The silver lining, A RIF story

silverlining Another addition of my apparent series entitled “tales of Meg’s wacky career in tech“.   This is the story of the first Reduction in Force (RIF) I got to see up close and personal.  The whole process of this RIF really changed me. 

For my first job I worked for a small start-up ERP software company that was growing rapidly on the initial client/server wave.  This company was all the good things about a start-up, friendly people, shared vision, enthusiastic workforce, an excellent place to start a career.   We were always having trouble hiring enough people to meet the demand of our sales, I had seen nothing but growth in the three years I had been there.  And then one day things changed.  We hit a technology wall that slowed sales.  As an entry level employee, I had no idea that trouble was coming. 

I found out about the RIF about a week before anyone else, as my [now] husband was responsible for helping to compile “the list”.  This was beyond awkward for me, since I knew some names but not all and most were my friends.  I also knew that the list was being made with very scarce information as to who knew what.  I was outraged.  I was horrified.  I was terrified.  I felt personally guilty wondering if I should just quit myself. 

On the big day, as I found out the extent of the list, I considered the whole thing terribly unjust.  Living in a relatively small town I knew this was going to have huge impacts as people would have to move away to find comparable work.

I am actually grateful to have had this RIF early in my career, as I learned so much as a result.  It took away my innocence, but it also caused me to wake up and realize how things work.  At the end of the day, I was employed to serve a function for the business, as long as the service I provided was seen as a value, I would continue to have a job.  If business conditions were to change such that they had to re-evaluate my value, they would not think twice to do that.   No one, no matter how great, is going to be worth sacrificing the company to keep.

I learned that it was my responsibility to understand the business.  It is never enough to focus only on my own tasks, I needed to make sure that I was seen as someone adding value overall.    I had to take seriously where I fit in the organization and how my company was impacted by the larger economic factors at play.  Never again did I trust my entire career blindly on the business judgement of a senior leader.  I learned to chose my participation (and length of service) in companies, based upon the results of the business.

In the end, I also found out something I would have never guessed at the time.  Every person who was let go landed on their feet.  They moved on, they got different jobs, the RIF became a story in their professional career but it did not define them

Over the course of the next year, my professional network grew from a single company to hundreds of companies as all my former colleagues found new jobs.  I am not suggesting that a RIF doesn’t suck, it does.  But good things can result from them as well, especially if you use the experience as an opportunity for your own growth.

2 thoughts on “The silver lining, A RIF story

  1. I knew my husband was impacted by a RIF before he did…

    …and when I told him, he was like, “Nah, you don’t know the business of R&D. You’re in Corporate HR. I’ll be fine. My division is solid.”

    Nope. I know the business, and I also know that I’ll never work at the same company with my husband again. That was totes stressful.

  2. @Laurie you are so right. The husband and I have not worked at the same company since. Not only stressful for RIFs, but just about any situation where he might have a thought that was different from mine as it related to the company. Found it much better for us each to only hear a one sided story so we could always side with the spouse 😉

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