It’s become my habit to enjoy the day’s first cup of coffee in a café and write before work. Absorbed in my sentence, I looked up when a gentleman let his leather portfolio fall from his hand to the counter where I was sitting. It made a loud smack. He looked irritated. I tried not to judge, knowing that I was not blameless in sometimes showing my irritation in public. He took out his cell phone and began a conversation at a volume that could be heard over the sound of the barista steaming milk. He was talking with a co-worker about his company’s budget and organizational demands, and he said, “We need to go ahead and hire someone while we can. If it doesn’t work out, we’ll just get rid of them.”

I certainly don’t advocate for taking away a manager’s ability to fire unproductive staff.  Everybody knows that one unproductive staff member can frustrate an entire team, yet the stark reality of his words sounded so abrupt. I imagined his newly hired colleague, excited to have found an opportunity, starting to make plans for his future in light of his recent good fortune. He would be able to help his daughter out with her college tuition; he would take a trip he had been delaying because of the cost of the plane ticket. He had hopes and plans and certainly didn’t view himself as disposable, never mind his previous experience of being laid off once before. He was human, not a commodity. Hard work and office politics well played – he frequented the same sandwich shop his boss did, gaining valuable snippets not discussed in the weekly team meetings and other such actions – may give him the illusion he was not disposable. He would forget the gratitude he felt upon first being hired, he would forget his good fortune, he would forget the vulnerability he once felt, so that a year from now, sitting in the café, it may be him saying, “If it doesn’t work out, we’ll just get rid of them.”