Thursday, August 07, 2014

How I Became an EI Princess

I'm unemployed!

I was having trouble deciding about whether I should blog about being unemployed and the crumbling of my last workplace as potential employers could read this, as could former colleagues, but I don't think I have anything groundbreaking or controversial to say on the topic - nor shall I reveal information that isn't public knowledge. Mostly this is a wee bit of what happened but more so how it felt to be involved in the long, dragged out death of an organization.

After 7 years of employment, my workplace closed at the end of June after almost eight years in operation. It was a rather drawn out affair as we had been on month-to-month contracts from January 2013 through the end of October 2013. At that point, we were surprised as our contracts were extended from November all the way until  June 30, 2014 and a job posting was released for a new manager. At that point I, and probably others, figured we would be around until at least late 2014 or, more likely, early 2015 given the work load we had signed on to do. After seeing our workforce reduced from six or seven staff to three, it seemed like we were going to have a bit of a resurrection.

But then we didn't. On April 2nd, two months after our manager was hired, we attended a somewhat 'mystery' meeting that had an unknown purpose. When you walk into a meeting with an undefined mission and are immediately introduced to the mystery guest from the Human Resources department, the odds of that meeting having a pleasant mood are rather low. To be fair, the precedent of previous meetings with higher ups usually didn't have great outcomes. The first I can recall was a quick, everyone-come-to-my-office-immediately meeting in which my team was given the exciting news that Canada Revenue Agency was waiting in another room and would be searching all of our offices, files, and laptop content, and we were to go home for the day. The second such instance was to tell us that five of us were getting booted from our one-person offices and we were all moving into one office, like a big, crowded family.

I was rather surprised when I found out we were shutting down. The timing seemed odd, kind of like a Christmas tree lot deciding to close in mid November. We were gearing up for a lot work, but things happened, and our contracts weren't renewed. There are so many things I could say, but I won't, because I don't think I'll ever know what really happened with 100 percent (or even 75 percent) accuracy. In the end, we faded away with the spark of a wet match, just kind of disappearing. Oh, and my cat, Friskey, died at the same time. This was far more upsetting than the closure of my workplace. On the same day as the meeting where we found out we were closing, Friskey the 20-year-old geriatric kitty had a wee tumble and never fully recovered. On my last day of work, my family had to put down our furry baby. But that's a whole other post complete with 100 percent more feelings.

After seven years of employment, how does it feel to be unemployed?

One-word answer: amazing.

Allow me to elaborate as to not create a cliffhanging ending. The initial years of my job were great, I learned many new skills, the organization had good momentum, I got to put my university education into action, and I felt like good things were happening.

Then things happened, which I will not write about. For a tiny organization, we had a lot of turnover in management. Our momentum completely stalled and it seemed like we were always begging for funding. It felt like our work wasn't being used (and perhaps it was, but we never knew for sure), which was discouraging because we put so much effort into producing good, valid 'products'. I have told friends it was like remodeling a home, but then just locking the door and walking away, or perhaps only having access to a small porch. We were a lost organization, floating in the harbour without an anchor.

I didn't realize how frustrated I was with the situation. As coworkers, we would laugh about it together. We had worked in such a mess for so long that it was hard to realize that our environment wasn't really normal. It was beginning to feel like we were part of a business case study, and the answer students were to give at the end of the analysis was just, "No, proceed with caution, probably shouldn't get involved". It's hard to say what caused the end. Like a relationship, it probably wasn't one huge thing, but a bunch of small little things.

Now, being unemployed, I feel so free. At no point have I thought, "Wow, I wish I still had that job." I am perhaps using slight hyperbole, but by the end it seemed like a bad relationship. Like a bad relationship, I didn't realize the invisible weight I was dragging around. Unfortunately I also feel like I have a relationship hangover. After getting out of less-than-ideal relationships (before I met awesome boyfriend) I tended to retreat and not want much involvement with my desired sex. I needed time to let the baggage float away. I'm feeling similarly about the end of my job. I needed a bit of time to get over it. The idea of having to work another job made me want to cry. Colleagues that left prior to 'the end' have told me that the rest of the work world is so much better and after five weeks off I finally feel ready to face the world of employment again. While I have been looking for work over the past month, nothing has panned yet. But maybe I had a mental block in that I wasn't ready for it to pan out. Now, I can handle work again. Yes, a bit dramatic, but when you spend months and months in such a frustrating environment it can blur your vision of the world.

In all this, I have to say, through miserable times, good coworkers are worth so much more than their wage. I was always very fortunate to work with a great group of people which made the last months so much more bearable. Beyond my immediate group, other staff in my building were wonderful and supportive. After we received our notices we, or maybe just I, felt a little lost and forgotten about, but the other people in our building offering support was so helpful and meaningful.

People ask me what's next. I don't know what's next. What do I want to do? I don't know. I'm feeling a bit lost. I probably should had left my job after year five, with my new knowledge, still positive attitude, and, perhaps most importantly, confidence, which is now delicately perched on a teeter-totter. But I'm looking forward to whatever comes. And this time, I hope I have learned my lesson. Like relationships with boys, it took me awhile to stand up for myself and learn to seek out the best. Now I have learned that lesson in a work environment: you need to look out for yourself because no one else will. I don't mean that we need to be cut throat go getters, but when you are feeling defeated and hopeless for months on end, it's time to make a change.