Uh, Anne, May I Borrow Chris for a Moment?

Setting: An aerostructures/military contractor on the east coast in spring of 1994. I’d worked there for 11 years as a design engineer on a large variety of programs. The nature of the business was that each assignment would last 1-1/2 to 3 years, at which point, with luck, another opportunity would open up.

Our management structure was that of a matrix. On one side, I reported, at any given time, to a program supervisor and/or manager, related to the specific program or project I was working on. By nature, we’d be in contact on a daily basis. On the other side was the “functional” manager who managed everyone in my skillset (all mechanical design engineers). The *only* time I saw the functional manager was once a year when he handed me an envelope with my annual raise (I’m sorry, I really wanted to give you more, but budget contstraints this year blah blah blah…). There was *one* other time when one would see him…

We worked in the balcony area of a factory building that had been built before World War II, with a large open floor and low dividers. There had been reductions in force sporadically for several months and each time it happened, the news was delivered, seemingly, in a chance meeting. As soon as the functional manager would appear at one end of the floor, people would literally start sauntering towards the opposite stairwells, evacuating the area, hoping to evade the reaper. It was funny to watch.

Time: 4:45 PM on a Friday afternoon. The official work hours are 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM (eight hours plus 30 minutes off the clock for lunch). I’m walking a drawing through signoff, meaning I’m taking it to each responsible supporting engineer to review, in order to ultimately get their approval. I’m sitting in a cubicle with the materials engineer going over some minor details when “Frank”, my functional manager pokes his head in the entrance and asks my colleague, “Uh, Anne, May I Borrow Chris for a Moment?” With her permission he took me into the corridor, focused on some point in the distance and explained that if they couldn’t find a valid charge number for me in the next two weeks, my last day would be [two weeks from then]. I actually almost laughed with relief, as I’d been stressed and unhappy with the job anyhow. I managed to stay serious and express my understanding of the situation.

This was not a cut-and-dried situation. There was a slight chance that a charge number might be unearthed before my termination day (extending me a few months). The SOP, though, was that in the meantime I was to “keep up the good work”, while getting signed out of all departments that I might have obligations to (toolcribs, locksmith, travel dept., etc.) Oh, and I would keep an eye peeled for “Frank” because the last thing I wanted was to be “saved” the last day before my last day. If word was out that he was approaching the bullpen, I was heading down a stairway somewhere.

I returned to review the drawing with Anne. I didn’t bother telling that I’d just gotten (conditionally) fired. She’d find out eventually anyhow, and there was no sense spoiling her weekend.

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This post was submitted by Chris.

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