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Laid off after 21 years ... but still surviving ... very well, thank you.


I had just finished making a

statement to the press about the I proposed layoff, when I received a phone call from the interim administrator. He wanted to see me. My immediate thought was that he wanted to make a statement to the press. Then I thought, as the elevator doors closed, "Perhaps, just maybe I'm one of those being axed." My brain started having a conversation saying "No, it's not possible. Look at your record. You've been with this same hospital for 21 years. You have an unblemished record. You're active in the community constantly proselytizing the virtues of this health care facility." It was common knowledge that our hospital received more positive press than any other in the country. "You were available evenings, weekends, and whenever needed. For heaven's sake, the American Association of University Women even named you Woman of the Year and the Press Club gave you a special award. They wouldn't really let you go. They wouldn't do that with a good, long-term employee."

Boy, was I wrong. None of that seemed to matter. The bottom line was the bottom line and 1, Marianne Shackles, director of public relations, was being "phased out" along with 47 other employees. Anyone terminated, fired, riffed, phased out, out of a job-or any of the many euphemisms used-can tell you, it is devastating beyond words. So very many thoughts gnaw at you. "Maybe you weren't so terrific after all. the way you this. Maybe you can't do that." In my case, maybe I wasn't such a good writer or public relations professional. Maybe I wasn't such a good communicator. Maybe - and the maybes go on and on until your self-worth goes right down the tubes.

The next phase: the cliches. If I heard it once, I heard it 50 times within a 24-hour period - "One door closes, and another one opens. You're much too good for them. They didn't appreciate you. Oh, don't worry, with your reputation and contacts, you'll be snapped up before you know it." And the best one of all, The way things are going here, you're probably better off than those of us still working here."

People meant well, but it was like listening to a dialogue from an old B" movie. Everyone made the same statements. It's like meeting someone who has just had a death in the family. Sure, first you say, no matter what, "I'm so sorry." This is always followed by wonderful statements about the deceased. You say these pleasant and comforting" comments even though you may very well know different. It's the same thing when you are terminated from a position. No one walks up to you and says "Boy, am I glad they finally got rid of you." So now you start wondering if all the pleasantries people were saying about you were really true.

Anyway, you fight back the tears (after all you are a professional) and intellectually you know you must forge ahead. It's not the end of the world. Of course, there is another door opening. Yes, intellectually you know all this, but emotionally-well, that's another story. It's kind of like your emotions and your intellect having one helluva wrestling match. I've got to be honest-my emotions certainly won many of the wrestling matches with my intellect for quite some time. The emotional/ intellectual wrestling matches are not fair. Emotions play dirty. Emotions resort to tears, self-degradation, dehumanization, humiliation. They push and pull at your self-worth with little or no regard for your ego. With support eventually the emotions lose more and more of these wrestling matches and then the intellect can take over. Inevitably, the intellect, because it is rational, becomes victorious. At least in my case it did. I'm not saying I still don't lose a few battles now and then. But I assure you I'm not going to lose the war.

How I managed to weather all of this? First, I am luckier than most. I have an extremely supportive, loving, and caring husband that shares my life. I can tell you that the last couple of months, especially the first month, was an absolute horror for him. I was awful. On the outside I created this upbeat facade and when I was home, I became an intolerable witch. I often tell people, if I were married to me, I would have left me a long time ago. That's how difficult I was. For the most part, he was just wonderful. Every once in a while, I did push him to the limit and I knew I had to back off. As I said, I was lucky. Not only did I have support at home, but I also had incredible support from outside. I continued to remain extremely active in the many organizations originally cultivated through and for the hospital-especially IABC/LICA. My calendar was full. My peers came to my aid. They boosted my morale and truly had me believing that my leaving the hospital was the hospital's loss-and not mine. Wishes of good luck and support came pouring in from all parts of the country. It was gratifying to see that I had built an outstanding network and reputation. I found out that I was respected in the public relations field.

Am I over the hurt? Of course not. Am I still angry? Absolutely. However, no longer is it a destructive anger. It is a constructive anger. I guess what I am most hurt about is that all these years I treated my employer as my family. We were together for more than 21 years. I didn't expect my family would do this to me. But they did. Why? Because a job is not your family. A job is a job. The bottom line is the bottom line. And, anyone and everyone is expendable-even a good, outstanding, employee of 21 years. You must come to grips with that fact.

However, it is also a fact that there is life after losing your job. It's not the end of the world. You just have to make sure that the intellect wins more of the wrestling matches than the emotions.


Marianne V. Shackles is now director of Public Relations for The Bank of Smithtown, N.Y. as well as being a special public relations consultant for Community Hospital of Western Suffolk-also in Smithtown.
COPYRIGHT 1991 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Shackles, Marianne V.
Publication:Communication World
Date:Jan 1, 1991
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