I spent almost 3 years working for Sprint - starting with a six-month stint working at SprintPCS's world headquarters and followed by 2.5 years working for Sprint North Supply in New Century, Kansas. (This division was not located at the "Sprint Campus" or Sprint World Headquarters). I was there when WorldCom made its offer to purchase Sprint and sent its stock price up to $75/share. Unfortunately, I was also there when the deal fell through. In November 2001 during the first major round of layoffs I watched one third of my co-workers get fired.
Back in October of 2001 the telecommunications industry was in serious trouble. Many of the players both large and small were either in bankruptcy protection or very close to it. In my business unit we sold telecommunications equipment to all of these companies and we had to be constantly aware of their current outstanding debt to Sprint lest they claim bankruptcy and get out of paying for the goods and services.
The atmosphere in the company was very strained as it became evident that the woes of the industry were eventually going to filter down to all of us. There became much less work for us to do as our pool of customers either disappeared or stopped building infrastructure.
My particular job I felt was largely safe because my division was in charge of materials management in the building of cell phone towers for SprintPCS -- which we knew would be able to get funding to continue the buildout of towers for another year or two. They had to in order to roll out third generation wireless (or "3g") which was going to be necessary to compete in the wireless market. In any case I wasn't happy at Sprint and half of me wished that they would fire me so I could get on with my life.
It came as no huge surprise when everyone received an e-mail on October 16, 2001 from Sprint's CEO Bill Esrey. He told us that very soon 6,000 of us would no longer be working for Sprint and then at the end of his letter: "However, these reductions, as painful as they are, are essential to protect the financial integrity of our company, to our ability to compete, to grow our business, and to meet the expectations of our customers and investors. Through our more than 100 year history, we have met challenges and succeeded. It will be no different in the future." Oh boy! Even though I'm not going to have a job or be able to feed my family, I can rest easily knowing our customers expectations are being met. What a joke!
Everyone became very nervous at this point. The extent of the job cuts was much higher than anyone anticipated and managers became antsy when they discovered that their jobs were even more likely to be affected by the cuts. During the next several weeks people from the human resources department were charged with the terrible job of finding out who should get the ax. All of us had someone from HR sit down with us and we had to explain to them what we did each day -- a most frightening thing for many of my colleagues who really did absolutely nothing productive because there literally wasn't enough work to go around. People were hustling to take on as many tasks as possible just to "look busy".
Two girls in my group were advised by our manager to "cross-train" and learn what I did - but my work was in database administration and they couldn't possibly learn to do it in two weeks (if ever), so I put zero effort in teaching them my job -- and really why should've I? There was no reason I could think of to teach people my job -- that would be counter-productive to my own goals, which at the time involved staying at Sprint.
In the first week of November we were told that within a few weeks we would all find out our fate. The decisions had already been made at this point on who was going to stay and who would go -- we just had to wait to find out. Then November 13th came. In the morning all of the managers and higher positions were called to meetings. Apparently there were two of these meetings. One meeting was for the people that were to be fired. Around 10:15am these people began filtering back to their cubicles to gather their belongings. My immediate supervisor and my manager were both shit-canned. Their boss and my director was also fired (but he had apparently been told earlier the day before because his office was already empty of all his belongings). His boss, the VP of my business unit, was also canned. I had no superiors left in my division except for the CEO of Sprint North Supply. It was odd looking at the organizational chart and seeing nobody there above me. (Our group worked without any supervisors for almost 3 weeks).
The employees had to watch as their bosses tearily packed their belongings away and said their good-byes to people they had spent their entire working lives with. I felt some sort of weird satisfaction -- dare I say delight? -- in seeing my own manager fired. I jealously watched her do nothing but surf the internet all day while I frantically worked to meet constant deadlines. I was happy to see the people of HR had figured out that she was worthless to the company. I was saddened to see many other more worthy people that had lost their jobs -- most of them with families, car payments, and house payments. Some of these people were visibly angry and some were sad and crying - but most of them remained stoic.
Around 11:30am approximately 1/3 of the regular staff received an e-mail "inviting" them to attend a 1:00pm meeting. Most of them instinctively knew that they were getting fired. Everyone went around asking, "Did you get the e-mail?" A few of the remaining managers consolingly tried to pretend that the e-mail could mean something other than what it obviously was.
During lunch the people in the facilities crew started filling the hallways with empty boxes - presumably which would be used by the soon to be fired -- so that their personal effects could be removed. When the boxes arrived it became painfully obvious what was going to happen. The "reality" of it all was setting in.
During the 1:00pm meeting -- all of the people in attendence were summarily fired. They each received informational packets that explained the severance package, the continuation of health benefits, and (almost humorous to me) resources for job-hunting. All of the people had their security badges taken before they left and they were told they had one hour to gather all of their things and leave the building.
Around 1:30pm these people returned and told us all their fate. Some people held up very well and other people couldn't stop crying. Surprisingly to me was that they were each allowed this time to gather their own possessions. I would have thought Sprint would have been worried that they were going to lose some of their own property in the mess -- one girl in our group cut the network cables on her computer in one last act of defiance. Sprint may have lost a few pens and staplers in the process, but I was happy they let people gather their own effects and to say their good-byes. Sprint officials told the remaining non-terminated employees that we were not to allow any former employees into the building -- not even into the cafeteria for lunch. That didn't sound too unreasonable of a security measure to me, but it did present some odd problems. Many families had multiple members that worked for Sprint and after the firings wives, husbands, siblings, and children were prevented from entering the building to meet with their family members.
I don't know how the other divisions of Sprint outside of Sprint North Supply handled this first round of terminations, but from what I saw I was very impressed with how Sprint handled the job. Apparently (from michael_alkav's story above) Sprint has become more callous. They could have and should have told him in person that his job was being eliminated. It was very chicken-shit of them to do what they did.
My own employment at Sprint came to an end in February 2002. I had learned in December and January that the entire database infrastructure for the company was going to be converted from Informix (which I knew) to PeopleSoft (which I did not know). As time grew on I realized that I was helping them convert to this new system by working with the PeopleSoft application developers, but they weren't involving me with any of the PeopleSoft training programs. They weren't going to keep me when they converted over!
I figured I could have stuck around and worked for another 3 months or so -- and maybe I wouldn't have been fired -- but I wouldn't have all the power and control that I currently had, because I was the only one who knew the entire process of our group's business. I knew it forward and backward and I was the only one in the group that knew how to cull reports from the vast sea of data. Everything was going to change soon and it was clear that my own worth to the company was going to be greatly diminished.
In the first week of February I packed up all my belongings in preparation for "the day". I took everything I wanted home. I made plans to drive to Las Vegas with a friend of mine. Then on February 13, 2002 I finished cleaning up my computer. I removed all my personal files and e-mail. I also removed the password locks on all the databases that I controlled so that whoever took over my job would have access to all the information they would need. I didn't destroy any of my paperwork or any computer data -- I knew that would leave me open to lawsuits -- and truth be told -- I wasn't really mad at Sprint anyway. I just wasn't happy working for them anymore.
When I went to lunch at noon I told one person in the cubicle next to me that I was leaving on vacation to Las Vegas and I wasn't coming back to Sprint, ever. I was going to change my voice mail and e-mail responder to let people know that they would need to contact someone else, but I figured they would do that for me soon enough.
So, I just put on my winter coat and walked out.