Tales from The Trenches Archive

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The elephant in the room.

I worked at a fairly large company that would seasonally hire in large volumes of temporary extra customer support staff. During one such period I was graced with a position in their phone and email support teams.

A few hundred of us temp staff worked there for several months, but as the customer contacts started to diminish, the company started their ‘Wind Down’. Every week a group of 10-20 people was escorted past my desk to the Office and told that some of them would not have jobs the following week. After a couple of these parades I made a comment in my team’s local chat room to the tune of “Ah, nothing cheers you up in the morning like the smiling faces of a group of us temps being sent on a death march to the Office.”

Immediately all conversations in the chat died. One of my managers finally broke the silence and said “That was out of line, man. This is a terrible situation and could do without your jokes”. I responded that I, as one of the temp staff with the axe above my neck, was in a good position to understand what they were going through. None the less I apologized as I could see that my choice of humour was a bit coarse. The rest of the chat chimed in to say that I shouldn’t make comments like that again.

Eventually another of my managers came back from lunch and read over the chat logs and promptly called me over for a meeting.

She said that she’d read over my exchange. I quickly mentioned that I understood that it was a sensitive issue and that I’d stop making jokes about it. She then said “Yes, jokes are one thing, but actually we don’t like to talk about the Wind Down at all here. You see, it’s not just hard on you - we’ve all become friends here so it’s hard on us to see you leave as well. It’s a depressing issue, so we just don’t talk about it.” Her utterly cheerful smile never wavered once.

I tested the water occasionally by bringing up the waves of firings in the chat in the following days, but every time my comments were unceremoniously ignored.

A few days later I cleaned out my desk.