ESPN laid off about 100 people Wednesday, in what seemed like the end of the world, if you followed the news unfolding on social media. These 100 people, who probably had over-six-figure salaries, were on-air commentators with huge followings and probably even bigger severances. Sure, it’s horrible when one loses a job he or she presumably loved doing—but layoffs weren’t invented yesterday.
Before turning my hobby of writing into a full-time career, prior to 2012, I worked in human resources. And in many jobs, I was the one who had to let people know that they were being laid off.
There was one man in particular that I remember. He had been employed as a van driver for disabled people for almost 10 years and was dealing with his own various health issues. He was living paycheck to paycheck and was taking care of his elderly mother.
A week before another anniversary on the job, I was informed that he needed to be laid off. I knew his story. Saw him every morning, and he was one of the few people actually excited about his job, which allowed him to help others.
But here I was, the bearer of bad news.
On his last day, I called the gentleman into my office after he made his last drop-off. He sat down and started to tell me about his mother. We always shared stories about our family. And at that point, I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. He noticed it and asked me what was wrong.
The only thing I could manage to do was hand him his paperwork. It listed his start date, end date and last hourly wage. I couldn’t keep it together. And neither could he. We both cried. He thanked me for giving him the opportunity to work. He thanked me for remembering his mother’s name. And he thanked me for being someone he looked forward to talking to every day.
This man did not receive a severance. There was no continuation of health benefits. He could not afford COBRA. He, and millions of other people who have faced layoffs, are not the lucky ones.
As he got up to leave, I handed him an envelope. I asked him to open it up once he got into his car. Inside was $300, and although it wasn’t much, it was all I could muster up to give, since I was also living paycheck to paycheck as an entry-level HR person. It was my personal severance to him.
In saying this, I’m not saying not to care about those laid off from ESPN; I’m saying this to make people realize that layoffs happen, and when it happens to less fortunate people, that’s when we need to be outraged.