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Rated: E · Chapter · Experience · #1097217
A moment in time during the downsizing process.
The Dreaded “D” Word

It was the summer of ’95 and while the office staff had gotten smaller, those of us that still had jobs were thankful. Over the years, the company had often announced that business plans were not working as expected and in order to compensate and subsequently meet the overall objective, staffing would have to be reduced. As for myself, I had made it through many such occasions. At this point in time, I had twenty-four and one half years with the organization and my goal was to reach thirty. If I could just make it through the next couple of staff reductions, should they occur, I could retire with full benefits instead of having to settle for a reduced benefit package.

The office grapevine usually heard of changes that were going to take place before management actually announced them. It was happening again! Before long, all types of rumors were floating throughout the office. Rumors ranged from the simple to the more acute type. A simple rumor, albeit a serious one, was that only a few rating clerks were going to be let go (it is much easier to get a rating job than it is an underwriting job). The more acute rumor was that the office would be closed completely and most of the staff would be out of work. I say most because a few (for example, the branch office manager) would be offered jobs in other offices. In addition to the Florida location, the company had offices in Atlanta, Houston, and North Carolina.

In the past, the office would get back to normal, whatever normal was, almost immediately after the downsizing took place. Then there would be no change or reduction in staff for at least three years. But lately, changes such as these were occurring every eighteen months. It was evident that the rumors were having an effect on the office staff. Productivity was down and stress levels were up. When rumors such as these begin, they are like a festering sore. They do not heal or get better until they are treated. Unfortunately, the treatment would be to learn exactly what was happening, when it would take place, who and how many people would be affected (lose their job).

Management needed to bite the bullet, so to speak, and be frank with the staff. Is the office closing? Was it just a few employees being let go? When will the changes be made? The shame of it all was that many of the current staff, both professional and clerical, had uprooted their families from other parts of the country to relocate to this office just a few years earlier. Relocation was the only means of keeping their job and is usually the main reason most employees agree to be transferred. Being moved about the country was considered part of the job (for the professionals) and went with the territory. Individuals that were adventurous usually jumped at the chance to see another part of the country. Not everyone enjoys cold weather, snow, and ice in the wintertime. Just the thought of moving from, say, Chicago, Seattle, or Connecticut to places like Houston, Atlanta, or Florida, was reason enough to relocate. What was not part of that scenario was being laid off so soon after agreeing to being transferred to a different locale. At one time this office boasted that it employed 300 people. However, that number was about to change very quickly. Before long, the office began existing with what appeared to be a “skeleton” crew, meaning just enough employees to keep the office open and get the job done.

Management finally announced that the rumors were true. The office was not closing. Some employees would be laid-off. The lay-offs would take place within the next forty-five days or less. It was also indicated that assistance would be provided to the professionals (underwriters and managers) in the form of guidance by a firm hired by the company to help those individuals being displaced figure out what it is they want to do at this crossroad in their life. If they wanted to stay in the insurance industry, help would be provided to assist the employee update his or her resume and also show them how to prepare for interviews with prospective employers (some of us old timers haven’t interviewed for a job in a long time). Believe it or not, it has been said that when on an interview, the person conducting the interview usually makes his or her decision (in their mind, not to the prospective employee) within the first three minutes of the interview.

I must have a guardian angel watching over me because over the years I have been fortunate and not one of the individuals being displaced by the company. Having gone through this process myself as a manager, one begins to understand the complicated mechanics behind a plan to reduce staff. In all fairness to the “down-sizing process”, I must admit that quite a bit of thought and discussion takes place when determining who goes and who stays. It is a very hard decision managers must face when deciding who they consider capable enough to get the job done as well as explaining to those being laid-off why they are not being retained instead of their colleagues. It is not an easy row to hoe when deciding the fate of employees during this process.

Speaking for myself, I can think of several reasons why I have been retained over the years and not chosen as one to be laid off. First and foremost, I would like to think that the length of my service to the company counts for something. Attaining the coveted CPCU designation along with several other professional designations probably worked in my favor as well. Finally, and at times I sometimes think this is the real reason, I may have always been in the right place at the right time or “I was just plain lucky.” Will I be as lucky this time around?

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