Actually, There is a Better Way to Layoff People
"J.T. & Dale Talk Jobs" is the largest nationally syndicated career advice column in the country and can be found at jtanddale.com. Dear J.T. & Dale: I am a manager who regularly reads your column for insight into what employees and potential new hires are thinking. I have worked hard to build the trust of my team, but now I’ve been instructed to lay off four of them. Our HR department has given me some guidelines for doing the deed that are cold and impersonal. I’d love some advice from you guys on how I can go a bit further and minimize the negative impact on the self-esteem of my departing employees. — Carly Dale: The guidance managers get about layoffs typically is colored by the horror stories HR people tell each other, from employees collapsing to ones turning violent. Add in the fear of wrongful termination suits, and you have a spiral of worry that ends with departing employees being seen as potential enemies. That’s why we were so pleased to get your question — it’s often up to individual managers to add back the compassion and humanity that the official corporate guidance forgets. J.T.: Speaking of forgotten compassion, we recently received results of a survey of laid-off employees, published by Telonu.com. (It’s pronounced “tell on you,” and the site offers employees a chance to comment on their employers/workplaces.) Of employees who had been laid off, 88 percent rated “how layoff was handled” as Poor or Very Poor. Dale: So, thinking of you, Carly, we wondered about those few in the other 12 percent — what went right? The CEO of Telonu, Bari Abdul, took an interest in our questions and sorted through the data for us. As you might expect, an important factor was a generous severance package. However, among those few who felt that the layoff had been done right, Bari concluded this: “The companies are giving people time to find other opportunities inside the company. What this does is reduce the suddenness of the decision and convinces the employees it is not that someone wants to get rid of them, but that their ‘position’ has been cut.” J.T.: Here is one of the verbatim comments from one such employee: “Looks like the company is going to give the people on the layoff list a chance to look for other jobs internally — feeling a little relieved — I had a great performance review and was just stuck in a bad area.” You can see how that relates to employees’ self-esteem. Dale: But what if you can’t offer the employees the hope of staying on? There’s a solution to be found in another comment from a newly laid-off employee: “I am scared to death but my boss handled the situation well. She let me know a day before the ax fell, so I was prepared and did not freak out. She also offered to help me personally and gave me a positive recommendation note, and said she was willing to put a reference for me on LinkedIn.” There you see the manager respecting the employee while offering both hope and help. And isn’t that what we all want in this economy — a bit of respect, along with a little hope and help? Jeanine "J.T." Tanner O'Donnell is a professional development specialist and founder of CAREEREALISM.com. Dale Dauten's latest book is "(Great) Employees Only: How Gifted Bosses Hire and De-Hire Their Way to Success" (John Wiley & Sons). Please visit them at jtanddale.com, where you can send questions via e-mail, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019. © 2009 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.