Like death, you can actually smell the stench of layoffs. While not nearly as pungent, the aroma of a decomposing economy can be almost as sickening.
Bad odors abound. It’s 90 degrees in New York City today and like every summer, the urine wafts up from the streets to mix with urban detritus to create the most godawful smell. But walk through the hyper-air-conditioned halls of Corporate America and the stink of 9.2 percent unemployment is just as nauseating.
The first thing you notice after a wave of layoffs is the quiet. Less a result of diminished numbers, more the upshot of survivors puttering away at keeping their heads down, calculating the number of months (weeks?) they can hold out without a steady paycheck. Ruminating on contingency plans in the event that they are the next to get the call to show up in some supervisor’s office before being escorted out the door with a box of their personal items and the hint of security guards’ steps not far behind.
Next is the sight of what’s not there. Like a death in the family, coworkers notice the missing children’s graduation pictures in cubicles, the interrupted routine of howdies on the way to the vending machine, the absence of that older guy who always smiled and said your name when you passed.
But then the smell sets in. It starts as you get a whiff of anxiety from the cubicles around you. The tension is so thick from it that everyone, even in the frigid air-cooled environs of The Office, starts to sweat. The survivors’ hearts race faster—a mass, self-imposed speedup ensues that gets everyone perspiring even more.
It’s the stench of layoffs. And on this Monday morning, after my glorious week off, it’s hanging thick.
To Neil, Steve and George — to whom I never got to say goodbye.