Loyalty and the Headsman

When I wrote Loyalty and Layoffs, I knew it was mostly a post about what loyalty shouldn’t be, and I wanted to follow it with a post about what loyalty should be at a company. But then Lucy over at silverlining13.com wrote this reply:

“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’.”

— Lucy at silverlining13.com

And I realized that loyalty, and boundaries, and jobhunting, and all the other things I wanted to follow up with needed to take a back seat for a couple of posts. I ended my last post with the words “Get medicine. Start saving yourself.” My next post is about the medicine; right now I want to talk about the Headsman.

First I want to say that I’ve been in Lucy’s shoes. (They pinch; I’m not cut out for heels.) I have actually told two managers that I felt worse for them than I felt for myself.

I can’t advise Lucy on whether or not saying that was good or bad. I know the first time I said it, I was so invested in the company and the team that I really did feel like I was apologizing to the headsman for making him swing the axe on my own neck. It didn’t occur to me for years that this was not a healthy approach to my own self-interest.

The second time, though, was just a few years ago. I’d been freelancing for years by that time, and I’d accepted a full-time job working with an old friend. While I was there, I worked hard and became good friends with our manager, but I never stopped working on my safety net. I didn’t know where I would go if I got laid off, but I knew I had a hundred doors to knock on, so I was utterly unafraid of that prospect. When the day came that half our team got laid off, and I got included in the list, I gave my manager a sincere hug and said “It’s been a great run. I’m not happy to be going, but don’t worry about me. Today’s going to suck a lot more for you than for me. I’ll have another job before quitting time today. And tomorrow you have to start fishing everybody’s morale out of the gutter.”

So, Lucy, I don’t know if your loyalty was healthy or unhealthy, but the affection you had for your coworkers and managers is beautiful. That’s the right kind of loyalty. We love the people we work with, and losing them triggers real grief. I think that’s healthy and wonderful and utterly human.

I can’t bring myself to call that wrong.

Next week I’ll talk about the medicine.

11 thoughts on “Loyalty and the Headsman

  1. sarah louise

    I’m in the middle of a bad situation that just got a little bit better but the line you wrote: “We love the people we work with, and losing them triggers real grief” is so true. Thank you for this post and the last one. I’ll be back to read more.


  2. Jim Grey

    I’m a tester. I was cut once, by a Director of QA. I had no safety net; I was in a panic. I have a safety net now, though it needs to be bigger.

    Now I’m Director of QA, and am sure one day I’ll do the cutting. I only hope those I cut have their own safety nets.

    1. dbrady Post author

      It’s great that you’ve moved to the other side without immediately forgetting what it was like to be on the receiving end. I hope you never have to do cutting, but I also hope you are able to encourage your crew to build their nets. (Not telling you how to do you job, mind.) At the end of the day we all have to make (and own) our own choices.


      1. Jim Grey

        I do, actually. A focus of mine since moving into management is never, ever to forget the realities of doing the actual work. So far, given how often people come to work for me again at company next, I must be doing all right at that.

  3. rodneymbliss

    I’ve been on both sides. And I’ve done the free fall without a safety net. Nothing quite so scary. My last job I had for 5 years, but lived my life as if each day at work might be my last. When the layoffs were announced it was disappointing and life got more difficult, but I managed to avoid that feeling of falling out of control.

    1. dbrady Post author

      (So, for the rest of the readers, you and I have known each other since 2005.) I was there for the Wisconsin ordeal. You on the phone after your last gig was a much calmer and empowered you than the you I talked to right after Wisconsin. Life is crazy, but if we’re lucky we get wiser. You, my friend, are definitely much the wiser. I hate the way life chose to teach you, but I stand in awe of the man who learned the lesson.

  4. Mac Sims

    Yeah, I remember that day. I was a little surprised that our HR gal was more upset than I was. I was glad they fulfilled their bonus commitments to us. I had a new job within a few days.

  5. lucy

    Thank you for your latest post. I can’t make myself feel that it’s wrong either, when it’s just the way I feel. BUT, reading your post Loyalty and Layoffs was exactly what I needed to read and your timing was absolutely perfect. I’m still slightly in shock from losing my job, and then coming across your blog just made my jaw drop as I read each word. I had never even really considered that my loyalty to the company was ridiculous, but these particular words on your blog page screamed at me the most when you wrote:

    “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 a profit”.

    So imagine this, I was sitting in my partners prime mover as we were heading north (yep, he’s a truck driver), and I decided to sit in the front and give him some room while he went to sleep in the bunk. There isn’t much room for two people in the bunk and he needs a good rest more than I, seeing as he is the driver and all. Anyway, there I was sitting in the drivers seat with my iPad on my lap when I stumbled across your words of wisdom. I couldn’t believe it…that was no coincidence. Far from it. I don’t know what you’d call it, except that it was perfect for me and exactly what I needed.
    Makes me wonder why all of life’s lessons cant be like that…in a perfect world!! Thanks again dbrady, I’ll never forget your words and where I was when the lightning bolt hit 😊

    1. dbrady Post author

      Thank you kindly; I am very glad. When I first wrote it, and before I clicked “Post”, I remember thinking “Sure, I really needed to say this. But… does anybody really need to hear it?” (Trust me, most of the stuff I write, I need to ask that question!) I’m glad I didn’t listen to that voice. Thanks again.

  6. lucy

    Thank god you didn’t listen to that voice, and I hope you never do. There will always be someone who needs to hear it…or read it.


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