats on winning the FP lottery.

    1. dbrady Post author

      Hehe, LOL @ “the FP lottery”. My WP stats show that it’s more of a “warm fuzzy” than a landslide of visitors. But still, it did feel nice. 🙂

      I totally agree with your thinking. One of the things I think about when interviewing for a position is that someday, sooner or later, I will be back in this office having an exit interview with this person. It’s a bit chilling to think, but on the whole I think it makes me more productive because I think about whether or not I’ve earned my pay a lot more often than I would if I felt (delusionally) that I was a more permanent fixture of the company.


  16. janni518

    Thanks for this. I sent it on to my hubby. He was laid off about 10 years ago by a company that didn’t treat him well, and is now in danger of being let go of a company that he really likes. Not for poor job performance but because some spineless idiot anonymously whined about their boss, who works under my husband. My husband, who is the most open approachable boss on the planet… Okay I’m getting off topic and ranty…so anyway…

    We were young and naive the last time and believed if you worked hard and were loyal and bought into all the company culture bull, all would be well. After all, they said we were a family. It felt like a stab to the heart and we have only just gotten past the financial ramifications.

    This time, we are strategizing, reviewing, and basically looking out for ourselves. We can’t live on words and he is high up enough in the company that he knows exactly how this plays out. This is not to say he isn’t doing his damnedest for his company and his team, he is, but at least this time we are realistic about being being loyal to a company that may not be loyal to us.

    So, we said no thanks to the Kool-Aid and bought a nice summer ale and a bottle of merlot. Took them out on the deck and started making a contingency plan. Hopefully, it will be for nothing, but I wanted to say thanks for speaking out and telling like it truly is. Wish someone had taken us aside and done the same thing 10 years ago. We had to learn the hard way.

    1. dbrady Post author

      Thank you so much for posting this. I hate that you had to learn the lesson the hard way first, but it sounds like your husband is seeing what’s coming a lot earlier as a direct result; that’s a small blessing at least 🙂 . I’ve gotten a lot of feedback on this post about what kind of loyalty SHOULD we have to a company and a team, and this sounds like the perfect example–do your best but don’t close your eyes to reality.

      Out here we have an old saying: “If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear.” Hopefully you can steer clear of the worst, but if you can’t, you’re prepared for it. I wish you all the best, and hope that your preparations turn out to be unnecessary.


  17. Mama Duck

    This is such a great blog that I stumbled upon while I am struggling with loyalty to the collective “me” vs. my corporation.

    I work for a Fortune 500 company and have so for the past 7 years. A year and a half ago, I accepted a promotion and relocated my family across the country to go from a field based role to a corporate role. To say we are miserable is an understatement. My significant other cannot find work, we have no community, and are genuinely unhappy.

    When I accepted the promotion, I received a relocation package. I am currently seeking to find a new career in our home state. My concern is having to repay 50% of the relo package which they might make me do if I leave prior to 2 years being done.

    Unfortunately, our unhappiness makes the next 6 months unbearable. I have started seeking other career opportunities and if something opens I will have to take it instead of waiting and hoping to find something in the next 6 months.

    Sorry for the rambling, this is just an issue I am currently dealing with personally and professionally. Although I will never be irresponsible with my future, my career, and my family, I have to do right by whats the most important thing in my life: my family and me.

    Mama Duck

    1. dbrady Post author

      Thank you for writing this. I’m a “rambler” myself, and I appreciate what you’ve shared. It stinks that your life is, as you put it, “unbearable” right now, but I am excited for you that you have chosen to take ownership of it. Sometimes the only way past a problem is to hit it straight on and plow through the middle of it. You’ve got a lot of maybes up in the air right now–maybe the job search will take up the six months, maybe you can explain that it’s not working out and talk them into letting you out of the relo payback, maybe you’ll land a job next week and buy yourself out of bondage. The good part is that you’re “hustling while you wait” and that you’re prepared for all of your options, even the bad ones.

      Good luck, and thank you again.

  18. Scotch Jameson

    I remember reading Emerson’s Self-Reliance back in high school and the part I remember most is how he says you should be able to do anything with yourself, any career, anything to keep going. I’ve been a student, a teacher, an editor, a writer, an “HR” person, a pizza delivery guy, etc., all full time careers I never really envisioned myself in at all. And NONE of these career paths, let alone companies or so-called teams, every gave me any loyalty. A lot of heartache, a couple nervous breakdowns, and a few prescription pills and therapists. Now I’m waking up a little and it hurts. But I’m trying to turn it into the kind of pain you feel after hitting the gym. I’m learning new things, staying consistent in what I care about, and setting goals so that I can truly be myself by being self-reliant and self-sufficient. What a climb ahead, but I’m excited.

    Thanks for the clear message here.

    1. dbrady Post author

      I love that phrase. “I’m trying to turn it into the kind of pain you feel after hitting the gym.”

      Thanks, and I wish you luck!

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  20. rodneymbliss

    I hate you now, you know.


    Did we have the “Company Loyalty Only Goes One Way” talk?

    Dang, I thought I could write. Even if Howard signal boosts me, I don’t get this kind of response.

    I’d reblog this, but I’m afraid I’d lose half my readership, all 15 or 16 of them!

    1. dbrady Post author

      Also: thank you kindly. For what it’s worth, I envy your daily production rate. I haven’t had a response like this since Vista: So Beautiful, So Disturbing. When I realized that this post was lightning striking twice, I had a REALLY hard time writing a followup. I kept worrying that I couldn’t write a viral piece a third time. Then I remembered your blog, and realized that I don’t have control over a piece going viral. I only have control over my output. Your Wisconsin series had me on the edge of my seat all week, and that played a big part in my ability to sit down and write “Loyalty and the Headsman”. It’s nowhere near as good as this post, and it’s getting a commensurate response, but it’s OUT there, and it wouldn’t be but for your blog. So, thank you!

    2. dbrady Post author

      Last thought: InsectPOD had about 25 readers for the first six months, and that was even with Howard signal boosting me twice. Hang in there–you’ve found your voice. The organic growth will come.

      1. rodneymbliss

        I did reblog this, of course. I just wish I’d written it. Thanks for the encouragement. Personally I think I’m still searching for my voice. My normal fare is the leadership stuff, but when I do a series, like Wisconsin, or before that, the Leaving WordPerfect series, I get much better response. But, I don’t know if it’s because the format is better, or if it’s because it represents a slight change of pace and that’s interesting.

        If every week was like last week I think my readers might get exhausted. I know I would. So, for now I do it every couple of months and fill in the mean time with the “day trading” where you’re out at the end of the day with no investments carried over to the next day.

        The next week-long series will be my career at RESMARK, from us spinning off the company from Agile to Brandon spinning me off.

        Look for it around November.

        Thanks for the encouragement. Glad I could help inspire you.

        We should get together for lunch this week. I might be headed to Seattle soon for long commutes.


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    1. dbrady Post author

      I hear you. I was pretty cynical for a while, and made some “career limiting statements” out of that bitterness. It took a long time for me to work through it to a better place that I like to think of as pragmatism. Now I think having a clear vision of the legal and financial machinery–as just machinery, rather than some kind of deity–can actually make you a better employee than those who proudly wear the loyalty badge.

      I did kind of go through this really weird spot for a while, though, where I felt like the little boy in The Emperor’s New Clothes. But I got through it and now I can usually keep a straight face unless somebody offers me stock options. 🙂


  22. David Crews

    Stumbled across this post and was cheering you on all the way. I have a similar story to others here, having worked as a broadcast television director, producer, and production manager for one of the largest cable companies for a very long run of 24 straight years. During all that time, I knew all of this about not being loyal to the company! I even often reminded my co-worker friends (carefully, of course) not to trust or be loyal to the corporation, for It has no soul and only one interest: money. It was still hard to believe, though, after that long of a run, that the company would pull every trick it could to “get rid” of me! I had become older, held more seniority which cost them more (5 weeks paid vacation, etc.), and our group had been moved under a new department and boss who did not understand what I and my co-workers jobs actually entailed. I was 53 years old.

    The HR departments [Human Resources = tools the company uses until they decide to toss them] at these huge corporations are evil geniuses at what they do. They masterfully arranged things so that I could not sue them for age discrimination or anything else. Attorneys I consulted said there was no way to bring anything against them. These huge corporations hold almost all the cards and the “little guy” has very slim chances of winning any leverage.

    I was lucky. I got out with some “temporary disability” pay over six months time. Shocked as I was, I used the time off and those funds to sell my house and use the equity to buy my own production gear and a new place to live in and work from. Many of my old agency clients followed me into My Own Business, which is the only way to go for me. I’m almost 59 now and will never be truly hire-able nor really wish to be hired by another company or corporation. Now, as I transition my video business down and my writing business (finishing my first science-fiction novel) up, I have no desire to ever yoke myself to another money machine that is not ME.

    This all sounds easy. Just quit and start your own business, eh? It was sheer terror for me. I’m a creative introvert and have trouble making myself even call anyone about business. But, I made it work well enough to survive, and that is the first priority. After that and from now on, I intend to follow Carlos Casteneda’s advice and continue to “follow a path with heart.”

    1. dbrady Post author

      That. Is. Awesome.

      As somebody still struggling for stability in your process ten years later, I would say it sounds “simple”, which is not the same thing as “easy”. I’m glad you got lucky AND that you took the opportunity to create safety for yourself. If not a place to land, then a new pair of wings.

      Thank you!

  23. Kasturi

    I’m fresh out of college and very very new in the corporate world. Joined my first job 3 months back. An I’m so glad I read your post this early in my career. You are bang on in your message. Do I like my job-absolutely yes. Its challenging, and opportunities for innovation are aplenty. But the reason I work hard is because I can’t see myself as a mediocre performer. It gives me personal satisfaction to know that I stand out in the work I do compared to my peers. But does that mean I think the organisation will go out on a limb to ensure that my performance will translate into solid job security. I don’t. The work I do is first and foremost, for my personal gain, to hone and expand my skill set, to learn. I’m sure of this now, after reading your post.
    Thanks for sharing!

    1. dbrady Post author

      Thanks! I think you’ve got a bright future ahead. Most people have to go through the grief cycle to get to the balanced resolution you’re at. 🙂

      Good luck and thanks for commenting!

  24. greatredwoman

    This just makes so much sense! Thanks for sharing your experience.

    My dad was always one who worked until 7pm, came in before 7 am. Worked his hardest and then he was laid off at age 56. He was a deer in headlights, frozen in shock, unable to comprehend that ‘they’ could do this to him.

    He did get another job out of state 4 months later. He lived out his time there until retirement. He enjoyed his new job, but no more extraordinary hours that he had never been paid for. He did a great job and then headed out the door at 5pm.

    He learned a difficult life lesson and he told me exactly what you told me..

    1. dbrady Post author

      Ouch. I hear you. It’s crazy to think of all those hours, added up over the years, lost like that. I’m glad he was able to recover and pass on the lesson.

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  28. Russell DeLong

    While I would definitely agree that people shouldn’t be letting too much dust settle on their personal portfolios, and they should be keeping all their certs current and expanding on them to be as ready as they can for a worst-case, I don’t agree that all companies are faceless or that your team is “just another organization” or “just another fiction”.

    Professional integrity, and just being good at your job, almost always requires you to strive to work well within a team no matter who the members are. A big part of your professional competence is measured in the ability to work well with a team, or even build them up. To the author’s question, if I had to work with that “team of nephews”, I’d try to coach, teach and empower them to support those servers. That would help the organization (the “nephews” would be working better for the company), it would help me (by gaining a reputation for building team members, which is a powerful trait to be known for in any work environment), and it would help those nephews (they’d be gaining skills in server support and increasing their professional value). So “team loyalty”, or working to help team members no matter who they might be, or what organization you happen to be working for at any given time, is a win/win/win for all parties involved. It’s not unlike a sports team where the all-star player might play for a new team every season, but he still wants to pass the ball around to have a reputation as a good team builder, and not just a solo superstar.

    So… depending on how you define loyalty I would say that professional integrity requires it, and it actually is in your personal best interest to demonstrate it. Even at an organizational level, while on that company’s time you should have its best interests at heart in any decision you make, if for no other reason than because having a reputation of “just working for your pay cheque” makes you a less valuable prospect, and that attitute does show.

    Another aspect of this is that work is a large percentage of life. What do you want to accomplish with it? If you’re working in a field you like, and you’re working on a project you actually want to produce for the world, that drive alone should motivate you to work for and with whatever team you are given as best you can, in order to accomplish that end goal. There have been many times I would put in extra hours, not for pay but just to do a better job for the end-user, because those end users were a community, a school, a hospital, etc., that I just wanted to do a good job for. Right now I’m working to deliver a great service to compete in a monopolized industry, so I can meaningfully improve end-user rates and even the standard of living across a country. Would you really want to be known as a ‘gun for hire’ who worked for a pay cheque? What do you want your epitaph to be? This article speaks of loyalty to one’s self, but never speaks of happiness or purpose.

    1. dbrady Post author

      Thank you for writing this. I definitely need to write a post detailing what I consider to be “good loyalty”. You’ve defined it pretty well here, actually. What you’re calling personal integrity is a large part of what I mean by the good kind of loyalty, with the remainder largely being “doing your duty”. Whether I am hourly or salaried, if I have that sense of duty and integrity, I find my work brings me happiness, and I find myself seeking out teams and companies that have good people in them. Without that duty or integrity, hourly versus salary still doesn’t matter; you’re still just marking time.

      I agree wholeheartedly with your entire message; I think we’re in “violent agreement” here. 🙂 Being loyal to yourself first doesn’t imply being disloyal to your work; in fact quite the opposite. If you stop eating, pretty soon your body will not support your pursuits. And once you HAVE eaten, you can bring your best self to the work in return.

      Thanks again!

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  30. Heidi Pungartnik (@aShocka18)

    I’ve had this opinion for a long time and actually have thought that I’m unethical for not feeling loyalty or affiliation to my job and clients so I tried forcing it, but it fortunately never really worked. I especially enjoyed the relateable part about falling in love with a project. Thanks!

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  34. Zack

    The first time this was posted on Hacker News I’ll admit I just skimmed it. I thought it was pretty well written, but on the whole, I was naive enough to think that it didn’t actually apply to me, but that radically changed about a week ago, and this article was the first thing I thought of.

    I work for about as small a company as you possibly can. Including myself, the entire company is 4 people. My desk is next to the CEOs. The “team” regularly would go out for lunches together, which I (now embarrassingly) thought was because we were all friends.

    I continued to be loyal for years in spite of better offers because I liked the work environment, I liked the CEO, and I thought what we were doing was cool. We didn’t have a planetarium, but it didn’t matter, as we had a good “culture.”

    However, one day a team member, out of nowhere, up and left. We were now a three person company. And the CEO gave a rousing speech about being lean, and how operating with reduced numbers is actually good — it fits with our “philosophy” and will encourage us to develop tools which make work easier.

    So we were 3. Oh captain, my Captain! For the sake of brevity, I’ll spare all the details, but of course, taking on the work of another person meant falling behind, which meant working weekends and days off, and which ultimately meant not taking a vacation for over two years.

    A week ago, burned out, exhausted, and needing a break. I went to the CEO, and explained that I’ve been running at 100% for this company for 2 years since the employee left. I haven’t taken a vacation in that time, and its just no longer physically sustainable — that I just need to take some time off to collect myself. I thought, as a “friend,” he would be in agreement. Hell, I even thought he would encourage it after all the blood and sweat I send launching products — everything I had done for “the family.” However, the response I received was the polar opposite, and it snapped me into the reality that regardless of a company’s size, it is still a company, and I am a cog in it.

    My request for a vacation was met with a callous and degrading speech about “the team” and how I shouldn’t take one now as it’s not good for “the company,” and even went so far as to try to dictate the duration I should be allowed to take (“no more than three days”). It was in that moment that this article popped into my head and I realized just how correct it is.

    So, I just wanted to say thank you for writing it. I will read it every time the “L” word, or, god forbid, “the team!” slips into my thinking. It’s because of this post that I’ve realized it’s time to move on. It’s indeed time for me to grab my coat and clock out.

    1. dbrady Post author

      Ouch… but then awesome. 🙂 I glad for you, and I hope you land something that brings back the fulfillment for you. Good luck!

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