I guess it could have been worse

Look, I’m not out to vilify anyone. I’ve been having trouble sleeping since Friday and emotions are warring within me. What better way to get over and move beyond than to get it all out there. Right?

I’m not naming names for several reasons. If you can put two and two and possibly another two together, then you’ll know what’s up and with whom. If not, well, it’s better that way. Trust me.

On Friday I was laid off from a company for which I’ve worked the past four years. No, not the nice kind of laid off. Also, not the Get out! You’re fired! kind of laid off. A middle ground kind of laid off. A “we just don’t feel like this is a relationship we want to continue pursuing, no hard feelings, it’s best for both of us” kind of laid off. And the truth is, yeah, it probably is a good thing. I mean, had I had the energy to find a better job before now I might have given them the finger on my way out the door, well, before now. I feel relieved that I am free from them without having just stormed out irresponsibly. I’m also bitter that I didn’t get to give them the “fuck you” kind of glorious resignation I’ve dreamed about for the past four years. Yes. The past four years.

I hated that place from the day I started. Hold up, I’ll get to that. I loved the work, actually. When I was able to do what I was best at, I was able to shine and help clients get what they wanted and what they deserved. I made some great friends there. The company is really lucky to have some of the employees they do have. I don’t think they fully realize the caliber of talent they have working there. And look, maybe I was not always Teacher’s Pet, girl scout, Super-employee. In my defense the corporate atmosphere and executive attitude was and is not the most nurturing, inspiring or welcoming.

When I started the QA department had just been upgraded from part-time college students working for peanuts into an actual department (albeit a tiny, tiny part of Production/Operations) with full-time employees. All two of us. I was the first. A week later another QA started. And for somewhere around a year (honestly I block most of those memories out) there were only two of us. I’m not going into detail about what my previous employer does. All you need to know is that I have worked in the translation and localization industry since 2000. For a while I was a star. The bosses were impressed with what I was able to do. I hated it. The first week, or possibly the second, the last remaining part-time college student was yelled at, driven to tears, by one of the owners. She was fired shortly thereafter. Not long after that another employee was fired the day she returned from vacation. Turnover was high. Those that weren’t let go left with good reason. In fact, I think that more people worked there and were fired and/or quit over my tenure than the company actually employs now. Less than ten people that started before me are still there, including both of the owners.

There was such an overwhelming sense of fear in that office. The existing employees were reluctant to become friendly with the new employees. I don’t blame them. They took shelter in commiserating with each other. No one invited me out to lunch for months. Did I mention I was underpaid? The industry isn’t known for paying well, but even by those standards they were offering the bare minimum. And I came in with several years of experience. The position was “entry-level.” So every day at lunch I would sit in the stairwell, call my husband and cry. No. Seriously.

Why did I stay? I moved to Minnesota with my husband so he could have his dream job. I worked completely freelance for the first year. It was good. And then it was stressful. And then I was working constantly just to pay bills. I needed a steady paycheck and paid vacation. This was the only job I’d been able to land after looking for a year and a half.

After a while the other employees started to open up. I got to be one of the ones sharing the misery. I made some friends. My husband and I decided to start a family. I decided to suck it up and stick it out until I could get through maternity leave, at which time we’d see what we could do. So I did. And exactly one month before I was supposed to go on maternity leave – one month before my son was due – the company, which is owned by two women with several children each, decided to get rid of their one month of paid maternity leave policy. Coincidence? Well, we’ll get to that. It should be pointed out that I worked at a small company. Less than fifty employees. Which means that under US law they do not have to adhere to FMLA (the Family Medical Leave Act that gives a person up to twelve weeks of maternity leave). State law, under which the company does fall, only mandates six weeks of maternity leave. As far as I’m aware, there isn’t a state in the US that requires paid maternity leave. So, no laws broken there. Still. Dick move.

After my maternity leave was up I decided to become a freelancer for the company. They were exploring options and trying out work-from-home and contract employees. And I took it because I didn’t want to be away from my son. Besides, I was still physically recovering from childbirth after six weeks.

The week my son was to turn one month old my husband was laid off. His was a “the company doesn’t have the money to pay everyone” kind of laid off. He went on unemployment and began a year-long search for a new job. His brother and girlfriend moved in with us to make ends meet. I started going crazy. The yelling and fighting with my husband every day kind of crazy. So I did the only thing I could. I asked my employer if I could come back to the office. This time I wanted an increase in pay and more responsibility. So, six months after my son was born I returned to full-time employment as a team lead. And for a year I worked my ass off to give that company the best. I wanted to grow and improve the department. Short of working overtime (new baby, remember?), I did my best. I created new policies and procedures. I provided training to most of the employees. I dealt directly with the bosses whenever problems arose with our projects. I worked on maintaining ISO compliance. I researched industry standards and innovations. I was really proud of the work I’d done for them.

There were efforts to improve morale. We had company get-togethers and team building exercises. The executives made promises, determined to have a positive work environment. Things were fun for a while. Really, it was all a ruse. Or maybe it’s just cyclical and that’s how the world works. Work was like an abusive boyfriend. Things would go well and then something would go wrong. Occasionally we’d have a big issue that would slip through and a client would come back and complain and then the overreacting would start and maybe someone would get fired. Sometimes the issue was a real problem. Sometimes it was a misunderstanding on the client’s part or an actual error on their side and not ours. But management was always “shoot first, ask questions later.” Four years of Terrible. Then Not bad. Pretty good. Hell-hole. So-so. Kinda bad. Over and over again. The atmosphere would about-face every three to six months.

Remember that paid maternity leave they did away with before I was going to get it? Yeah. Three other employees have had children since I’d gone back to the office full-time. All within the same year. All three of them got that one month of paid maternity leave. All three of them.

And then the sour economy started to affect them in the pockets. They laid off some people, started coming down hard on project managers about their budgets. Had to offer clients steep discounts to keep them around. I had to help pick up the slack with actual projects in addition to my team lead duties. I had more and more complicated projects that sucked up a great deal of time. I no longer had the energy to research. To improve. I tried. At some point I was lectured over the amount of time I spent on the internet. Where I was researching those improvements and trends for my job. For the company. And so began the beginning of the end, I guess.

Projects with deadlines took priority over performance reviews and company mandated quarterly risk assessments. I fell behind. Suddenly I couldn’t work fast enough for everyone. At this point I was overseeing three full-time QA staff and one contractor. Even though everyone in the Production department was pitching in and still struggling to come in under budget and on time, my immediate supervisor got an assistant. She took over managing our desktop publishers when their manager moved on to better things, so it wasn’t completely unwarranted, but the rest of us agreed (and still do) that what was really needed was another skilled QA.

When it came time for my most recent annual employee performance review, many of my Team Lead duties were taken over by said supervisor so that I could free up my time to handle more projects. Business was going, but not at the rate upper management had hoped. They had to reevaluate the financial goals they were setting for themselves, which meant we all had to buckle down. I was essentially demoted (without having to take a cut in pay, thankfully) and expected to be happy about it. I still don’t know where she got the idea that I wasn’t ambitious considering I told her that I wanted to be QA Manager when I’d come back on full-time. Who knows. Place was rife with misunderstanding and miscommunication.

And then it was taking me too long to complete projects because I was too much of a perfectionist. No, seriously. We were supposed to be evaluating the quality of the work our contractors were returning to us. We were supposed to be holding them accountable. And I was let go because I couldn’t let go. I couldn’t return an inferior product. That’s the excuse. The real reason? Maybe because I was completely disillusioned with the company and just didn’t want to work anymore. Probably because they want to hire someone with no experience that they can pay next to nothing who will miss all of the errors that I used to fix for their clients so that everyone involved can claim ignorance.

I’m pissed. I feel undervalued and underappreciated. I feel neglected. But I also feel immense relief. Because that place devours souls. Go ahead. Find and ask anyone who used to work there. Go on.

In the meantime, I’m off to find better pastures. I know they’re out there.