During more than six years on the business desk at the Deseret News, I edited or wrote dozens of stories about corporate layoffs.
Sometimes the stories dealt with huge players in the national economy firing hundreds of people. Other times, a story would focus on a small business laying off a handful of employees or closing its doors altogether.
Whenever such stories broke, we would try to interview the company's employees and leaders, if they decided to talk to the media. We listened to their stories and reported on their pain and confusion.
But I don't think I ever really understood how such stories affected the people and companies involved. Don't get me wrong: I always felt sympathy for those who lost their jobs and imagined the horrible plight in which they found themselves. But in my relatively short work experience, I never worked for a company that had to cut a significant percentage of its jobs.
As has been well-documented in this publication, the newspaper industry is struggling. Classified advertising is drying up as people opt to use free online services to sell their cars and lightly used exercise equipment. Circulation numbers are falling as people choose to get their news online instead of from newspapers.
It's a scary time to be a journalist even at the Deseret News.
A few weeks ago, while I was driving between Dallas and Houston on a family vacation, a colleague at the News called to let me know our management had announced we needed to cut about 35 jobs and restructure our newspaper in order to deal with falling revenues.
I had known the cuts were coming. Rumors had been floating around for weeks, and everyone was trying to sort out the information (we are a bunch of journalists, after all). But knowing it was official still came as a shock.
I was gone for the first week and a half after the cuts were announced. I can't imagine what the atmosphere was like during those first days.
But since I've been back, the environment is different.
Employees gather in small groups, talking about the situation, wondering who will opt for early retirement or volunteer to take a severance package.
Those who are planning to opt for severance talk about the details of what has been offered and their attempts to get accurate information so they can prepare for a future away from the News.
Some of those people have been at the paper for 20, 25 or 30-plus years. They weren't planning to retire just yet. All of a sudden, they are faced with deciding in a matter of weeks something they didn't think they would have to think about for years to come. They are nervous. They are anxious.
Those who are not planning to take the voluntary severance package are wondering what comes next. How many jobs will need to be cut? Who will be fired? How will that decision be made?
We try to deal with the unknown by making little jokes "gallows humor." "Have a good weekend. See you Monday maybe."
More than anything else, a feeling of uncertainty permeates the office. We all go about our daily reporting and editing and photographing and designing. We work as hard as ever maybe harder than we ever did to put out the best newspaper we can, but we're in a constant state of distraction.
Thinking back now to my time on the business desk, I imagine this is what it was like at all of those other companies I reported on or read about.
The uncertainty. The anger. The frustration. The fear.
In other words, I think I get it now. Those of you who have gone through similar experiences know what I mean. For those of you who have not, I hope you never do.
This little bit of life experience is something all of us at the News could have done without. But since it's unavoidable now, I want to know how others have dealt with such things. I'd like your stories of surviving corporate layoffs either as someone who lost a job or as one who remained at a company after jobs were cut.
I'm hoping your thoughts will help me and my colleagues at the News deal with the problems we are experiencing in our own little corner of the work universe. And maybe we can help someone else, too.
After all, this is a newspaper. That's part of the job when times are good, and especially when they're bad.If you have comments you'd like to share, or if you have a financial question, send them to [email protected] or to the Deseret News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, UT 84110.
E-mail: [email protected]