Career Advice, Reviews

Lay off Lessons: Are Companies Learning?

It’s been since the early 1990’s that most companies had to go through large scale, coordinated layoffs.  The internet companies went through it this decade but those were still heady days and people were provided round-the-world-vacation-sized severance packages and most had a job waiting back in banking or consumer products.  However, today is different.  This is the first time that most in the job market are facing a time when job loss means no other are jobs available.  Because of this, most companies are being more deliberate about what they are doing, but many still are making mistakes of the past and you wonder, “Haven’t we learned anything?”

Why December?

Was it necessary to have massive layoffs leading up to the holidays?  Let’s face it, the economy has been bad for more than a few months now and could we not have seen lower-than-expected revenues and profits that we could have gotten ahead of the holiday season?  The holidays are the worst, if for no other reason, because everyone remembers the company who laid them off during the holidays.  Companies that have learned and retain foresight are the ones who communicated well before the holidays that they would be laying off after the holidays so that everyone was on notice to watch their spending and decisions. Yes, it causes some short-term disruption and anxiety but in the long run, everyone is appreciative of the advance warning. (I am also predicting that because many did do this that the month of January 2009 will be another large, if not the largest, layoff month).

Why group notifications?

Can anything be more demeaning than being called into one room while another group of people are called into another room?  Yes this creates greater efficiency and control but let’s remember that this is not just about job loss, this is also about potential loss of identity and self-worth.  There is a reason that people will go days or weeks without telling their spouse or partner that they have lost their job.  Will I still be loved and accepted at home if I am not the executive that I was before?  Organizations should go the extra mile and talk to people individually.  The best of the best close business for the day and schedule everyone in for their individual notification times so they don’t sit wondering when, or get the email to go to Conference Room A while their co-worker goes to Conference Room B.

Why Fridays?

I’m amazed there are still companies that still choose lay-off on Fridays. It’s one of the worst cases of insensitivity.  Sorry, you lost your job and now go home and be by yourself all weekend.  Nice huh?

Why instant cutoff?

A “reduction in force” is considerably different from a “cause” termination yet many employers still treat these as one in the same. If done right, then there is a way to not have to immediately cut off someone’s access to their office, email and phone. When you layoff someone and then tell them that you’ve removed their office and email access, you essentially cut off their life-line and thwart the first step for them getting another job and protecting their self-worth.  Even if they saw it coming, to not have the chance to use their company email to wrap up relationships and forward their contact information, is pretty inhumane.  We all use our company email to keep up with other parts of our lives and now with the “auto-population” of names in the “To” line, we may not have any other way to contact people who we care about (and who care about us) and let them know the change of status.  As employers, we also have responsibility in helping people retain their self-respect and protect their ego during emotional and trying times like this. By allowing them to have access to their email long enough to wrap up  loose ends and get a start on their next job search is an important step, in the right direction. And if you are concerned with the risks of office access, then let employees take their laptops home for a specified time frame.  What do companies have to lose other than a more than likely fully-depreciated piece of hardware? If that’s too much, then web access to email still works. Lawyers may say that for all of the above the risks are too great, but let’s remember that we need to treat people like we want to be treated. We can all act like adults and do the right thing.

While there are plenty of other things that companies can do better, addressing some of the common pitfalls above, add the right philosophy, will not only help you sleep better at night, but the other people still in your company will appreciate that care went into the process. And, we’d all like to think that if it ever happened to us, we have confidence we will be treated well.