Layoffs at Critical Mass

It’s tough to say good-bye to friends who leave from your company. It’s even harder when they get laid off.

Yesterday, Critical Mass experienced an adjustment. I don’t know what was the root cause of this adjustment, but many believe it to be the result of a botched financial forecast. Somewhere along the line, someone missed a decimal period, or didn’t carry the three. Because when things were checked and rechecked, suddenly we had a few too many people for what our revenues would allow.

Eighteen too many people, to be exact. Ten percent of our staff.

It started, as layoffs like this always do, first thing in the morning. It was slowly, at first, but the news spread fast. (The rumour mill at Critical Mass is, if nothing else, brutally efficient.) The first few names came in shortly after 10:15. I was shocked. Partly because of the names, but also because we were laying anyone off at all.

We had been told, by pretty much every level of management, that we were doing exceptionally well. Our New Year party just a couple of weeks ago showed no other signs that we were doing anything but well. All the things we’d been told over the last couple of months indicated that, aside from a drop in expected revenue due to the exchange rate, we were fine. So imagine my surprise to find out that we weren’t.

As a level of management, people immediately start looking at me for information. That happens regardless of the situation. But when something like this happens, the inquisitive looks turn to those of betrayal and hurt. “Geoff should have known. Geoff should have told us.” I feel like I’ve been lying. It’s not a fun position to be in.

It’s sort of like having a bomb go off in a crowd. Those nearest to the explosion die immediately. Those near the explosion survive, but are injured from the shock and debris, and possibly from the loss of loved ones in the explosion. Such are layoffs like these, when everything seems fine.

Some long-time Critical Mass employees were let go: Pat, who’d more-or-less run our Hyatt account single-handedly for quite a while; Angie, who had been one of our brightest lights around the office, and a great friend; Graham, who’d been here longer than dust; Sandra, a Designer who’d worked on more accounts than probably anyone else; Jay, one of our best QA people (at least in our opinion); Virgil, whose infamous “WHAAAAAAAT?” is already missed; Neil, who led our Flash Development and was one of the most sane voices for proper use of technology; and several others.

Not surprisingly, those laid off that I’ve since talked to are generally happy about it. It’s a chance to start over, and they have a severance package to help them through the transition. It’s comforting to know that while Critical Mass does have to do some things that no-one likes doing, that everyone directly affected isn’t just hung out to dry.

I’ve lost count of all the layoffs I’ve been through. The first big one was when I was with Radical Entertainment. The second large one was about a year after starting with Critical Mass, when the dot-com crash first took effect. Since then, we’ve had a few smaller rounds, most fairly innocuous. Yesterday was the second large layoff. And it hurt.

Today was a bit odd. Lots of people a little out of it. Even me. I might be perceived as more immune because I’m higher up in the pecking order, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be laid off. Besides, when you lose friends that you see every day, it’s hard to take.

We’re not planning to lay anyone else off. There’s a small sense of security in that. So long as we don’t lose any clients, my job is (mostly) secure. For now.