Nfld. & Labrador·First Person

I felt gutted when I was fired. If cuts are coming, we need to change how they're done

Being fired is traumatizing, contributor Connie Boland says from first-hand experience. She says managers must find a more humane and respectful way to cut jobs.

Being fired is traumatizing and disrespectful, writes Connie Boland

Connie Boland is a freelance journalist and writer in Corner Brook. (Submitted by Connie Boland)

This is a First Person essay by Connie Boland, a writer in Corner Brook. 

"Don't let the door hit you on the way out," said no human resources professional ever. At least not out loud.

But all these months later, I wonder if the HR rep or the director who walked me out of that basement boardroom, along empty cubicles, past a silent photocopier, and finally into the realm of the unemployed, had that thought running through their minds.

Maybe they were relieved it wasn't happening to them.

Maybe their thoughts were along the lines of: 

"Don't take it personally."

"Thanks for showing up for 12 years."

"You are no longer welcome here."

"You should leave quickly. And quietly."

"Very, very quietly."

An operation that runs silently 

Here's the thing. When you have been terminated, the people who brought an end to your career don't want anyone else to know what is happening. That might cause a ruckus.

Ruckus: a state or situation in which many people are angry or upset.

Rumours are rampant there will be job losses in Newfoundland and Labrador's public service once the election is over, whenever that will be. Premier Andrew Furey says no mass layoffs are planned. We hope he is being honest.

If cuts are coming, the provincial government must examine how it handles terminations. I understand that angry employees with network access might be potentially problematic; however, the current process is demoralizing and disrespectful.

Find a better way.

In 2017, the provincial government announced hundreds of jobs would be eliminated to create a "flatter, leaner" public service.

Internally, it was known as "flatter, meaner."

Employees were locked out of their offices. Their phones suddenly went dead. A CEO of an agency that no longer exists was en route to St. John's for a work-related meeting. He pulled over to the shoulder of the highway to answer his phone, and learned he was fired. His blinker was the soundtrack to the news.

Losing your job can be a devastating process — even if it's done in person and not by a sticky note. (Shutterstock)

Employees working in buildings where dismissals were taking place were told to close their office doors. Keep their heads down. Unfortunately, voices travelled. Sobs seeped through the walls.

Impossible to gather your thoughts

It was my turn in July 2019. A co-worker positioned a tiny plant between our cubicles so it would grow toward the light. I started a new project at 10 a.m.; 25 minutes later, I was sobbing at my kitchen table, with no idea how I'd driven home.

They called it termination without cause.

Over the years, I watched it happen to other communications professionals. I wasn't a political hire. I competed for my publicly advertised position. I worked for eight different ministers. I didn't think it would happen to me. There was no progressive discipline. No conversations about job performance. No one sitting across the boardroom table that July morning would explain why. I sat in silence, shivering, fingers blue, in shock while they recommended the employee assistance program, or counselling.

People get anxious when cuts are in the air. Nothing, Connie Boland says, can prepare you for word that you are no longer wanted. (Minerva Studio/Shutterstock)

I couldn't gather my thoughts, or my things.

I wrote a piece of fiction to make sense of it. In that story, I didn't walk meekly into the hot July sunshine. I created a ruckus.

"Lighting a cigarette, hiking up my work-appropriate dress and sitting cross-legged on the hood of my car, I toss the first rock, testing the wind. Carefully selected for size and weight, its craggy edges scrape my palm. Unibrow and crow's feet create a mask of forced concentration as I stake out the windows.

"All that glass. I would hit something, eventually," I told my husband last night.

He didn't miss a beat. "You don't smoke," he said. 

Find yourself a non-judgmental significant other who takes your daydreams seriously. Where some would point out hurling boulders at public buildings is not a great life choice, my partner stays on task.

I mentally replace the cigarette with sunglasses, twirling knockoff Ray-Bans like a gunslinger in the Wild West. Tumbleweeds roll across the asphalt and a low whistle rides the breeze as I draw back my pitching arm, aiming for the building's upper level. I imagine former co-workers popping up from ergonomically correct chairs, like startled rabbits, twitchy with curiosity."

Gutted, terrified and embarrassed

Non-fictional me drove home in a daze. Threw up in the bathroom. Tossed my dress into a corner. Gutted. Unemployed for the first time since 1987. Terrified. Embarrassed.

I spent weeks conjuring every email, phone call and conversation, determined to figure out what I did wrong.

Lawyers said I had no case. Neither the Labour Relations Board nor the Office of the Citizens' Representative could help.

It took months to understand it wasn't my fault.

Two supervisors talked about the tiny plant in the window while I packed sweaters, family photos, keepsakes from co-workers, snacks, a tea-stained mug, and a half-full water bottle. After regular office hours. Four days later.

Firing someone isn't easy.

Being fired is traumatizing.

If cuts are coming, government needs to do better.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Connie Boland is a freelance journalist and writer in Corner Brook. When not in class, she can be found hiking, writing and hanging out with her family.

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