Pink Slip – Losing your Job isn’t Funny

Occupy Wall Street by Timothy Krause on Flickr

Photo by Timothy Krause on Flickr

In an age of austerity, I would be surprised if anyone were to joke about losing their job. I have never worked out why it is that this should be a cause for mirth. It isn’t funny when it really happens – being on the dole is grim – so why make light of it?

Of course, we do joke about all sorts of things, including those things that are supposed to be sad or solemn. For example, there are many hilarious jokes concerning death – such as Spike Milligan’s remark that his tombstone epitaph would be:

“I told you I was ill.”

So, am I being overly sensitive when it comes to the loss of one’s livelihood?

Thinking about this, my answer would be that general jokes are fine, especially outside the workplace, but joking with a particular work colleague in an office environment about how he can look forward to life on the dole – well, these types of jokes make me uncomfortable.

Of course, I have good reason for my opinion. My family have known poverty.

My grandfather couldn’t afford school, overcame his difficulties to become reasonably prosperous and then lost everything during the partition of India, at an age where he was too old to work anymore. My Dad had to struggle to find jobs when he came to the UK.. And lastly, my own experience – having qualified during a recession, having to do various low paid temp jobs, waiting five years before even getting a permanent position – having experienced redundancy and another long wait of nearly three years for the next job – perhaps it is understandable that I’m a tad sensitive on the topic.

Al Capone's Soup Kitchen

Al Capone’s Soup Kitchen

Which is why I was always surprised when hearing remarks at the office such as “Hee hee, we’ll all be getting our P45 next”, or from the boss “Got your P45s handy? Hee hee”

Of course, those who joke have probably not experienced the hardship of looking for employment when none is to be had. At the time when these sorts of comments were made, the job market was buoyant, and workers could openly say “I’m looking for something else in case you’re wondering whether I’m happy with my pay rise”.

I’d like to tell you about two instances where I was on the receiving end of a pink slip witticism. Needless to say, I wasn’t impressed.

Where’s my payslip?

This was during my first “permanent” job, working at a law firm. I use the word “permanent” in inverted commas because I was in fact a temp – however, because I was contracted to work on a very large scale piece of litigation, which was taking a long time, the position was effectively permanent. For the first time in my working life, I had a sense of stability.

I shared an office with another temp (in fact, I later found out that this law firm had a habit of employing people like us, to keep the costs down). She was also looking for something permanent – she’d previously been a trainee at a bigger City firm, but hadn’t been taken on, so she was “hanging on” at this smaller place, and making herself useful.

Well, one day, the end of the month came around and with it, those little envelopes which told us how much we’d earned and how much was going to the taxman and how much into our pension (no pension provision for me – I’m a temp) Everyone got theirs. Except yours truly.

WHERE’S MY PAYSLIP????? OH NO, THEY’VE DECIDED TO GET RID OF ME!!!!!!!!

By ClintJCL on Flickr

By ClintJCL on Flickr

Yes, yours truly was in a total, unmitigated panic! Well, can you blame me? Having taken so long to get something, knowing that my contract could come to an end if the case was dropped tomorrow…

Photo by  @Doug88888 on Flickr

Photo by @Doug88888 on Flickr

This is what my understanding roommate said:

“Maybe you’ve been sacked ha ha, guffaw, guffaw”. She was so delighted at the witticism that I really wanted to brain the bitchface.

In the end it was sorted out. I got hold of HR and they found the payslip in the end. Problem solved. Yours truly had overreacted.

But as to bitchface…yes, it was a joke, so maybe I was being oversensitive. But if I think about her situation – well, she’s also a temp – she’s not been able to find anything permanent. She was also quite a mature lady – about 35 years old – you’d have thought that one should behave a bit more…umm maturer?

Maybe. Maybe not. But this next tale is a tad more serious.

You’re fired!

Fast forward a few years later. Sitting in the office I share with my supervisor Andrew. Andrew isn’t just my supervisor – he is also my friend. We get on very well together, being of a similar age, and also because Andrew is a genuinely friendly person, as well as the fact that we are both deeply unhappy at work.

Andrew can talk the hind legs off a donkey. In our idle moments – which are plentiful due to the fat that our department is undergoing a recession – Andrew talks.

“I thought I’d tell you a little story I read about the other day Malachi. It was about a chap who was interviewed by a business magazine, about how he’d got to where he was.

“Apparently, he’d had a well paid job and was doing well, but had to be laid off when there was a downturn. After a while, he got himself together and started up on his own. Now, years later, he’s a millionaire, and getting more than he ever got from his paid job.

“When he was asked, what was it that had made him so successful, he replied:

“The best thing that ever happened to me was to lose my job. If it hadn’t been for that, I’d have been stuck in a rut all my life. Losing my job forced me to think about what I really wanted to do and to fend for myself…and here I am now.”

Laughing Buddha by Tojosan on Flickr

Laughing Buddha by Tojosan on Flickr

“Pretty remarkable. It actually got me thinking about you Malchi. I’m going to do you a big favour and get the MD to sack you” (said with glee and chortling), “and then you’ll be in the same position as this other chap! Who knows you’ll look back on this as the best thing that ever happened to you? What do you think?”

I abruptly got up and left the room. When I came back I was greeted with the words “What’s wrong?” Unbelievable.

MALACHI: “Do you really think it’s funny? Do you know how hard I’ve found it to get jobs in the past, and now you think it’s a joke to tell someone you’re going to get them the sack?”

ANDREW: “It was just a joke…”

MALACHI: “Some things aren’t for joking. How would you feel if I lost my job in the next few weeks?”

ANDREW: “Umm…pretty shitty actually” At last, he had the grace to look shamefaced. “Sorry.” What a clown.

Two months after this conversation I was made redundant. It took me two and a half years to get another job.

Losing your job isn’t funny.

Destitute Man by Dorothea Lange Source: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

Destitute Man by Dorothea Lange Source: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum