Computerworld

Layoff reactions

In my last column, I questioned whether there was a "right" way to handle layoffs. Does a good manager tip off employees before the event or abide by the wishes of the powers that be and stay silent, all the while uneasy with the knowledge?

I asked readers to drop me a line with their thoughts, and many were good enough to do so. Reaction was strong, and e-mailers seemed split about 50-50 on the issue of sharing vs. silence. It's obvious that 1. Everyone's been through the ringer on this, many as manager and laid-off employee, and 2. Everyone wants to sincerely do what's right- or at least what they think is right. The following are some excerpts and insights:

* "My issue, or should I say personal conflict, comes from my standard of personal integrity. My belief is that one should never lie ... period. Once I knew a layoff was coming, I had to keep myself extremely busy to limit my interactions with staff, whether they were my direct reports or my associates in the office. In the end, damaged relations resulted. My consultants did not want to see me show up on their work site; my nickname became the Grim Reaper. It stung the first time I heard it but in time, I realized it was just their way of dealing with the issue; it wasn't personal." This has a bittersweet ending: Relations between this person and his former staff were repaired with time (they're all still in contact), but this manager was later the victim of a layoff himself.

* "The most frustrating part of being the one that is laid off is knowing that the managers above you, that may have caused all the problems because of the old-school thinking, are still going to be there making the same mistakes and laying off more people. Then when the company gets into really hard times they move on to other companies never knowing or caring about the employees that were laid off." I don't know about you, but I hear this a lot post-layoff.

* "I have been involved from both sides - as a manager and as an employee being laid off. I found myself in the position of knowing about some employees; I went through the process of listening about what was going on in their lives knowing the layoff was imminent. I did feel like a heel, but knew that the best was to proceed was to keep quiet. I would agree that it is very wise to keep the knowledge quiet until absolutely necessary for employees. However, I could be swayed to consider the individual employee, my relationship with that employee, whether he/she can respect and be guided through the layoff process."

* "As a manager I had to reduce groups and close businesses, and never found the process getting any easier or better as the years advanced. It is hard to play 'God' with someone's life and stay objective when faced with the reality of human drama. . . . Being laid-off is not a reflection on the individual, but a reality of the company's cash-flow."

* " I believe we need to prepare our employees somehow for the blow. I like to send out an e-mail either the night before or the morning of layoffs to let my staff know what will be coming in less than 24 hours. This gives them at least a little time to prepare themselves mentally for that momentous event. I think this is only fair and shows respect to the staff. Even Houdini was hurt by a blow to the stomach because it was a surprise punch by an overeager fan. He didn't have time to prepare his muscles for the blow and some believe that caused his appendix to rupture which eventually killed him of peritonitis!"