The “man” in question is, in fact, a corporation; Mattel, to be exact. The declaration of divorce came in the form of a suggested early retirement that, more than a suggestion, felt like marching orders.
Luciana Chapman had been working for Mattel for 31 years and, 3 years shy of retirement, she became a casualty of the yearly rounds of lay-offs Mattel has been conducting to restructure, reconfigure and all those other “re” words that denote a slump in business.
Your job is being eliminated, Luciana, a manager for the Language Support Group, was told. The functions of the department you are managing are being both automated and disseminated among the affiliates around the world. In one fell swoop, Luciana had to absorb the loss of income, the loss of career and a statement that equalled 31 years of efforts for naught. At 63, it is a tall order.
Luciana is the most optimistic and sunny person you are ever likely to meet: her glass is not just half full, it is always full. But this was a blow – to her self-esteem, to her daily life, to the careful financial plan she had hatched over the years, and it begged the question “who is going to hire me again at this age?”.
While Mattel offered Luciana a seemingly decent compensation package (one year of salary + benefits), the reality is somewhat grimmer: were she to start drawing her Social Security pension now, she would only get 60% of the full amount she will be owed in 3 years. Just not enough to live on without touching her savings.
“They tell you it’s like being on a roller coaster and that is exactly right. One moment it feels wonderful not to have to work but the next I am assailed by all kinds of fears and doubts and it seems impossible I will ever work again. The thing is, I would be happy to keep on working for another seven years or so, I feel full of energy still, but potential employers will be looking at someone fast approaching retirement age.”
Mattel also set Luciana up with a consulting service that helps job applicants polish their resumes and coaches them to find new opportunities. Through the EDD Office (what we think of as the unemployment office), Luciana has been taking courses that have helped her narrow her search.
“The first instinct is to send your resume everywhere, to just answer every job ad with a vague relevance to what you do. Instead, it makes more sense to carefully research a dozen companies you would be interested in working for, that you feel could appreciate your talents, find out the names of their CEOs or General Managers and write personal letters explaining why you are looking for a job, what you think you can do for them and asking them if they have any referrals that would be appropriate. It’s a much more time-consuming approach but one that is more likely to pay off.
After over 30 years employed at the same company, I was really rusty when reconfiguring my resume. Where do you start? Besides, every time I sat down to work on it, I could feel the anger mounting – how could they do this to me? couldn’t they just let me be for another 3 years?”
The reality is that it is much cheaper for a company to shell out one year of salary and benefits than to keep on paying for two more years, that include payroll taxes and other contributions. Blanketed over hundreds of employees, the savings are, in the short-term, considerable and look good to shareholders and boards. In the long-term, who knows?
“Automation in the kind of job I did lends itself to more errors that will not be caught, but it might take a year of spending money to correct mistakes before the company sees that” Luciana says, with not much bitterness in her voice.
I ask her if she has any practical advice for anyone in her situation, and this is what she offered:
- Keep on thinking there will be a solution. Even to this. Even when it feels hard.
- When you start looking for a job, take the time to target industries/companies and job that make sense.
- Don’t forget to do things you like. It’s not possible to stay concentrated on resume writing and job searching for 8 hours a day.
- Especially if you were used to working in an office environment, don’t isolate yourself all of a sudden. Go out of your way to make plans with family and friends.
“When I lose my motivation, I call the EDD coach and I make a point to visit him every two weeks. The service is completely free and it has been very useful. I found out through them about a program that can help with my mortgage and how to continue drawing unemployment if I need to.
There are no certainties in life – this is just a reinforcement. It was unexpected, it knocked the wind out of my sails. But I will go on. I have so much more to give.”