Exactly 2 years ago today I did one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do in my entire professional life. I laid off 60% of my team.
Big corporate players do this all the time. But mine was not a big corporation. I was a small business owner who had run her business as if I was the head of an extended family. The people working with my husband and I were like my children, even though a few of them were older than me. I cared for them like I care for family.
Not that I had never fired before. I’d had my share of dismissals for reasons ranging from incompetency to dishonesty. But this was different. No one had been untrustworthy. No one had done anything stupid. These were my people and I was letting them go.
For some the reason may seem trite, possibly irresponsible: I was no longer happy doing what I was doing.
My mindset was that I didn’t have just one mortgage to pay for, I had ten. My mothering instincts towards my employees were obsessive. I was doing work that no longer filled my soul, just because I had to meet payroll.
This was more than my overwhelming feeling of responsibility towards my staff. It was also that clients were starting to get on my nerves. There was nothing wrong with them. I just did not enjoy doing the work on a shoestring because the corporate bosses were forever trying to cut back. Or seeing clients playing politics and dealing with stupid rules. Trying to satisfy higher-ups who had no idea about the realities of the marketplace.
I was sick and tired of it. Or rather I was tired and getting sick.
My body was telling me it was time to make a change, but I felt like I would be a failure if I called it quits. Finally I decided to downsize the team; there was 12 of us, and we would go down to a total of 4, including my husband and I. The thought of letting people go was dreadful. I really thought it would be the Worst Business Day of My Life.
On that fateful day, I called everyone into the Boardroom. It was very difficult for me to make any sort of eye contact. But I had written down what I wanted to say, and I got most of the words out before turning into a sobbing mess.
Very fortunately for me the team was very understanding of the situation. True to the community that we had created, they had seen the toll the business had taken on me.
My husband especially was very understanding. Even though I pretty well made the decision to downsize without his input, Heinz supported my decision all the way.
I took a long time to heal from the guilt from the Worst Business Day of My Life. That’s how I call it now. I do take note of it in my calendar, like an anniversary of something I don’t ever want to go through again.
The whole ordeal made me feel like I had made everyone suffer because I hadn’t been strong enough. Several weeks later I ran into a former staff member who actually thanked me because she’d had the summer off to to be with her son!
And here I was still grieving… Fortunately five months later we left it all behind and took a true break.
Looking back, it was the very best thing I could have done with what I knew and what I had to work with. That’s all we can ever expect of ourselves: to do the best we can with the time and resources we have in the moment.