Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Standard Protocol

I just lived through one of the worst experiences of my life. A day of sheer hell whose boundary conditions were defined not by reason, compassion, or respect. Instead they were just a sign of the times, dismissed with the flip justification of "standard protocol".

The laboratory where I work is nearing the end of a major facility upgrade. To complete this work, staffing levels were ramped up. Now that things are nearly done, we need to return to the original workforce numbers. While laying people off is never a pleasant exercise, it is a simple fact that what goes up with a temporary budget increase must come back down. Yet the issue is now the why but the how.

Lab leadership indicated that roughly 45 positions would be eliminated, but provided no details. We only knew the date, Jan. 15. When I arrived that morning, the place was crawling with extra security. Starting from 8:00 a.m., the division directors selected a name from their list and set out a member of the security detail to find the worker. They were then escorted back to their office and given a few moments to clean out their possessions, before they were forced to leave the site immediately. Most of the folks that were fired had worked at the lab for many years and each was publicly humiliated and treated like a criminal, shadowed but a brusque security officer who forced them to comply and get off the lab property. No ifs, ands, or buts.

I tried not to pay attention to the horrors that I knew were taking place around the site, yet several times I saw the security detail walk through my lab to take another person away. At lunch time I passed a senior scientists from my group being escorted to the exit. If this man was not safe, nobody was, including me. I was overcome with anxiety and panic, wondering when management's angels of death would come to tap me on the shoulder without warning. It wasn't until 6:00 p.m. that the lab director sent out a brief, impersonal email that the culling work was done. To be left hanging on the very edge until the last moment is a despicable and abhorrent way to treat anyone. Even worse was how they treated those who they fired. Yet our leadership feebly claimed afterwards that they just followed the "standard protocol" for such exercises.