Being relieved of a relationship or a job is a very sensitive, sticky transition that spouses and bosses generally try to handle delicately. But because of the awkwardness of the whole situation — and the fact that they basically can’t wait to get rid of you — the result is often a botched happening that leads to even more hurt feelings than there needed to be.
Everyone who’s ever dumped a loved one has, from the beginning of time, always said the very same thing: “It’s not you, it’s me.” What a lie! We’ve all said it, and we know it’s not really us that’s the problem. It’s them! If it wasn’t them, then we wouldn’t leave the relationship trying to find a new one with somebody else!
But the worst thing is when people don’t even bother to recite the old, “It’s not you …” routine in person. As anyone with any degree of civility knows, someone being shown the curb truly deserves a face-to-face recitation of this bull, not a fax, text, tweet, voicemail, postcard or Post-it. And it’s amazing how many people don’t seem to know that. I should tweet them!
But even stickier are all the messed-up cases of people being fired or laid off without any grace or finesse whatsoever. You can usually survive after a relationship, but a job is another thing, so firing can be a life-threatening scenario, one that spirals you into economic and emotional despair. And that makes the constant mishandling of it all the more egregious. As with the breakups, no one seems to want to just come out and blurt the truth. No one seems willing to enunciate the “duh” occasion that is going on here — “You’re fired” — though Donald Trump has pretty much made a career out of it. I guess they find it uncomfortable to have that kind of power in their hands, yet they’re assigned to do the task, so they fumble it with mixed messages. Instead of “Buh-bye,” there are euphemisms, write-arounds and evasions that pretty much let you know you’re out the door without actually saying so.
And again, the means of communication is all important. A friend of mine was horrified some years ago to get a voicemail message stating that one of her freelance jobs had reached a dead end. I agree that they should have asked her to call back and at least told her this ghastly news to her face. Otherwise, how would they assume she even got the message?
Whether by voicemail, e-mail, or in person, the most popular reason for letting someone go these days is, “Sorry, but we’ve decided to keep things in house.” In other words, “We’ve thought about it, and in this horrid economic climate, we started wondering why we were paying you to do this task when we could just pile it on to the absurd workload of some poor, bedraggled person we already happen to be paying.” I guess it makes sense, but it still hurts. (And it hurts for the bedraggled person, too, believe me.)
Years ago, an editor at a daily newspaper wouldn’t even tell me my weekly column wasn’t working for her, and it was totally kaput. Instead, she just skipped the opening salvo and said, “How about if we do two pieces a week for the same amount of money?”
More recently, my big layoff was handled like an execution, as if I had somehow been fired for cause. There were no niceties as they simply got down to business, assuring me that as of the next week, it was a complete termination. Oh, well. At least cutting out the small talk helped me deal with the reality and move on. But if someone’s being laid off, especially after a long, dedicated amount of time, a couple of niceties would be, well, nice.
Several years ago, another publication was downsizing in the face of economic realities and driving the writers crazy with the constant pay slashings. Every few months, we had to sign a contract stating that our pay was 25 percent less than it had been. And then another 25 percent and then another 25 percent. Pretty soon, there weren’t very much 25 percents left to slash. Sure enough, the magazine let go of all those writers and photographers, leaving us with a diminished check and a 100 percent bad taste in our mouths.
Mind you, if you’ve truly messed up, then I have no problem with an employer simply stating, “Take your paper clips, and get the fuck out of here.” But it’s more complicated when you’ve tried to fulfill your duties, but they just weren’t realistic. Two years ago, one popular site hired me to interview notables, wanting the subjects to then chime in with comments on the site when the piece went live. This proved to be impossible because it’s hard enough to get a major personage to give you an interview, let alone to log on a week later and answer nasty, anonymous commenters. It’s just too much of a commitment and too risky for them, though I admired the idea, and knew that in a better possible world, it would be killer. In this world, though, this was never going to work, so rather than wait for the inevitable decapitation, I nobly said I’d leave with my head held high and no hard feelings. Sometimes it’s good to exit a situation before you get the axe, filled with a glorious sense off — everybody now — “It’s not you, it’s me.”
But wait! I just got another proverbial pink slip! A nightlife commitment I had just came to an end, the boss saying they wanted to “mix things up” this year. OK, folks, from now on, let’s “mix things up” in a way that keeps me employed, please.
Michael Musto is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.