The three of them sit in a semicircle, the Director in the middle, HR to my left and my line manager to my right. Door behind me. Window across, dark with the March dusk and a miserable rain pattering on the double-glazed, soundproof, insulating, corporate glass.
Nature doesn’t usually mark the occasion. Babies are born during hurricanes. Lotteries are won in a blizzard. A guy jumps out of the twentieth floor of his apartment building on a sunny-blue summer day and sprays the warm sidewalk with his brains while seagulls fly above.
Nature doesn’t care.
Someone’s talking and my employee-conditioning kicks in and I pay attention. The Director’s pudgy face contorts in a semi-sad smile and his mouth kickstarts the stage play we are about to engage in by invoking the first line of his managerial script.
“How are you feeling?”
Of course, honesty isn’t expected. Bound by the pseudo-social contract of professional interaction, I also smile sheepishly and mutter something between “okay” and a verbal shrug.
Phase one is over and it’s time for his soliloquy. He speaks in the measured, paced, practised and soft tone of the veteran manager, but when I look up from the table and catch his eyes, all I see is autopilot.
He uses a lot of filler. Words like “performance”, “output”, “competence” and “leverage” fill the air between blow-softening neutrals like “expected”, “observed”, “discussed” and “decided”.
I nod to the music, but I can’t help keeping one eye on my watch. It takes him forty-seven seconds to go through the obligatory spiel, to put me at ease, to avoid conflict, to prevent negotiation, to minimise the chance that I’ll come back tomorrow with a case of home-made Molotov cocktails.
I feel tired. Forty-seven seconds, and then he finally gets to it.
“We all think that it would be better for you to not continue in this role.”
And just like that, the ritual – and my job – is over. Of course, there’s still some epilogue, but the main story has ended. Some live happily ever after. Some others, not so much.
They are expecting some reaction from me. For a moment, I entertain the idea of saying nothing and just staring impassively out the window. Lack of affect. Psychopathy. Scare them a bit. But then that “burn-no-bridges” instinct overcomes me, so I sigh a little and throw on fake stoicism. “Well, some things just don’t work out.”
They all nod, relieved. Whichever of them writes the report on this, they’ll tick the box that says I took it well.
The HR lady rattles off some information about contracts, final payments and paperwork. Then the Director looks at me with managerial puppy eyes and asks, “Is there anything you’d like to say?”
Like that’d make any difference. But I guess they give all the condemned a chance to final words, so I blather something that doesn’t exactly blame Management, but doesn’t exactly absolve them either.
They feel it. My line manager – ex line manager – looks uncomfortable.
Well. At least he’ll have a job tomorrow.
The rest goes fast. They get on with the scripted noise about how they wish me well and that I’ll probably have questions in the next couple of days and shouldn’t hesitate to email them.
Then they take my staff ID card. Of course, they deactivated it before the meeting even started.
The Director stands up and then the rest of us do. I breathe through my nose as my ex line manager storms out of the office without even saying goodbye.
The Director walks me out of the building and tries to pass it off as being friendly. It’s not. Company policy dictates that he has to escort me off the premises. Not a bad idea, actually.
Before I know it, I’m in a taxi on my way home. Five pm, on a rainy Tuesday. When I get home, I don’t turn on the lights. I lock the door behind me, walk into the lounge and sit quietly on the sofa, listening to the rain outside.
For the first time in my life, I’m fired.