I’ve now worked for two companies that lease several floors in an office tower. Some employees use the building’s elevator to move between floors. I get the impression it’s not unusual to also have a fancy internal staircase, which fits the company’s interior decoration scheme and might be used by staff and accompanied visitors/clients alike. My favourite means of getting around a multi-floor office is via a fire escape stairwell. They’re quiet, almost always empty, and using them gives me the feeling of being a Downton Abbey-esque servant, making the operation run but being invisible (in a good, efficient cog-in-the-machine way – not in a self-devaluing feeling-underappreciated way).
The First Last Steps
As an assertive pedestrian who doesn’t shy away from stairs, I used the fire escape stairwell to quickly and efficiently reach the HR Manager’s office on the afternoon of January 11th, 2017. The HR Manager was there. As was the head of my department, looking small in one of the two chairs on the “visitor’s side” of the desk. I was invited to close the door and sit.
I was confused. Next, I was simply and meticulously informed, effective immediately, that I had been terminated. Then, I slowly went completely numb as I was read through my severance package and the next steps of the process. I nodded and was pleasant. In total shock. The head of my department picked up on the fact that I couldn’t wrap my head around the word “terminated” in combination with “without cause”. I was carefully told I was not part of the new direction in which the department was going. There were more technical details regarding my termination. A surgical extraction. Perfectly impersonal. Chilling and professional.
I was told to go back to my desk, get my backpack and coat, and to return to the HR Manager’s office to be escorted to the elevator, where I would relinquish my access card – not speaking to any of my coworkers throughout those steps. The personal items at my workstation would be collected by someone else for pick-up on another day. My computer had been remotely disabled as soon as I had arrived for the meeting, so any personal files would need to be identified off the top of my head for transfer onto a USB key which I’d be picking up with my personal items.
I did as I was told, using the fire escape stairs in both directions. Back to my desk, back to HR. Swift. Invisible. I returned so quickly that my department head hadn’t had the chance to leave and was surprised.
Escorted to the elevator. And I was out.
I sent messages to the people I wanted to tell.
I made plans to be normal. It was a Wednesday. Wednesday is new comic book day. I would pick up my comics as usual.
It was over. Almost five years, several of which had been spent trying to create a feeling of unity, as mentioned previously. Everyone was going in a new direction without me. And I wasn’t permitted to say any goodbyes.
Some of them reached out, afterwards, with their shock. And, long after that, I would realize that the relative change for them in work environment was minor. They’d lost one of their coworkers. I’d lost all of my coworkers. My need for some sort of resolution or closure was much greater. But I’d never really get it.
Months later, I heard about more terminations and reached out to those people in whose shoes it was easy to put myself. But, by that point, I was a different person with a different perspective on my professional path.
The Flightpath of the Ideator, if you will. We’ll get there together. But for now…