Enterprise Software

Is there a better way to be handed a pink slip?

It's never a good thing to be let go from a job. But, believe it or not, some ways are better than others.

It's never a good thing to be let go from a job. But, believe it or not, some ways are better than others.

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This is a guest post from Deb Perelman of TechRepublic's sister site ZDNet. You can read her ZDNet blog The IT Grind, or subscribe to the RSS feed.

I know what you're probably thinking: What a ridiculous question. There is no gentle way to hand out a pink slip. There is no way to be told that "your services are no longer needed" but "here is the number to our local unemployment office" and/or "an explanation of why we won't be offering severance packages this round" that doesn't sting. Want to do it better? Don't do it at all.

But, it is hard to argue that there aren't better and worse ways to break bad news. Countless layoff horror stories abound- from IMs to being informed by security that you are just a "visitor" now and disabled network connections-suggesting that even the so-called smartest companies could use a little tutorial in how to break bad news with respect and tact.

Jason Calcanis, on the day his company, Mahalo, shed 10 percent of their staff, shared lessons he'd learned laying off employees in the past:

1. Don't spread layoffs over multiple rounds: Rounds of layoffs is a "horrible idea", says Calcanis, because it creates massive fear and uncertainty inside of your organization.

2. Lay people off in a group, not individually: Calcanis found that telling people one-by-one was not more humane.

3. Don't sugarcoat the rationale: Be 100 percent honest and upfront about why you chose to keep some people and not others.

4. Cutting jobs is better than cutting salaries: Rather than angering everyone in the organization by hurting all of their bottom lines, cut a few salaries altogether and leave the people you want to keep as happy as possible.

5. Give severance even if you don't have to, and freelancer work, where you can: Be as generous as you can be, said Calcanis, and don't forget these people when you start hiring again.

6. Lay people off at the end of the day: No need to keep people around until the end of the day or week. When they're done, let them leave.

7. Get over it and get back to work: The reality is, everyone else needs to get back to work.

How about you? If you've ever been laid off, how do you think it could have been handled better?

76 comments
ncudmore
ncudmore

A few years back we had a seagull boss, come down and get the whole team into a meeting to tell us they were getting rid of the whole team. Worst bit about it was the manager left his mobile on throughout the meeting and answered several phone calls to the ring tone of "We are the self-preservation, soc-eye-er-ty" from the Italian job. And, yes the layoffs didn't apply to anyone at his site...

jalford12
jalford12

I've had an inkling that this was coming, but instead of being honest and just saying there isn't enough work for 3 people and they had selected me to go, they invented stuff I hadn't done as a reason to "let me go". One can't fight that sort of thing because there is no way to prove that you haven't done what they say you haven't done... I'm happy to leave as the new manager/team leader combination wasn't one I got along with and life was stressful at work. They were both non-technical and were more interested in the red-tape than in quality code/development, but there you go...

Forum Surfer
Forum Surfer

You can very seldom win an argument in front of management when your oponent is willing to make up facts or false truths that you haven't had time to prepare a proper retort for.

nlaw
nlaw

After 28 years of being an A+ performer, doing every job in our organziation (except Director of Engineering) I was let go. Two things were done wrong in the dismissal. First, they had a manager I was friends with (somewhat) do it - they figured there would be less confrontation that way. So our senior management didn't have the b*lls to face me. 2) They gave me the "we have no position for you going forward" which was bullsh*t. As I said, I had done every job in the place and constantly applauded for my work. Most times I ended playing multiple roles (project manager, senior developer and tester). The company I left is very self protective and don't want to be truthful to people. I left very angry and frustrated because of their attitude. There was no warning (week before I got another A+ review) and I was blind sided at the meeting. If they had been honest with me and told me the real reasons it would have been much better. If they told me in advance there were concerns and we worked on it would have been even better.

JunkGrunt
JunkGrunt

I just went through a layoff situation where a friend (assistant manager) was chosen to do the dirty work of laying me off,That was not really an issue,I ate dinner last night at his house and socialize as we did prior to my employment with the company. But,The real kicker is in due time he will suffer the same fate if not worse in the end of his term of employment.I just hope I have my phone handy to hear the news!...I would hate to miss beer-thirty

josephcsamuel
josephcsamuel

Most what has been suggested is not from concern for the employee but to get rid of it at a fastest possible time without having to think too much about the employee. When our company had to go through a similar situation every one including the MD took salary cut. MD took 100% cut for 6 months. Finally when things were back in place there were not given back the money with interest, but just he pay. This one action boosted the confidence in the company. But I could see the bonding between the employees. We didn't work there, we just strived for a common goal. Recently when a merger took place and the superbossess wanted all the employees except the MD, everyone stood by the MD not the offers! Our perspective determines how we handle a situation like this. Some may struggle in telling people. That may not be a best way. But I also don't know if I would feel better if I have been selected for slaugther and herded together. I will never go back to a company that didn't want me during their troubled times, to share the good times, however lucrative it may sound.

Jaqui
Jaqui

will you model it if I hand you one? ]:) ;)

patclem
patclem

A friend of mine is in a voluntary layoff situation right now. They have a couple of days to decide if the individual wants to take the package (which is quite decent.) If they don't get enough volunteer leavers, they'll start cutting involuntarily in early December. One bad part is, they'll pay out the lump sum compensation on December 31, which screws everyone on taxes. Another bad part is it's right in the middle of the holidays. Worst part is the economy sucks, and getting a new job is rough. For him, a bad part is his tenure has him getting 4 weeks of paid vacation currently. Best part is they're being honest, upfront and communicating transparently. The rumor mill is not running, and individuals are enabled to make a decision for themselves. I think that's better than being sneaky. I've been part of sneaky layoff deals,it's usually leaked, and the people that are left lose trust in their leadership.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

mistake. I've effectively been layed off twice. I can't take the "this is for the best" crap. I'd rather be escorted out of the building and booted out of the gate than listen to that self serving drivel. Get it over with, and be honest about it, particularly with your remaining work force. Even if it's to cut costs so you can make your numbers and be promoted, nothing is guaranteed to come back and haunt you more as a manager than managing a work force reduction dishonestly. No one will believe anything you (or any other company officer) say ever again.

cbader
cbader

I was laid off In January last year, right after X-Mas and my sons second b-day. The boss was trying to get the entire infrastructure switched over to Mac computers. The current system that had been set up by the previous admin was just a workgroup, so it wasnt going to be a very big project. Anyways, he asks me to come in to his office, I had a feeling what was going on so I immediately looked over his desk to see if there was anything obvious like a check or whatever, which there wasnt. He attempts to make some small talk, says "You're taking a test towards your MCSE this week right? Well I have to let you go". It was that sudden, I couldnt believe the way he went about it. At least I got two weeks salary as severance. The worst part is the admin I was hired to replace that the owner couldnt stand got to keep his job.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

The best way to hand over a pink slip is to slowly gyrate sensuously in a warmly lit room with exotic, sexual music playing. Sliding it slowly over her full yet firm buttocks as she wiggles a little to ease it over her hips. Hanging onto it for just a few seconds before letting it elegantly fall to her ankles and drape over her freshly painted toes. It doesn't matter what colour her slip is at that point!

Tig2
Tig2

And you are a bad, bad, BAD, boy!

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

Now THAT'S thinking outside the box for ya!

santeewelding
santeewelding

Let him continue. I want to hear about the laying and the firing.

Tig2
Tig2

Of Ozzie's crazy train! You be good!

jdclyde
jdclyde

I have seen people get laid off the week before Christmas, which is for many people, just AFTER going in debt to buy gifts. This is not something that is decided and acted upon that day, it is planned out. People that hold out to just before the holiday should be publicly flogged. I was in that boat, fortunately for me, I had stopped charging Christmas a few years before that, so I was not hit as hard. Some of my ex-co-workers were devastated.

GSG
GSG

I've never been laid off, and hopefully never will, but I never go in debt except for house and car, and I typically go 5 years at a time without car payments. I use my charge card for everything as it helps with my budgeting process, but it's paid off every month. At least I won't have to worry about credit card debt if the worst happens.

Forum Surfer
Forum Surfer

The big kibosh in the silly season is indeed grounds for public flogging.

Tig2
Tig2

My SO and I were hurrying home after my mother's funeral. We drove and at that point had been on the road about 16 hours and had gotten to a hotel at around midnight. We planned to sleep until 8:00 or 9:00 in the morning and continue to MN. At 7:00 a.m. his cell rang. It was his PM who let him know that his contract had been terminated, effective the previous Friday (we had left on Thursday morning to get to CA for the funeral Saturday. We left CA on Monday morning so this call came in Tuesday). If they had just told him on Wednesday before he left, we would likely have spent more time with the family after the funeral.

thompsonwj
thompsonwj

I have had a couple of owners of small companies that would not talk to me and others for 2 to 3 days before being laid off. Then they would make an appointment and not show up so someone else would have to deliver the bad news.

RFink
RFink

I was working for a major company in 1993 when it decided to lay off 91 people in the Detroit area. My account lost four and they were to be laid off one at a time. When the first person was let go the the manager was careless and left the list of names in plain view on his desk. What he didn't count on was the first person walking across the street and notifying the other three via payphone. That spread through the office like wild fire.

sthurman
sthurman

Some companies have proven to be successful while reducing wages and working hours during tough times. Nucor Steel is one example. Angering everyone is not a problem because executives and managers are required to take even greater cuts. This leads to greater trust and unity. Obviously, this won't work for every company. It takes a company that is dedicated to building a sense of community.

ajn25
ajn25

We are the richest most profitable nation in the world. Why should anyone be laid off, other than preserving bonuses for upper management?

Jessie
Jessie

I'm not sure you've noticed, but we aren't really the richest most profitable nation in the world anymore... at least, not judging by our national debt. And stop kidding yourselves that layoffs are only ever done to preserve the bonuses of the higher-ups. I've been laid off from small companies where the boss hadn't paid HIMSELF in a while so that he could meet payroll. There are plenty of good people and good companies out there... and they're ALL having a hard time in this economy.

PsiFiScout
PsiFiScout

The boss handled it miserably. First he told us that there would be "some reductions" but that those who would be let go would be getting 3 weeks notice. When the cuts did come, we were notified in public briefing that Monday, that the cuts had been decided upon, but no details about who was being cut. Thursday of that same week, we were handed our pink slips. Primarily the tain was driven by the corporation, but the first line supervisor was out of line in promising the 3 week notice if he was not absolutally sure of his ability to deliver on that promise.

JamesRL
JamesRL

I think its ok to tell staff that reductions may happen, but giving people a countdown makes everyone nervous. Thats a great way to lose productivity in the whole team. James

santeewelding
santeewelding

Did it by coming up behind and laying a hand on the shoulder. No need to turn around. The hand drained all your blood.

JamesRL
JamesRL

Apologies to those who have read it before. I knew layoffs were coming. I had worked there for three years, kind of a pinch hitter for the senior management team. I started as a senior consulatnt type, implementing a project management quailty system. They had a "hole" to fill in line management, so for a time I managed 30 staff. Then I moved into a new area for them - Strategic IT planning. Then the CIO was given a lateral, and a new one was brought in. We soon knew 25% cuts were coming, and I was the newest member of a team of 4. Everyone else was more vital to the short term plans than I was. My boss had also been my boss for a time at a previous employer. He worked hard to get me in the door at the new place. He knew my situation. I was feeling some pressure from him to complete a special project. I was secheduled to meet with him at 11 to review it as it had just been completed. As I came in the room, I noticed our HR person was there. She had paperwork, my heart sunk and I knew what was happening before anyone spoke. My boss was torn up, and he was the most emotional I've ever seen him. After the formal part, he walked me to my office and helped me pack. The timing was good, most people had gone to lunch. He actually carried boxes for me to the car so we could do it in one trip. He let me keep a very expensive PDA. He asked if there were any docs I wanted to print out. I can't complain about the generous severence, and the outplacement services I received. It was in the middle of the dot com bust and it was rough out there. I was done in the first wave, and frankly that was probably a blessing in disguise. Others had to wait in fear. I disagree strongly with the idea of doing it in groups. I'd rather do it one by one to give everyone a chance to understand and talk directly. I might do group if a whole department was being laid off. I've been on the other side and laid people off as well. I would always let people leave after the discussion, both for security reasons and humane ones. In one case the person I laid off was very upset and crying, and I had my HR person make arrangement to get them home by cab. Its never easy, but it should be done as humanely as possible. James James

maggie_t
maggie_t

If you can't get the sort of treatment JamesRL got, then it is better to be laid off in groups - the Department of Labor has different rules for required severance depending on the number of people laid off with the larger number of people meaning more generous payouts. If you see several smaller groups laid off over a month or two the company is trying to avoid the extra severance.

Tig2
Tig2

If a company here lays off 100 people in 60 days, they are required to pay your salary for an additional two months. They have the right to make that an additional lump payment or extend your severance for that period.

Forum Surfer
Forum Surfer

Actually it turned out to be a stack of pink slips. You had to turn in a request for time off, on a pink slip. Scared the crap out of me though when the new boss came walking in with the pink slip. She said it scared all of her new employees, nice icebreaker. I got a cheap laugh out of it. I once worked for the government. If you walked into your office and your manager, a deputy, a gov't attorney and an hr staff member were there; you knew that you were done for. Never happened to me, but that seemed like the worst possible way to fire someone.

thezar
thezar

I was told to report to a new job on the following Monday, Yeah! On Thursday I got a call from the headhunter to tell me that the company had closed that department and not to bother! Don't you love coordination?

swheeler
swheeler

I worked for a non-profit childcare agency that issued their "Return-to-Work" letters on pink paper. The irony was not lost on a few of us who thought it was a great way to ask everyone back for the new school year considering the agency was going downhill overall.

kbaldwin
kbaldwin

I worked as a security guard for a while and a major Pharmaceutical house. They waited till an employee was on travel. Then they had his stuff boxed up and they split his office up between the office on either side, and removed his office door. He would return from his trip, and have to sign in as a visitor, and then one of us in security would accompany him up to where his office used to be. They would often leave with tears in their eyes, and you knew that something bad would happen to them. (ie. time to clean the gun...) Later I worked for an IT Firm. there when someone got a pink slip, they were met with an armed officer, and their supervisor and the words, "Please back away from the keyboard." Also not a good place to work. I personally have been furloughed for a few weeks a couple of times, but I have been lucky to never get a pink slip, (touch wood).

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

they waited until the person took a vacation? That is a bad time! They get back expecting to make up the blown money (which wouldnt have been blown) that they normally wouldnt have. I once had to let someone go 2 weeks before his wedding, and that sucked bad enough. If I had to let him go right after he returned to work, I would have had to kick my own a$$

jpraiford
jpraiford

I agree that rounds of layoffs cause fear, anger, and drive people who may not be included in the layoff to quickly find another job. I have personally experienced a layoff, but I have thankfully managed not to have to lay anyone off during the last 13 years even though the company has had layoffs. I keep a right-sized workforce that is very busy. My folks complain about the quantity of work sometimes, but they have seen the payoff during the last few weeks. Layoffs are here and no one from my departments are included in this less than wonderful event. There is never a guarantee, but it at least provides some insurance by not being over staffed. But if layoffs need to happen, it at least can be accomplished the right way with provising as many benefits as possible and not treating the people being laid off as misfits, rejects, or criminals.

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

never buy a truck if you hear your job is steady.

Forum Surfer
Forum Surfer

Do you still wince whe looking over contracts for new vehicles?? Right after I bought my first NEW 2500 sq ft home, I was told we'd be facing a reorg. For the majority of people, it equated to a 30-40% pay cut and longer hours with less benefits. I was actually fortunate enough to be moved to another section of the company and promoted, so I actually made more money. I still feel guilty because a good friend had exactly opposite luck. He took a 40% pay cut and he was forced to sell his house. He was also divorced and drinking heavily within the next year. Not a good time.

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

Since I was a contractor, I asked first if there were any issues, and was assured that I was fine and stable. 3 weeks after getting a $400/month payment, they tell me I am not needed there anymore. Another time, in 02, I bought a new truck. $550/month payments. same thing, everything is fine -- no worries. We even had a big meeting (entire staff) with how happy the company was with us and our work. a few weeks later, I we lost our contract and I was not picked up by the new company. Something about when asked in the interview if I was willing to take a $12/hr. pay cut and added responsibilities. My initial reaction wasnt liked. I said -- What additional duties? instead of Yes, Please F**K me more sir

Forum Surfer
Forum Surfer

Most normal people tend to over spend on a vacation. If I came back from a vacation to find myself fired I would not have a pleasant reaction and in no way could I guarantee my ability to contain my anger. I've never been fired, but if it happened that way I'd be one mad sob. Speaking of weddings, back before I got married I gave my boss at the time notice of my marriage date and my request for time off, unpaid as I was a new hire. One week later he informed me I was due at our corporate office in Dayton, Ohio for a 3 week training course...one week prior to said wedding. The guy had the nerver to ask me how I felt about honeymooning there, or should he reschedule. I told him flat out he could reschudule or re-hire. I wasn't about to get started working like that. He and I got into several cussing and shouting matches after that, but we got along great otherwise. I always received better raises and promotions than co-workers who did what he said no questions asked. I honestly miss working for him, it was kind of nice to have a two way cussing fest...then talk sensibly after a few minutes of venting. We always laughed about it and worked it out after that.

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

I was the team lead and had 1 employee that was always fretting about getting laid off. I often told him, his #'s were good (closed calls) and he was the resident printer expert (many certs, always except once found the fix even if it took a bit of time) that there were others that would go before him. Anyway, he went on a call after seeing the bosses come in, and before he left he was showing his fear again. I calmed him down and he went to work. 1 of my managers had me reset his password, and proceeded to put a note on his monitor (this manager was a prankster). The note stated that both managers wanted a meeting as soon as he came back :0 Backfire -- He got back from the call, saw the note, tried to log in and couldnt. He then boxed up his stuff, grabbed his jacket and proceeded to the door. I came in at that time, as he was leaving :0

JamesRL
JamesRL

...it could cause a heart attack. At one employer I was involved in securing the desktop while the employer was chatting with HR. We had desktop encryption and I would log in with the admin password and delete their ID. It was PC by PC - encryption done by a card in the PC. People were used to seeing me working on PCs while people weren't there. And they were also used to seeing me work on a number of calls in an area to save time. So if I could I would delete the ID, then work on cases nearby. So I have seen the walk to the desk by HR a few times. In one case, the person completely lost it and started to throw stuff and scream. Made me understand better why guns are banned from all coprorate facilities, including parking lots (in the US branches, lots of pickups with gun racks). The lesson is you can't predict how people will take it. Some people's egos are so taken up with their position and title that it is quite shattering to lay them off or fire them. Having been through the experience of being laid off, I'm a little more humble, but I also realize my worth is far greater than a job. James

Forum Surfer
Forum Surfer

It's doubtful the company is going to go search my car. If they do, I don't want to be working there anyway. They can kiss my a$$ and I'll keep packin. :)

spuluka
spuluka

Forum Surfer: To deny someone the right to keep it locked up in their car. You can deny them the right to carry concealed or open, but not the right to keep it in my car. ------------ Not exactly, if this is private property in most states the company can say no guns. Even in Oklahoma where this issue was hard fought by the NRA and a NEW LAW was passed to specifically authorize guns in private cars, they ultimately lost on appeal and the law was overturned. See: http://www.bradycampaign.org/action/workplace/

vindog
vindog

Layoff is often taken as "my failure to stack-rank higher", and thus be the one to cut loose because clearly I wasn't valuable enough to keep. That whole idea of ego being made by the job is a common trap, and I have been there too. After 30 years of working, I'm pretty much done with internalizing fear, blaming myself for how the company treats me. A job is just a job. It does not define me, other than "dedicated to the work" which has little to do with my performance. Working for ANYONE sucks if you feel you are only worth what they tell you are worth. Me, I have a sideline passion that is totally in my control, so at least I'm not mad at how the workplace spins regardless of my good intentions...my passion defines me, not my employer.

Forum Surfer
Forum Surfer

To deny someone the right to keep it locked up in their car. You can deny them the right to carry concealed or open, but not the right to keep it in my car. Like I said though, I really don't give a crap about policy, mine will be in the parking lot unless it gov't or school property or extensions there of.

Floop70
Floop70

"Having been through the experience of being laid off, I'm a little more humble, but I also realize my worth is far greater than a job." I was laid off earlier this year and I must agree with your statement. Loosing my job has also made me not fear future job losses.

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

it's not illegal for them, it is on their property, and they can set the rules. Most companies have the policy not to allow weapons on-site, or visible weapons in the vehicle in the parking lot. However, some do not extend to the parked vehicle.

Forum Surfer
Forum Surfer

But you'll never win the argument with corporate. They can't suspend state and federal firearms laws. Unlees it's government or school property, I can have a gun in my car as it is an extension of my property. I've never personally argued that to a company, but I always keep mine in my car locked in the console. I have a permit to conceal and as long as it is locked safely in my car/trunk...I'm well within my rights. But I prefer to break the rules rather tha argue the point in that respect. If I ever need it some old gun nut once said "It's better to be judged by 12 than carried by 8."

JamesRL
JamesRL

...the sitaution turned around pretty quick. One of my previous employers had acheived their goal of hiring the top 5% of experts in certain university programs by offering them a guarenteed 2 year position with the company, interviewing them before they had completed their degree. Well when the bust happened a number of them hadn't started. They got the news over the telephone, they were told that they should not report for work, but that they would get their 2 years as severance in a big lump and that they should contact a financial planner. They had to balance the impersonality of doing it over the phone, with the need to communicate with them before they moved, bought houses or leased apartments etc. James

mdhealy
mdhealy

At least they GOT severance up front, and even some help in planning how to manage the lump sum while searching for other employment. And they don't sound like the sort of people who would need 24 months to find other employment. On my first job out of college, shortly before I was to start they called me to say circumstances had changed so the location where I'd expected to start would not require my services, so instead I would be reporting to a different city, so I still HAD a job with them, just a DIFFERENT one.