I lost my job twice so you don’t have to

Without any warning, I was laid off this afternoon at 1.30pm.

In the flux of working from home amidst the COVID crisis, here I was scrambling on my work laptop during the call to make sure I had everything important saved. The very minute the call ended, I was kicked off my work email, slack, google drive — everything.

Now, people have been laid off before, so what makes my situation so special?

This is my second time.

This time, without a second to tell them, I left a bunch of students hanging, wondering why all their instructors were being kicked off Slack and Trello.

It probably isn’t as special as I think.

Yet this is the state of the tech world now, and it makes me volcanically angry.

The first time I was laid off was in early 2019. The signs were obvious — the sales people went first, then the developers started looking for new jobs, and I, the lone designer, knew my time was coming.

However, it didn’t make it hurt any less. See, as if the situation couldn’t be more dire, I’ve somehow chose life on hard mode. Almost 2 years on, I’m still waiting for my Permanent Residency to be approved.

So, I had to look for another company that could sponsor me. It’s notoriously difficult and expensive in North America, even if you have years of experience and PHDs. Every fellow immigrant has been through the same trial.

For 5 months I struggled on government assistance. I had a partner then to help, which was invaluable.

At last, I landed a role in education, teaching design.

Sobering up to the truth

Imagining the serene photo above, I thought: Sure, why not? I had taught workshops before, and full-time didn’t seem much of a stretch.

I was so wrong.

Everyone that thinks teachers have it easy have no idea how much they sacrifice for their students.

Interacting with at least 15–20 students everyday, preparing coursework and grading assignments after work; it was endless. Sometimes I shared the work with another instructor, and some days we had a TA. Those were the easiest workloads of the 9 months I was there.

Yet, my students aren’t just students. All of them had different backgrounds, struggles, goals. All of them saw a career in UX/UI design as a way for them to improve their skills in a competitive digital age, and they had diligence to match.

I’m no better than them, and I’ve learned so much more than I have taught.

But I’ve disappointed them.

The attraction to toxic startups somehow never let me be.

Granted, I was in desperate need of a job, and a company that was willing to pay the fees for my sponsorship appeared out of nowhere. I was distracted by relief.

Avoiding a toxic work environment

Let’s take a moment to see how the influx of startups has made the market this nonchalant about its employees.

We’ve all heard about the cutthroat environments of giants like Amazon and Uber, yet here we are chained to use them, especially in such an extraordinary time. In a similar fashion, lesser known companies like Away exist, somehow also getting away with toxic, cruel work environments.

Dear reader, has also likely read, at some point, signs to look out for if ever the company you strive to grow with loses their investments and has to shut down abruptly.

After being laid off twice though, I can’t help but feel like I’m the one with the problem.

It was the same with the first startup, the signs were everywhere:

  • Finding out in interviews that offers for the same role were rejected previously.
  • Constant urge to work just to be productive and feel needed.
  • Founders and managers dodging pertinent questions about the state of the company and its finances.
  • Sales obfuscating revenue numbers to prospects, unsure about their marketing efforts.
  • Moderation of reviews on all social platforms.
  • Zero honesty between employees and upper management.
  • Whispers or radio silence on important announcements, or both.
  • Regular delays of important emails and meetings.
  • Overall uneasy vibes in the workplace.

My head was spinning, internalizing. What did I do wrong?

Did I not see how unsuitable the culture was? Nope. Everyone seemed nice, passionate, and there was visible representation.

Did I not see that they were less than 5 years old and would be financially unstable? Those revenue numbers don’t lie right?

What should I, or anyone else in my position do?

Just quit? Or don’t apply in the first place?

The realization

My coworkers and I saw all these signs months before, as early as late 2019.

We found every little excuse to stay. We inhaled fumes of ‘making things work’, we kept striving to make the student experience worthwhile. We told ourselves lies to keep ourselves going into each late night, the constant shadow of not being paid hung over our forced smiles. We were all visibly and emotionally exhausted, so much so our students told us to take a break.

Yet we found reason after reason to march on, stuck in the trenches, hoping for the light of day.

With a little foresight, I managed to save every necessary correspondence over time and didn’t have to rush during the call. However, it doesn’t remove the fact that not everyone has the same opportunity to protect themselves.

As painful as it is to say, someone like me is part of the problem. I fought, but I didn’t fight where it mattered. I am angry and defeated by my hopelessness, after the fact.

I’m close enough to a PR approval that I will be able to find a new job soon. But this is not just my story, it’s about helping, you, dear reader, to look for these signs and stay away from companies that will mistreat you.

What are my coworkers and I left with? Hoping to be paid in arrears and salary owed. Which may not come.

Some of my friends lost their jobs to companies who used COVID as a reason to let them go as well.

What have we left while we wait for our odds to rise?

Staying at home, pooling resources and being there for each other as much as possible.

Finding the right job is an uphill climb for many, especially for those new to the industry. Big name companies offer stability and growth, but so do some fast-rising startups. Maybe my string of bad luck has made me wearier than the regular individual, but I’m finally listening to my gut.

For now, I’m going to get some much needed sleep.

After that, the job hunt begins.

Written by

Longtime traveller, UX explorer and taco lover. INFJ.

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