In the rough economy we are in right now along with the escalation of mergers and acquisitions, layoffs are becoming a common occurrence. Even though it is considered “just business”, the emotional upheaval for both the employee (and the employees that remain) and employer can be quite significant. How it is handled can lessen the impact to all involved- and head off litigation whenever possible.
First it is critical to recognize that even if you knew it was coming (and you should have if you work for a company that has a good communication infrastructure), it is important to allow yourself to acknowledge the emotions involved and how those can lead you down a path that you may later regret. It is common to feel anger, resentment, sadness, betrayal and other high energy emotions. The first instinct is to lash out at whomever you perceive is causing you to feel such pain- this is, of course, a normal human reaction. But what can you gain by negative actions (whether it is a social media blitz telling everyone what a horrible company XYZ really is, to making threats to physical violence)? While you think it will make you feel better, chances are that the feeling is at best fleeting and really does nothing to improve your situation. So what can you do?
- Allow yourself a few days to rest, recalibrate and recharge. Do nothing work related and simply give your mind and body a chance to regain some of the strength that this event has undoubtedly sapped from you.
- Remind yourself that this is not a reflection of you or your abilities.
- Things happen that are out of our control- layoff’s being a prime example. One thing that can help is to begin to direct your energy toward things you can impact; freshening up your resume, reviewing your professional goals, tightening up your finances if necessary, increasing your networking efforts. All of these things will return the power and the feeling of strength it gives to you.
- Remain cordial with former co-workers if possible. Chance are very few of them- if any- had any impact on the decision to lay you off and are most likely at some level feeling impacted by your dismissal. Treating each other as if no relationship ever existed or that there is some reason to become enemies at this point serves no purpose and can increase the stress being felt by everyone.
- Try to forgive and move on as soon as possible. I realize this is difficult- after all you were discarded without any consideration to your feelings- but in the end it will free you to move on to bigger and better things. I know that sounds hollow if it is something you are going through right now but if you look back over your life, I will bet that you find that there are many times when you felt like a situation was devastating only to have it lead you to a truly better place. This is no different!
- Make sure that this is what has to be done. Never lay off employees unless every alternative has been explored first. One company offered the option to the employees of across the board pay cuts or layoffs- the employees chose to accept the cut in pay to save jobs. The damage that a layoff can do to the remaining staff and the overall culture of the company must be weighed against any gain and should never be underestimated.
- Once the decision has been made to eliminate one or more position, do it immediately. Delaying the layoff is never a good idea as the employees are going to pick up on subtle indicators that something is going on behind the scenes. Even if they do not figure out that there is a layoff pending, they will know you are hiding something and that erodes trust. Once the layoff comes to light, it is likely that the employees will feel used and this may escalate negative feelings which can increase the likelihood of a lawsuit.
- Do your homework and be totally prepared for the meeting. Think ahead to how the employee may react and plan accordingly. Some tips to remember:
- Have tissues handy. Understand how intense this will be for the employee and be ready for a flood of emotions.
- Make sure all paperwork is in order (even if you verbally tell the employee the information they need to know, chances are the shock will keep them from processing the information)
- Position yourself between the employee and the door (you never know when an employee may become aggressive and you will need to leave yourself an out). It is also a good idea to have the supervisor and an member of HR or other manager in the room as well.
- Keep your message direct and to the point. Do not tell them how bad you feel about this- guess what, they feel worse!
- Have the answers to as many questions as possible and allow them the choice to pack their belongings or have that done for them. Some feel that not allowing them to take their belongings is treating them like a criminal (of course they can be observed while they are packing); others are of the opinion that forcing them to take that “walk of shame” with all of their stuff causes undue embarrassment.
- You SHOULD feel horrible about doing this. It does not mean you shouldn’t do it but you need to remember that there is a possibility that the employee will now be facing serious issues- everything from depression to foreclosure. Nothing about this is to be taken lightly and if you don’t have trouble sleeping while this decision is being made- you may need to rethink your chosen profession. Leaders need to have empathy and social intelligence- these traits will carry you through this tumultuous time.
The faith of the remaining employees will be shaken. Understand that there is a likelihood that some employees will look for new employment because they cannot rest easy that they are not next- especially if this was not expected. One company that had begun a merger with another company, held a meeting to reassure employees that the plan was growth- not to get rid of employees. Once the redundant positions started to be eliminated, all trust was gone. This is tough to recover from and was an error in judgment to be sure.
Lay-off’s, down-sizing, right-sizing; whatever we choose to call it is life altering for the employees and culture altering for the company. It cannot be taken lightly and all things need to be considered before undertaking such a proposition.