Monthly Archives: January 2009

“You spent how much on bonuses and jets while your company was sinking?!” or “So THAT’S why I’m now living life laid off!”

by Mariam Williams

When a total of about 30,000 jobs were cut from various companies on Monday, my mother and I started wondering, are all these companies really as bad off as they say they are? Even before that number increased to over 100,000 by week’s end, we began to suspect something more sinister at work, that some of these companies are using the economy as an excuse to freeze wages for people they don’t want to pay; to conveniently drop some expenses; and maybe even to unload a few trouble makers here and there. While these companies may indeed be laying off workers in order to save money, they might not be doing it to keep their companies from completely going under. They may be getting rid of people just to see if they can still function without them and never have to open those positions again, thereby saving millions of dollars and justifying nearly $20 billion in bonuses as the company sinks. Wait, “saving” isn’t the right word for what they’re trying to do. Adding is it – adding to the bottom line.

That, of course, is a CEO’s job. I asked my best friend, my own personal triple masters degree and double PhD-having, business-owning, entrepreneurial guru and human encyclopedia, if he thought all of these companies were truly in dire straights. He said, and I paraphrase, “This is the problem with how the Republicans think. They believe that American workers will be saved by giving businesses money. But a good CEO doesn’t care about his workers. When I own a business, I’m in it for one reason only: to make money. That’s what a good CEO is supposed to be focused on. If he stops to consider how every financial decision he makes will affect his workers, he’s not cut out to be a CEO. Now no one likes to fire people, and you know when I had to lay off just four people, I was devastated. [Side bar: It’s true; I talked to my friend right before he sent out termination letters. It was almost as depressing as being laid off myself.] But a CEO’s responsibility is to himself and his shareholders. That’s why giving money to corporations won’t trickle down to benefit the workers.”

The CEO has a job to do, and as much as the nice ones would like to have it be so, that job is not to take care of the lower-level workers. I expressed to my mom a wish that there were some sort of federal mandate on just how much money a company had to be losing before layoffs became necessary. Only when a company is doing something illegal does it make every budget, every quarter, every year. Profit loss is part of business. It’s one of the ways you learn what not to do. But when profits are down one, two, even ten percent? In a multi-billion-dollar company, that’s equal to a number of zeros no one wants to think about, but it’s far from bankruptcy. So it should be far from layoffs too, right?

Well, maybe it would be, but there are these people called shareholders, this thing called free enterprise, and this other thing called greed. Not entrepreneurial spirit. Not I became a shareholder to grow my money, so yes, I want a profit, but I understand that the stock market is about long-term gains, and so I don’t worry too much when a company has a bad quarter or even four of them. Not I deserve a huge check with bonuses because everything about this company has been my idea and I take responsibility whether it succeeds or fails. Not I ain’t mad at cha – get yours because you worked hard and the boss should make way more than everybody else because being a CEO takes the kind of balls that not everyone has. Not that. Just greed. The former allows you to see a larger picture, to ride out the storm, and to see the success of those you were privileged to be able to hire as measurements of your success. The latter leads you to spend federal bailout money on a new corporate jet or on your usual seven-figure bonus instead of on small business owners who are laying off workers because you won’t extend a line of credit for payroll. The former considers and mandates layoffs only as a last resort, after reevaluating their own business model to ensure survival. The latter jumps on to the layoff bandwagon for convenience, then overworks and underpays those who remain.

I told my best friend that most of the people making the decision to layoff thousands of their employees have probably never even seen them. He agreed; they were probably just a number, as I’m sure I was. The CEO who signed off on my pink slip had seen me twice in the 14 months I was there under his ownership. He knew me by my job title (which was incorrectly stated in my severance letter), my age (you can’t make it look like age discrimination), and my salary. Still, I may not have been laid off because of greed. I believe the corporate executives of my former employer were ambitious, perhaps overly so considering just how good the financial prospects looked when they purchased the company. If something looks too good to be true, it’s probably about to come to an end. They made budgets based on several years of our salespeople kicking the competition’s butt, and they expected to keep that pace. Then the economy fell apart, and those trying to keep their businesses afloat – and keep their employees – cut their advertising budget first. Since those in broadcasting don’t spend too much money to advertise themselves, they had to make some cuts in other places.  I truly believe they had done all that they could do.

So no, greed doesn’t come to mind in my own case. But that sinister question remains …

Do all these companies really need to make that many people live their lives laid off?

© Mariam Williams, aka The Pink-Slipped Girl, and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mariam Williams and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off or http://livinglifelaidoff.com, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Any use and/or duplication of any photo contained within this blog without express and written permission from Mariam Williams is strictly prohibited.

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Seriously inconvenienced by the ice storm? Then you know a little bit about living life laid off.

"Everything is so white"

"Everything is so white"

by Mariam Williams

If you’re fortunate enough to have electricity, you’ve seen my state on the news. Snow, rain, sleet, ice, and more snow have blanketed the state of Kentucky, wreaking havoc on our roads, homes, natural scenery, and daily routines. At last count – the last time I called Louisville Gas & Electric’s power outage hotline for an updated recording – over 200,000 households were without electricity. LG&E has given us an estimate of 7 to 10 days before electricity is fully restored. Displaced families are depending on kind neighbors, friends, extended family, emergency shelters, and hotels for warmth and a touch of comfort. Stately oaks and maples bearing the weight of snow and ice now more closely resemble weeping willows, their sad branches still threatening cars, power lines, and roofs, even though the precipitation is over. Children have been out of school since Tuesday and will be out for the rest of the week, forcing those who otherwise would have been able to make it to work to stay home with their children or to find other childcare alternatives.

Even my mom took an extra day off from work today to help take care of me; she drove me back to my dark, frigid apartment to pack a week’s worth of clothes and rescue the perishable food from the freezer. She made several trips back and forth from my third-floor apartment to the car parked about a quarter-mile away at a supermarket, then drove me back over the cleared roads to the icy streets in her neighborhood. My car remains trapped by a tree that fell across the entrance to the apartment complex yesterday morning before I could escape. A neighbor who was fortunate enough to have parked her car at the supermarket when she came in from her third-shift job drove me to my mother’s house yesterday.

I looked out of my mother’s kitchen window today and said, “Everything is so white.” On my drive around the corner to the neighborhood YMCA to use their Wi-Fi (mom’s ISP isn’t functioning), I observed the sky, the trees, the ground – all devoid of color, looking lifeless, a clear reminder that winter is upon us.

I’ve likened the whole situation to living life laid off. For most of those in the unemployment line, it’s a cold season. A seemingly strong fixture in workers’ lives that they depended on has fallen. The unemployed apply for jobs but run into dead ends. Many suddenly find themselves displaced, discovering that they really were just two paychecks away from losing their homes. The routine and lifestyle they built around their job are gone. Friendships built over months for some, years for others, and decades for more, disintegrate, and loneliness and sadness can set in. And just like when you go to flip on a light switch out of habit even when you know you don’t have electricity, the unemployed worker has to stop doing what he or she has been used to doing and make some serious adjustments.

Staying with my mom for an extended period of time for the second time in about four months (the first was during the Hurricane Ike residual wind storm that knocked my power out for eight days) has been an adjustment for me. It’s also reminded me that even though I said (in “Pinched,” Velocity, November 19, 2008 ) that she’d take me in if I’m still unemployed when the state checks expire in April, and I know she would, I don’t want it to come to that. I love my mother dearly, but we just live differently. She functions best in clutter and noise; I prefer a clean workspace and silence. She honestly believes she needs sweets every day, as if they occupy the widest space on the food pyramid instead of grains; I still worry about indulgences affecting my girlish figure. Whether she’s going to work or not, she wakes to watch the news for the top stories and weather at 6 a.m., goes through her private morning routine, then returns to the news by 6:45, at which time she also turns on the Tom Joyner Morning Show and alternates the volume on each of them as interesting stories come along. I prefer a 7 a.m. wake-up call, quiet time and private morning routine, and the Tom Joyner Morning Show without competition from Good Morning America. And let’s not get into how much I just like my own space, or how I dread leaving my own method of organization, or selling all the items I picked out and purchased to decorate my apartment according to my own style.

So I admit it: I’m concerned that I’ll be forced to go back to mom’s place for a while. “I’m afraid” might be more accurate, but I don’t like to think that or say it. I’m certain that if I operate in fear, I’ll end up taking a job, not staying in anything remotely related to my career aspirations, not enjoying my work, and going further and further away from my own long-term dreams. Perhaps at this point, or in April, I shouldn’t have dreams; I should grow up, face responsibility and just do what I gotta do.

But I’m not ready for that yet, and a framed sign on my mother’s living room wall, written in Latin and signed by the chancellor of my alma mater, is supposed to mean that I don’t have to accept just anything. At the last official count, holding a bachelors degree gave me an advantage over 64% of everyone applying for a job in Kentucky. Of course, no one is immune to the axe, and there’s a direct correlation between unemployment numbers and enrollment in adult education. But when God opens up an opportunity for me to return to work, I don’t believe he’s going to direct me to a retail store, an assembly line, or even back to an office that needs an assistant or someone on the same level. I appreciate those who think of me when they see a job opening, but I continue to look for jobs every week and to choose NOT to apply to those in which I have absolutely no interest. I promise I’m trying, but I’m holding out for something better too. After all, spring is only 50 days away.

I’ll try to remember that while I’m in the snow, and while I’m daily living life laid off.

© Mariam Williams, aka The Pink-Slipped Girl, and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mariam Williams and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off or http://livinglifelaidoff.com, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Any use and/or duplication of any photo contained within this blog without express and written permission from Mariam Williams is strictly prohibited.

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Living life laid off has changed some things

by Mariam Williams

Pink is a color that I wear quite well. It doesn’t look so hot on a piece of paper, but living life laid off isn’t so bad. (BTW – my termination letter wasn’t pink; it was white.)  Because my salary at my previous job was an insult to what someone with my education, talent, and work ethic should have been making, I had already learned how to live off of pennies. But a few things have changed:

  • Something I had to curtail before it even started: regular hair appointments. I wanted to become one of those get-my-hair-done-every-two-weeks women. That would be about $100 a month. Decided against that.
  • I spend more money on groceries now. I go through items like soap, toilet paper, and paper towels more quickly. I think I’m also instinctively stocking up on food because something in me tells me the unemployment checks will run out before I find a new job.
  • I’ve also become a coupon maniac, saving no less than $5 every time I go to the grocery store. The largest amount I’ve ever saved in coupons was about $15. It took the grocery bill down from $32 to $17. I think the coupon frenzy is my outlet for that uniquely womanly need to conquer the retail industry by finding the best possible sale price. Saving 75% on a shirt from Dillard’s would make me feel guilty. Saving 50% on groceries [that I don’t need] makes me feel practical.
  • I spend less on transportation. Instead of paying for gas and parking downtown, or bus fare when I didn’t want to bother with traffic or parking and when gas was over $4 a gallon, I only pay for gas, which is now down to around $1.80 a gallon. I also rarely drive more than 10 miles a day.
  • That 10 miles is round trip to the gym. It does kind of suck to not be within walking distance of the downtown YMCA anymore, but I do quite like Zumba classes at noon, and I don’t know what I’ll do without them when I go back to full-time work.
  • I give less money to my church, but there’s no real excuse for that one. My tithe has decreased because my gross income was cut in half. But since I’m not having taxes taken out of the unemployment checks, and I was making pennies before, I could make up the difference by giving to general offering and probably still not go broke.
  • I’ve learned to like cold, inside my apartment. The thermostat hovers around 65 degrees. I stay in one room – the office, also the smallest room in the house – and let an amazing little heater work its magic. I think it also saves me around $50 a month.

Monetarily, that’s how I’m living life laid off.

© Mariam Williams, aka The Pink-Slipped Girl, and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mariam Williams and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off or http://livinglifelaidoff.com, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Any use and/or duplication of any photo contained within this blog without express and written permission from Mariam Williams is strictly prohibited.

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Introducing the Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off

by Mariam Williams

Welcome to the Pink Slip Blog, where I give updates and insights on my transition into how I’m living now that I’m laid off.

I was laid off in October of 2008.  I’ve just now started blogging about it because, believe it or not, my jobless status wasn’t at the top of my mind.  There were several other topics I wanted to write about, all from such diverse subject areas that I thought I would have to start multiple blogs, or have one in which I was just rambling about whatever was on my mind.  I realize a lot of people do that, but lately, I’ve been into consistency and discipline.  And since I’ve been laid off for three months now, I feel like I’m more of an authority on this subject than any of the others I was going to write about.

Again, welcome to the Pink Slip Blog!  Please share with me and with others, especially those who are on team jobless, and keep coming back to see how I’m living life laid off!

© Mariam Williams, aka The Pink-Slipped Girl, and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mariam Williams and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off or http://livinglifelaidoff.com, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Any use and/or duplication of any photo contained within this blog without express and written permission from Mariam Williams is strictly prohibited.

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