Layoffs tend to be an isolating experience. But so far, that has not been the case for many of the people Target laid off on March 10.
In the first days after being laid off, John Drevlow pledged to stick to a daily routine, as he did in 12 years working for Target Corp.’s Minneapolis headquarters.
He still wakes up at 6 a.m. and helps get his young sons ready for school. The rest of the day is less defined but, more than a month after becoming one of 1,700 people let go by Target, it still revolves to a large degree around his former colleagues. But now, that happens online.
“That’s the amazing thing — it still feels like we’re a team,” Drevlow says. “I reflect a lot about if this layoff would have happened 15 or 20 years ago, our experience would have been entirely different. I joke, I can sit in my office at my house, and it feels like I’m just working from home. Because I’m connecting with the same people I used to work with.”
Layoffs tend to be a solitary and isolating experience. But so far, that has not been the case for many of the people Target laid off on March 10 in the largest-ever downsizing of its corporate headquarters.
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Friends, peers, businesses and schools across the Twin Cities reached out to exiled Target workers with ideas, job leads and offers for discounts on everything from photo headshots to yoga.
Meanwhile, recruiters from Home Depot, Gap and other retailers have flown in to meet former Target employees.
When Drevlow settles in at his home computer each morning, one of his first stops online is a private Facebook group that connects Target employees and those it recently idled. The nearly 5,000 people in the group share job leads, contacts at potential employers, interviewing tips and words of encouragement.
The Facebook group is also a forum for working through the emotions of the layoff. Many former employees shared an optimism for their future. Some discussed tougher moments, such as the odd and sad feeling of shopping at Target now as a “guest” instead of an employee. Others asked for advice on everything from whether to wear pantyhose to an interview to how to transfer contacts over from their company cellphones.
Last week, a handful of ex-Target workers on the forum announced they landed new jobs. Some others confessed they aren’t ready to jump into a full-blown job search.
Kevin Khottavongsa, 27, worked in business licensing at Target for just a few weeks. The layoff dealt him another big blow after the death of his father in January.
“It felt like everything got pulled from underneath my feet,” he said. “But now I get to start over and prioritize my needs.”
Khottavongsa is one of about 300 of the former Target workers to sign up for nondegree executive education classes at the University of St. Thomas, something Target offered to pay for as part of its severance package to employees.
There are already wait lists for some classes, so now the school is thinking about adding some more sessions, a university spokesman said.
The University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management is holding a half-day “unexpected job search” workshop next month to help. The school has also kept tabs on the recruiters coming to town to meet the laid-off Target workers.
“It’s exciting to see that people want to quickly hire these workers,” says Maggie Tomas, director of career center at graduate school. “It’s also fortunate we’re in a really nice job market and we’re in a state with a low unemployment rate. Those are the silver linings.”
That rosy job outlook and the strong interest from prospective employers have boosted many workers’ confidence and diminished the ego bruising that typically happens in a layoff, Tomas says. “It doesn’t feel like a stigma at all,” she says.
The outreach will be of use some time to come. Target is not done yet with its cuts; a smaller number is expected in coming months.
For the laid-off employees, it’s easier to explain to prospective employers that they were part of a cut that included 1,700 people. Dozens have taken I Am Mpls, a local booster group, up on its offer to profile them on its Facebook page to highlight them to prospective employers.
Drevlow has been chronicling the ups and downs of being a victim of corporate downsizing in several posts on LinkedIn.
“There’s a little bit of ‘Why me?’” says Drevlow, who is in his mid-30s and spent his entire career with the company. “But it’s a pretty easy question to answer. It’s not personal. The company just had to make a decision and remove layers. You were in the wrong spot at the wrong time.”
He saw firsthand how the company had become too slow to make decisions under layers of management.
“It’s hard to turn an organization like that around without making some tough decisions,” he says. “Target is a great company and I have nothing but goodwill toward them.”
After Target executives told investors in New York on March 2 that they were planning to downsize the 13,000-strong headquarters staff, Drevlow began to think he was vulnerable. He’d just transferred to a new job as a product manager for shoes. But his paperwork had not yet been processed, so he felt he was in a sort of limbo.
On the morning of March 10, he decided to meet his fate with grace and wear a suit to work, something he’d rarely done after the company last year moved to a business casual dress code.
“There was this sense of walking into my own execution,” Drevlow says. “There was this moment of, maybe if just stop and don’t go in, this won’t happen. But you have to face it.”
After learning he was on the list, Drevlow texted his wife, Lisa, and she replied that she was safe. Then, as he later described on LinkedIn, one of the lowest days in his career ended up becoming one of the best nights of his life.
Drevlow went from one restaurant or bar to another, running into co-workers and friends. They comforted one another and told each other how they had improved each other’s lives. It was a moment of elation that has kept him feeling buoyant about his future — a “This is your Target life moment,” Drevlow says.
At home, as he tried to find a new routine, Drevlow has taken over more of the household chores, such as folding laundry and cooking dinner and watching expenses as the family adjusts to be a single-income household for a while.
When he talks to those who are still at Target, he sees that they are struggling in a different way: trying to figure out who is doing what job amid a giant reorganization that is still not settled. “Their world has been turned upside down, too,” Drevlow says.