The Day HR Got Real #BRHRCarnival: It’s Business AND it’s Personal

Down here in the Red Stick there’s a few of us HR Bloggers who stand out as ladies in our field.  We’re ambitious, intelligent, and drink way too much… But in our moment of sober clarity we decided to all three of us post about our “Day HR Got Real.  Three real stories – from three perspectives.  Visit Robin Schooling at her blog HR Schoolhouse and Dominique Rodgers at HRGalFriday for their stories.  Here’s mine:

I stared at the words on the papers in front of me… I wasn’t really reading them so much as I was avoiding eye contact, but mostly avoiding the tears that were welling up in my eyes from falling down my cheeks… revealing my emotions at this moment.  Completely blind-sided, I was in shock.

“This has nothing to do with your work, Christine…” I heard my boss say, but most of what he said was a fog after I heard the words, “We’re eliminating your position…”

About 6 years ago, I started working for a national radio broadcasting company at a local market as the “Business Manager” (office administration, accounting, HR, etc.)  Only having done various office management roles at this point I was lucky to have landed the position that required a vast combination of accounting knowledge and HR experience.  With guidance and tutelage of some tenured Business Managers and a great Corporate office who helped me along the way I eventually filled into the role quite nicely.

In 2008 the economy took a nose-dive and that meant, for our publicly owned company, we had to start making cuts.  I had never participated, much less had to make decisions on terminations.  Many of my terminations up to this point were due to recklessness, insubordination, etc.  In my mind I never really felt bad or sorry for letting people go well – because they deserved it. It’s business, not personal.

Now, this was a different story.

Myself and my boss (the General Manager) had to come up with a list of people in various departments that we needed  to cut to be able to reduce payroll by a budgeted amount for the end of the year.  As we sat in  my office, with the door closed and hushed voices, we ran through scenario after scenario of operations for our market.

Would we do it in shifts? Or one big swoop of lay offs?  Who to let go? Will we meet the numbers and will we be able to operate on a skeleton crew? Do we let go of the most expensive people with the highest salaries or the new hires who weren’t quite as experienced?  As we ran through scenarios and came up with a group of names, Raynae was one that got picked.

She had been with the company for years, was a bright person with a wonderful attitude.  She was a Jehovah’s Witness who didn’t usually take holidays or her birthday off.  Due to her beliefs at one point in time she was in a  coma because she couldn’t accept blood transfusions.  And recently she was going through a rough divorce.  Raynae was an employee who made HR life interesting for me, but her humor and work ethic made her a joy.  This woman had a rough life, but made the best of it. There were three people in her department… and they were all excellent.  But for some reason (if I remember correctly, it was tenure) out of all three Raynae was the one chosen.

When we brought her in, I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.  It was like I already knew the events about to unfold.  As my GM started telling her the bad news, and myself explaining how severance would work, all Raynae did was sit there, looking at her hands folded in her lap.  She began to sniffle and then began to cry. I couldn’t hold back my own tears.  Up til this point I was always stoic, composed, and strong when it came to business emotions.  After all, it’s business, not personal.  But this time, it was very very personal. 

We offered her some time alone in the office to compose herself. We offered her a ride home. We offered to call someone to give her a ride home.  She refused, gathered her things, and walked out of the office.  About 10 minutes later one of my employees called me stating that Raynae had been in an car accident.  It wasn’t bad and she wasn’t hurt, but her car was wrecked.  As I hung up the phone… I realized that this was Raynae’s worst day.  In this woman’s life she had lost time (while in a coma), her husband, her job, and now she has to deal with insurance companies and car repair.  I sat at my desk and stared at my keyboard.  I was tired of being part of “it’s just business.”  On one hand I have always enjoyed being part of operations and part of the employee lifestyle.  But not today.

Months later after the “blood bath” of cuts had been made… I was in the same situation as Raynae.

That week a very close high school friend of mine was checked into the hospital with terminal cancer.  Within a week he had gone from mildly ill to unconscious with little hope.  The night before I had visited him to bring pictures, talk with him, talk to his fiancee’ and say my last goodbyes while he was alive. The day I was fired was his funeral.  I wore a black dress and wasn’t supposed to come in that day, but had a few things to finish up that morning so figured I’d drop by… and that’s when the hammer fell.

We throw around “it’s just business, it’st not personal” as a barrier for our actions but to quote one of my favorite movies:

Joe Fox: It wasn’t… personal.
Kathleen Kelly: What is that supposed to mean? I am so sick of that. All that means is that it wasn’t personal to you. But it was personal to me. It’s *personal* to a lot of people. And what’s so wrong with being personal, anyway?
Joe Fox: Uh, nothing.
Kathleen Kelly: Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.

Being on the other side of that table.  Being the one who has to deal with real life after something like this happens – that’s what makes you really reflect on what you’re doing as a person making the big business decisions.  

These are people’s lives.  Sure, everyone moves on.  But for one day, I have the knowledge of knowing – that’s their worst day.  I was a participant in Raynae’s bad day. And I’m sure as I go forward I’ll be a participant in many other “bad days.”  Regardless of the situation, each one is business and each one is very personal. 

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