When You are the Problem

October 11, 2012

Around 2001, I was laid off. It was still early in my career, so it was very upsetting. Those who were in IT at the time probably remember the situations that leads to mass layoffs (Dot-Com bubble burst; 9/11). I felt that I was a valuable employee, and had feedback as such, so it was confusing to my still-naive sense of fair play that I should be handed a pink-slip. After the fact, on a phone call with a VP who had left of his own accord around that time, he shared a tidbit that stuck with me ever since, “Managers never lay themselves off.” The truth of it was undeniable, and it lead to a thought experiment that has always nagged at me: if it turned out I was a part of the problem, and not part of the solution, would I have the courage to lay myself off for the betterment of the company?

No, as it turns out, as I’ve been in that situation a few times and failed to do so. To sacrifice yourself for the sake of your company is probably something that died out in the 1950’s, and I have no evidence that people even did it back then. I would be surprised if it did occur, as sacrificing oneself for the greater good, goes against human nature. Instead, I would continue to be the problem, and I would continue to collect a paycheck. I have to say, I’m ashamed of myself for doing so. Now, I suppose I can sleep at night, as I did take my concerns to my superior every time I was in a situation where I was doing more harm that good. In both instances (yes, there were two) my boss reassured me that I was doing the right thing. Not coincidentally, both of these bosses ended up being dismissed withing 6 months of my departure. I suppose the lesson learned here is that if you think you’re a part of the problem, listen to your gut and not your boss.

Now that I’m old and wise (NOTE: I am neither), looking back, I could have simply written a resignation letter to the effect of, “For whatever reason, my employment here isn’t working out. It may be you, it may be me, or a combination, but the end result is the same — I do not belong here.” Looking at myself as a 3rd party, I would have respected that — an employee self-evaluating that they’re are a bad fit for a company, and choosing to bow-out rather than be shown the door, and/or take their bosses and co-workers down with them. Fact is, I didn’t have that courage in the past, and instead, convinced myself that my boss’s reassurances that I was doing the right thing was the truth, though I knew in my heart that it wasn’t. If I became faced with the same situation today, I hope that I would have the courage to resign for the sake of the company and co-workers. Perhaps it’s old fashioned to think this way, but when it’s all said and done, all we are is who we look at in the mirror, and I’d like to think that doing the right thing never goes out of fashion.

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I would like to point out that if we work together today, or have in the past, my opinions may or may not have been influenced by working with you. Most likely they have been, but I have to say that to avoid offending people. You're so vain. I bet you think this site is about you.