Erin, can I see you in my office? The tone and look implied an impromptu bonus would not be the topic du jour.
“We’ve talked and we’ve decided that you are going to go work in the accounting department for a few months. You’ll be up in the cash cage counting the cash that comes into the resort daily to make sure it balances with the reports. Training will start tomorrow. That’s all.”
Umm, that’s all?! You just said the word “cage” to me which was surprisingly less frightening than the word “accounting.” Did she know who she was talking to? I still count on my fingers! I failed accounting at least twice in college! I was the Training Manager–my job was to teach, train, connect, talk to humans, not count cash.
“Can I ask who is the we?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Are you sure this is the best use of my talents?”
“The decision has been made.”
“Is this not an hourly job that someone else could do?”
“We’ve decided; you start tomorrow. There’s nothing more to say.”
I walked out of her office back into mine, trying to keep my simmering confusion, annoyance, and general what-is-going-on vibe in check. Judy, my HRD, kept my movements closely monitored and also listened to all of my phone calls through the walls, so I couldn’t leave to go discuss the happenings with my colleagues or pick up the phone to call and discuss. I guess perhaps the cage part wasn’t going to be much of a transition.
The next day, right at 8:30, one of the women from accounting came by and walked me upstairs to the cage to train me. Sure enough, there were bags of cash. Sure enough, I was in charge of putting it through the money counter and then accounting for the pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters. Yours truly, who has a fear of math and gets hives at the mention of accounting, was in there doing my math/accounting thing like a pro. (I get accounting is more than counting cash…but work with me…the fear is real.)
Day after day I walked upstairs. Day after day I counted the cash. Day after day I wondered what I was doing at that resort. What I was doing with my life. Why, out of all the people in that resort, was I chosen to be the cash counter. Was I being punished? Did they not think I was doing a good job? Was it some sort of test?
As I counted away, the stories got more creative and slightly more paranoid. I got pretty efficient at cash counting and pretty efficient at being checked out and not caring a whole lot about anything at that job. I believe I’ve mentioned it here before, but for the record, I’m not a good phone-it-inner. Phoning it in exhausts me.
6 weeks into the cage, I was back down in my OG basement floor cage/office. Judy called the admin and me into her office…here we go again. This time the message was pack up your stuff and take the afternoon off. “I can’t say any more (always the hush and drama of secrecy), but it would be best for you both if you left.”
I learned my lesson from the previous office visit–follow-up questions were futile–and an afternoon of freedom from all cages sounded just fine to me.
Until I got home and the text messages started coming in. “Did you hear? Antonio got laid off!” “Did you hear, they’re walking Christina!” One by one, director after director was being walked off the property.
The resort opened in 2008. The opening was delayed, so it opened out of season for Santa Fe. The timing wasn’t that sweet with the financial crisis. So many of the people who had toiled and put countless hours of blood, sweat, and tears to get that place opened were being let go.
What I didn’t realize, because no one told me, was that training for the resort had been put on hold. Logically, if training is on hold, the Training Manager should be the first to go. Turns out there had been some heated discussions around my fate. The weekends, hours, nights, and energy I had put into the New Hire Orientation and subsequent trainings to get the staff dialed in were not forgotten. While training was on hold for the moment, no one in that place had the training experience I did, nor the reputation with the staff. Let’s face it–I brought a lot to the part–but a Director was making more cash-money than I was, so more bucks could be saved letting them go.
Once this intel came to light, I thought well thank everything that’s good in this world for the daily hike to the cage! The cash cage sentence was to keep me on board. The “we” were actually people fighting for me and sticking up for me keeping my position, be it in a different role for a few months. What I thought of as some misunderstood punishment was actually a lifeline.
What I didn’t get was why Judy didn’t tell me. How different would those few months have been if the conversation went along the lines of, “Hey Erin, we’re having to make some tough decisions. Training is on hold. You’ve worked your rear off and we appreciate all that you’ve done. In order to keep you on board, we’re going to ask that you jump over to accounting until we can get things sorted out. We know it’s not your jam, but it would be a big help to us.”
New response: GET ME TO THE CAGE!! CAGE ME UP!!
While counting cash still wouldn’t be activating my zone of genius, keeping a paycheck while the economy was tanking would be its own form of genius.
I’m still unsure why Judy handled it the way she did. Authority? (She loved it.) Trust? (She had zero and probably thought I would tip people off about layoffs.) General unthoughtful leadership? (Her MO.)
Are there areas where you’re allegedly protecting your team, where you think you’re doing them a favor by not disclosing all relevant information? Have you explained the “why” behind your decisions? Have you shared, “The reason we are doing this is because…”
People can handle more than you think. They might not be joyous about the decision. But they’ll spend a whole lot less time wondering about what is happening, their status, and making up stories about what’s going on. All of that is human nature. It’s also human nature to be understanding and appreciative when we’re kept in the loop, especially when it comes to decisions requiring time in a cage.