The scenario goes something like this: A decent, competent, hard-charging chief executive officer of a healthcare institution is suddenly given the "opportunity to pursue other interests" by the board of that system or facility. Everyone expresses shock that such a thing could happen. Most of the time the executive is given the opportunity to put the best face on the situation by "resigning" so there won't be too many questions. Everything is wrapped in a neat little package and everyone moves on.
For the executive let go, however, moving on isn't really so easy. Yes, they may have a nice severance package to provide an economic cushion for the fall, but the experience is usually devastating anyway. The same can be said for anyone who is asked to leave a place of employment, be they middle managers, nurses, accounting clerks or janitors. These lower-level workers don't get the same goodbye deals and the dismissals may not send many shock waves throughout the organization, but every dismissal affects morale among co-workers who know the people being let go and may fear for their own jobs. In the current economic climate firings have an especially chilling effect. It's getting tough out there.
The impact of a layoff or firing is felt beyond the hospital walls-families can be severely disrupted. A lunch I recently had with a big-name health system CEO who had been forced out of his job brought this home to me. Talking about his wife of many years, he said, "I couldn't have gotten through all this if it hadn't been for her. She's been with me no matter what the circumstances. I owe her everything."
I asked this fellow who had called him after they heard he had "resigned." He said the same thing other people have told me after losing their jobs. Some friends had gotten in touch to express their concern, but he had not heard from many people he had counted as friends. In contrast, there were other people he didn't think cared that much who called to find out how he was doing. In particular, he said a top executive at another healthcare system called, offering my friend and his family the use of a Colorado house that she and her husband had bought a few years ago. She persisted in offering the retreat as a place to help this man and his family "wind down." "I could tell she really meant it. We didn't use it, but I'll always remember that invitation," he said.
A few years ago, another friend was fired from one of the most prestigious jobs in healthcare. Shortly afterward he came into my office and you could tell by his face how stressed out he was with what had happened to him. I asked him the same question-how many friends had he heard from? "I've had four or five calls from people like you, but I know a lot of my friends don't know what to say. I am surprised some of them haven't called, though." I told him that because it already had been a month since he had left his job that he probably had heard from just about everyone he was going to hear from. The hurt in his eyes was obvious. He talked about his wife and the effect his job loss had on her. "The phone stopped ringing and she wasn't invited to all the social gatherings she had been asked to when I was the big boss," he said. "I came home one night and found her and my daughter holding each other, crying. She was mystified by the way people were acting, but she stayed right with me through this whole thing and I just can't say enough about her love and friendship."
Later, as we talked about his dismissal and his options, I offered this advice: "Get on with your life. With your reputation, knowledge of the industry and drive you will land in an even better job, make more money and still be able to spend more time with your family. In fact, you're lucky this happened when it did because you are still young enough to get started again."
He did and he is more successful, creative and happier than ever. A year after my talk with him I went to dinner with him and his wife to celebrate their new life. He had not wasted valuable time and energy being angry. He simply had gotten on with his life and made things happen.
Losing a job is no walk in the park for anyone. Some people never recover from being forced out of a job. Whatever status you have, losing it can be devastating. Everyone loses some confidence and winds up second-guessing their decisions, asking themselves what they did to make the doctors mad or the board members disenchanted. But the experience can wind up being positive, as hard as that is to see in the days after something like this happens. For many people, being fired is the first time they take stock of themselves, analyzing strengths and weaknesses. Some of us have never reflected on who we are and what life means for our families. It shouldn't take being fired to achieve this introspection.
More people need to take a sabbatical from work to contemplate what it is that they want out of life. Only then can people begin to understand what really matters, which is having people who really love you no matter what your job status is, people who stick with you through thick and thin. Whether it's family or friends, having people who care for you as a person-and not a job title-is what it's all about.
So to the fine gentleman I just had lunch with I say this: I guarantee you that a year from now you will not only be a better person for what you have gone through but will be successful as well because you have finally taken stock of what is really important to you. With your positive attitude you can't fail.
You're the best,
360 N. Michigan Ave.
Chicago, Ill. 60601-3806
E-mail: [email protected]
Lauer is the author of two books, Reach for the Stars and Soar with the Eagles. For more information, go to www.chucklauer.com