herald

Monday 21 January 2019

'I'm devastated to lose the job I love'

How working hard and being optimistic brought me no absolute security

I was one of the lucky ones. Back in late 2008, when unemployment figures were on the rise and people were losing jobs, I landed a job in a new company.

Really, you would have thought we were launching five years earlier, given the extravagance of the thing. The offices were out of this world, all sliding doors and glass with a massive wraparound balcony. I used to bring friends up after work hours, just to see the view. It was spectacular.

There was an energy and an excitement that was palpable when you entered the office. We threw parties on the balcony, complete with barbecues and a constant flow of wine. As one guest said, it was like something out of The Hills. We were a media company and we felt like we were the next big thing.

So many people I knew had applied for jobs there and, at that time, the company I had been with was starting to let people go. I counted myself lucky to have got out in time and landed myself a permanent job.

On the day the Government Minister arrived to launch the company and Brian Cowen sent us a letter of congratulations, you could barely breathe because there were so many people packed into the office celebrating. As I recall, TV3's Xpose were there, too. It was a hell of a party.

It must have been about a year and a half later when they started to let people go. I can't remember exactly. What I do remember is people making a dash for the toilets from the CEO's office so they could cry in private. The rest of us sat at our desks, holding tight and hoping our names weren't the next ones called; knowing what had just happened but unsure whether to acknowledge it to the people affected or allow them to tell us in their own time.

Emails and texts whizzed around the office but nobody spoke a word. And when those people left, four weeks later, the silence taunted us. We used to fight over computers, now there were rows of empty seats. Eventually, of course, we got used to it. Office life resumed as normal, even though there was always a niggling thought at the back of our minds -- will we make it?

It was some months later again when someone higher up the office scheme of things gave me a lift to the train station at the end of the day. I can vividly picture him, staring straight ahead and clutching the steering wheel as he told me to start looking for a new job because he reckoned mine was in trouble. In fact, he knew it was but wasn't supposed to say anything. "Do not say a word", he instructed me. "I just couldn't sit next to you day in, day out and not say anything."

It was a decent gesture and I was grateful to him. Even more so when I sat in the CEO's office and heard the news because even when you're prepared, even when you already know, it's hard to take. You want to cry. I was ridiculously proud that I didn't.

In the end, there was some good news. Several days later, they called me back in to say that they would give me two days of work a week. It would have to be from home because they were downsizing to another office. It was instead of redundancy.



determined

Relief like nothing else overwhelmed me. Journalists are lucky, they can get freelance work. Two days was better than nothing and I was determined to build up the extra three days. And I did, doing many small jobs for different companies. I found my feet again, cautiously. So it was a blow when I emailed my manager recently with a query and he rang me back to tell me that I was being let go completely: "Bad news I'm afraid."

I knew what he was going to say. It's strange because you almost end up trying to make the other person feel better. "Yes, yes, I understand. Don't worry." Even though you know it isn't your fault, you still have that feeling of not being good enough. I hate having to tell family and see the dismay and worry on their faces. When I was initially downsized, my grandparents (aged 86 and 88) pressed t200 into my hand, concern etched into their faces. I'm not going to tell them I've now been made redundant.

I am getting married next year. My fiance owns an apartment that is steeped in negative equity. We would give it away if we could, just to get rid of the debt. When we started going out a few years ago, I remember thinking how great it was for him that he was on the property ladder and worrying that I would never get a foot on it.

I did everything I was supposed to. I may be one of the Celtic Tiger cubs but I worked bloody hard. I did seven-day weeks for the first year and a half of my working life and 10 and 11-hour days after that. I slept, went to work, slept. I never earned massive wages, I don't own designer shoes.

If I had dreams, they were modest. I hoped that one day we would own a three-bed house (four-bed if we were lucky) in a nice area in Dublin and have our 2.5 kids. I had a right to that. Yes, I know some people are starving in this world but I was born in a First-World country. I had the right to expect that.

I used to think that I was angry at the people who landed us in this mess but I wasn't really. I was still living a comfortable life, still paying my way. A year or two ago, I was out with a gang of tipsy friends one night when we saw Bertie Ahern coming out of the Mansion House. One of the group roared an expletive down the street at him. I immediately shushed my friend. I wouldn't be shushing him now.

It's true what Harry Truman once said about it being recession when your neighbour loses his job and depression when you lose your own. I look into the future and I see negative-equity, debt and no job prospects. Yes, I'll eke out a living. But I wanted more than that. We all did. I feel nothing but hot, burning red rage.

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