Online Edition - January 2000
Highlight - Y2K,
Sorry We're Closed : Diary of
Elizabeth Hill, some might say, had it all. Glowing performance reviews, respect from her peers and superiors-in short, she was a golden girl. But on December 2 of last year, her world and that of hundreds of her coworkers came crashing down. The facility was closing. Stunned, wounded and desperately trying to make sense of the decision, Hill began a diary which is excerpted here. Elizabeth Hill is not her real name and the names of the characters you meet here have also been changed. But her story is real-in its authenticity and its expression of what happens when an organization amputates itself. Elizabeth Hill is allowing News for a Change to follow her, via her journal, for the next months through to the completed shutdown. A journey many of our readers have taken and many may have to take in the new economy. Our hope is that through Elizabeth's eyes the journey might somehow make sense or at least assuage the turmoil, helplessness and anxiety one is bound to face in similar situations.
--I am keenly aware of my time left. I have three months of production and five months total.
--Some days I want it all to be over and some days I want it to go on forever.
--I knew that I would learn new things this year and that was a small part of the reason that I decided to stay with the plant. But I never anticipated the intensity of some of the discoveries and how precious some of the gifts would be. But whenever I get too grateful, I wonder, "Does this mean it was all worth it?" I don't like that thought because it sounds as if it's okay for this tragedy to happen because something else good happened, or some sort of karmic swap meet.
-- I have two phone interviews (they call them 'phone screens'; as if the purpose was to filter out unwanted material from the company) tomorrow.
-- The interview goes well. The interviewer explains that he has a set list of questions for me and asks me three times if I'm ready before he starts. She reassures me, "Don't worry, we'll get through this as quickly as possible."
-- I always enjoy reviewing my history with someone, telling stories about the good ole' days. She tells me how much she likes working there, "The days just fly by here, Elizabeth."
--She also explains, "We typically pay base salaries that are well under market value because, frankly, we can get away with it."
--She asked me a new question, "What is the coolest electronic gadget that you have or want to have and why?" This makes me laugh and admit that I've never heard that question before, so I talk about my scanner and my longing for a digital camera. She asked me my life motto and I quoted the poster above my desk from the old Nike campaign, "Just Do It."
--The instructor, Susie Schmidt is bright, tall, and so polished that she shines. She is wide-eyed (to demonstrate sincerity), polished (to earn credibility) and her manner is all perky sympathy.
-- Susie asks us to disclose our length of service and she writes the years in bright colors on the flip chart: 15, 26, 19, 33, 3, 14, 18, and 22. When a new hire confesses to 2 years, Susie reassures her, "Oh, don't worry, you'll bounce much quicker."
--She continues, "It's called 'Career Management' and that means when you're not happy, you move on, and that's what I'm here to teach you." She purrs through her introduction with all of the expected phrases, "win-win", "get out of your box", "is this helping", "don't make this harder than it has to be" and her answers are quick. When she gets to, "I want you to be proud of what you've done here, can't you see that?" I look around the room and see that everyone is hanging on her every word. I'm not sure what bothers me most, the fact that she thinks I need a pep talk, listening to a pep talk from a bimbo or that I'm afraid that I used to be like this. I think this is my mirror of what I don't want to be anymore, glib assurances, surface warmth and false sympathy.
--Back in class we read our personal vision statements for 10 years from now and I love it: "In 10 years, I will be providing long-term leadership in a manufacturing setting using innovative methods to celebrate inherent human dignity and worth as we build a highly profitable venture that thrives in the New Economy."
--To my surprise, the room starts to giggle and two of the engineers pretend to gag and throw up. Mike S. rolls his eyes and looks at me, "Geez, you sound like Ann Rand."
--I attack sarcastically, "What's wrong with that? A highly successful woman writer?"
--Tony jumps to his defense, "But Elizabeth, your language, it's..." "Well, this language accurately reflects what I do. And the fact that my words are different is why I get job offers when you can't even get a call returned."
-- At lunch some of the guys come over to me, "Hey, will you write our vision statements?"
-- "No way, guys. You laughed at me and made gagging gestures."
--"No we didn't."
--"Yes you did"
--"Oh, maybe just a little." Chris persists, "But I want some of your fancy words." "But my words come from my heart so your words have to come from your heart."
--"Well, that's the problem."
--"Yes, that's your problem."
-- We work some more on our resumes and we talk about headhunters and recruiters.
--The emphasis is on selling selling selling. Susie is at a fevered pitch, "Remember, the important thing here is - Go For The Ring. Don't worry about the marriage yet. Who cares about that now! The important thing is to get engaged first. Go for the ring."
-- I am shaking with laughter at this and she waits for me to respond, "Who do you think you are, Dr. Laura?"
--Raul Hooks peeks into the conference room but he is so nervous that he doesn't notice me. I follow him out and we talk about the transition. He seems surprised by my current job status, "What? You mean we haven't offered you anything yet? You're kidding me!" My casual attitude seems to make him even more nervous.
-- I am coming up on the year anniversary of the announcement. I am happy to record that I am not burnt out or cynical. I do have a darkness about me now, but I think that makes my brightness all the more vivid by contrast.
-- I learned another new word today: de-obligate. This means that the transfer facility is trying figure out how to get out of the support contract. This just makes me mad. They take us over, and what they don't outsource they cancel. What is the point?
--The 'Cat Report' gets lots of airplay today in our staff meeting because Facilities has been trying to trap that the cats that live on the campus and turn them in. It seems as if we could put them to good use in the rat problem. When this is mentioned, Chris mutters something about "dart gun" and vague threats about leaving the sedated cat on people's desks. This just makes us giggle at the thought of this dignified guy having to run around the property singing, "Here kitty-kitty-kitty" and the more we giggle the madder he gets, like some high school principle fighting a losing battle.