I’m sitting inside the tiny office by myself, waiting to hear my fate. The manager, someone I chirrup hello to each day, greets me sheepishly, and eases into his chair. He confers quickly with the HR lady sotto voice, to find out if he is delivering me bad news, or good.
Although we have known each other for seven years, he has to read me out a formal letter, word for word. We all sit there, the manager, the HR lady and I, as he labours through the letter. I hear what we underlings have known for months, for years. That the organisation has over-spent, that we need to be more efficient, that 100 positions need to go before the books will balance again.
And then the one sentence that actually matters: Your position has been disestablished.
I have seen this coming for months. I work part-time, and remotely. If I were in the upper echelons, my role would appear as an anomaly on a spreadsheet, an outlier that could be crossed out with little thought.
And yet, I am devastated. I knew this moment was coming, I thought I was prepared for it. But somehow it’s different when it actually happens.The words come crashing over me, and I sit frozen. The manager looks up quickly to check I haven’t keeled over, and then valiantly forges ahead with the rest of the letter. The HR lady is looking at me with pity. My face has stopped responding to my frantic messages to look normal, and has set itself in an uncomfortable state halfway between a cringe and a smile. I suspect the end result borders more on rigor mortis than the calm facade I’m aiming for.
Finally, his job done, all three of us sit there, waiting for someone to break the silence. The manager offers me an uncomfortable, conciliatory smile. The kindly HR lady chirps up about all of the opportunities I can take advantage of—the counselling on offer, the workshops to update my CV. I nod frantically without really hearing what is being said, baring my teeth at them both in what I hope passes for a smile, and finally I can make my escape.
And here I am: standing on the precipice of my redundancy.
A mood of sadness descends over the office, as my colleagues emerge from their letter-reading sessions, red-eyed, white-faced. We are like the walking wounded; we pull each other into rooms to commiserate, to complain, to plot. And sometimes, we cry.
For months afterwards, I wake up in the middle of the night with my heart pounding, terrified that Manfriend is going to break up with me. I have to turn on the light to check that he’s still there, breathing in and out next to me. I test his sanity with my newfound insecurities, waking him up each day to neurotic questions about whether he still wants to be with me, whether we can live on less money. During the days I am secure and happy, but at night my subconscious taunts me: If I can lose my job, what else can be taken from me?
Through all of this, I beat myself up about how upset I am. I feel guilty when I confide in my friends and family about my uncertain future. I know that I am one of the “lucky ones”—I have my PhD to carry on with. I don’t have kids, I don’t have a mortgage—I have nothing to complain about. But each morning, I wake up with a pain in my chest, and it won’t go away.
The only experience I can liken it to is someone breaking up with me before I have got around to breaking up with them. I know that this is the best thing for both parties, but the shock of the final blow casts me into a panic. Instead of taking it on the chin, I find myself clinging to my job for dear life. I think over all the projects I have worked on, the people I have met, the work that I won’t get to do. In meetings, I vacillate between despair that I won’t be part of the company’s future, and Machiavellian glee of what will happen when I’m not around. Rationally, I know that my redundancy is nothing personal. But some days, it feels like the company has chosen teams, and I’m the one who wasn’t picked.
I become practiced at telling my kindly but uncomfortable colleagues that my job didn’t make it through the Hunger Games. I spin my story so many times that I briefly consider sending out an official memo, to save us all the embarrassment.
And then finally, I am given my written notice and I know when I will officially cease to be employed. The date of my final day makes me laugh out loud: the 4th of July. And now that my own personal independence day is in sight, there is a sudden shift. A weight is lifted from my shoulders. My nightmares stop. I count the days I have left. I make grand plans for what I want to finish before I leave for good. I go to farewell after farewell, until finally it is mine. I tell my colleagues how proud I am of the team we built, the work that we have done. I say my goodbyes.
By the time my Independence Day comes, I find that I am looking forward to the great unknown. I am ready to go. I log out, I hand in my access card. As I walk out of the office for the last time, I check to see that no one is looking, and I tentatively raise a hand for a Breakfast Club-style fist pump. And then I don’t work there any more.