IT Employment

Is there a right way to downsize?


Here are some stories of staff layoffs (due to downsizing) that ended badly:

1. One company I know of, thinking that rumors would leak out anyway, decided to be honest and forthcoming and announce to the staff that in several days, there would be some layoffs. Of course, those several days ended up being terror-filled and unproductive for the staff.

2. Another company brought into question one manager's personal responsibility in the timing of layoffs on his staff. It seems that the word came down two days before Christmas that this manager would have to lay off several employees. He didn't want to ruin anyone's Christmas break, so he decided to postpone delivering the news until afterwards.

His heart was in the right place, but things kind of backfired. One employee happened to attend the same church as the manager's boss. After Christmas Eve services, the Big Boss shook the employee's hand and told him that he was sorry about the layoff. The Big Boss was extremely embarrassed to discover that the employee hadn't heard the news yet.

Needless to say, the manager had hell to pay the next time he went into the office.

Another one of the soon-to-be laid-off employees surprised her husband that Christmas with a non-refundable $3,000 vacation trip, not aware that her family would very soon have to tighten the purse strings in a big way.

3. Yet another company managed to keep secret news of a relocation of an entire company. The news was delivered like a bombshell in a big meeting room to all 106 employees at one time. The employees felt that they'd been deceived for all the months that this plan had to have taken. The company offered about half the staff their same jobs if they would relocate. Out of those 106 employees, only four relocated.

I think if you asked any person out of each of these groups if they thought their layoff was handled well, they would say no.

Clearly, there's no good way to deliver news of layoffs, but do you think one way is preferable to the other?

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

29 comments
rmcneill
rmcneill

It' cruel what corporate america does to the everyday worker.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

The big cheese at my old company took a vactation while the layoffs were happening and made her underlings let people go.

rmcneill
rmcneill

I had this happen almost 23 years ago. It was our XMAS party night and the manager was told sometime before. We were all told(by the mgr) that something was going to happen and we would find out that evening. The highlight of the party was that the company had been sold and "no one would loose their jobs." Of course the only person in my office who didn't was the manager. When we went to work Monday morning, the store(I worked in a computer store) was padlocked. I was never paid the commissions I generated that month-and it was about $700.00. The manager however was kept to help with the close and of course she stayed until the end. The store was never reopened and it was a chain of 5 stores with at least 75 people or more out of work. "Merry Christmas"...yeah right

Leee
Leee

Years ago I dated a guy whose company got into the interesting habit of laying off one to three people every Friday at 4:30. It was more predictable than a weekly paycheck, and there was no rhyme or reason to the choice of unlucky employee(s) from week to week. Despite this inevitability (at least it seemed to ME that it was an inevitability), he never thought this fate would befall him and so didn't bother to look for another job. When he did get the ax, my ex took another job in the corporate offices of a major meatpacking company. Appropriately, the slaughterhouse was just down the block from his office.

JamesRL
JamesRL

Is supposed to be - never lay off on Friday. I was laid off from my first computer job on a Friday about 20 years ago. The friend of mine who got me the job in the first place warned me that morning, so I could prepare myself and ask for more severence. On normal weekdays I worked pretty late, till 6 or 7 in the evening, but Fridays I liked to leave at 5. I was waiting all day for the call, and I started to discreetly pack my stuff. I went around the office to all my friends and asked them to meet me at the bar at 5 pm. I wasn't called into the VP's office till 4:55. He told me that this was the best thing that could happen, that he was certain I would find a better position, and he was actually right. I did walk out with 2 weeks more severence than the first offer. And then I had a big night at the bar with my friends. James

S,David
S,David

Many years ago, I was in a group that had the privelege of being entertained by Bobby Bragan, a former baseball player and manager, while he was promoting the Bobby Bragan Youth Foundation. He told a story that in one of his stints as a manager, he was called into the General Managers office, where he was told, aproximately, "Bobby, you have done a great job, and we don't know what we will do without you, but starting tomorrow, we are going to find out." It's part of business. I have had to fire two people, and one knew it was his time to go, one did not. The first was very low key, and no hard feelings. The other case, I agreed with the decision, but not the reasons given for it, and was met with open hostility and insults. Within 30 seconds, I no longer felt bad about firing this person. I don't think there is a "good" way to tell someone they are out of a job. But, right at major holidays seems to be worse than most. Then, there are the weird ones. I was not involved in this one, but management fired this guy on Friday, and Monday morning, he shows back up. They had to explain to him that he had been "fired", and no longer had a job at the company. Guess what happened Tuesday? They had to fire this guy three times before he got the picture.

JamesRL
JamesRL

Once upon a time, when I was a desktop tech, we had this challenging user who was an admin assistant. She happened to be on my floor, and I did get the notification the day she was laid off. We were given the time so that we could not only disable her network logon but because she had an encryption card on her PC, I had to go in with the master and lock her out while she was having the exit interview. Well I don't know how well the exit interview went, but she was escorted back to her desk by security (usually done by an HR person) and she started to make a racket when she was told that she should pack her personal items in the box provided and leave. She was swearing a blue streak, something I would not have guessed. She was lead by the elbow out the door as quickly as possible. My wife worked for a huge downtown law firm as a legal admin who did some legal research. During her pregnancy she ran into issues with her co-workers. She had a tendancy to have morning sickness throughout the pregnancy and one of the lawyers smoked in the office, unfiltered Camels. Smoking in the workplace had been banned by city by law 6 months earlier, but this guy was a partner and well known lawyer. She protested but lost. When she came back from Mat leave, she found that instead of working for one lawyer, she was assigned to mutliple lawyers, and she was no longer allowed to do legal research in the law libraries. Clearly they wanted her to quit. Instead she argued that what was happening constituted constructive dismissal, and she settled. The lawyer she worked for liked her alot, but he was too chicken to argue for her since it might jeapordize his partnership track. James

Womble
Womble

I have been made redundant twice (Laid off in ausspeak) In new zealand, the company said that they had targets for layoffs, and asked for volunteers. I asked, and got one and moved straight into another job in Australia at higher pay, plus 2 weeks pay per year, plus long service leave paid out - sweet In australia, they declared no more redundancies so I bought a house and planned a $250k extension. A week before contracts signed on the extension - gone! They gave a month of support looking for work, which was good, but it was telco downturn time, and took me 2 years to find an equivalent position back.That felt bad

IT-b
IT-b

Someone I worked with was a victim of a large layoff. The company planned an "offsite event" and provided buses to it. When the employees arrived at the "event", it was the meeting to tell them they were all laid off. Their badges were collected, and they were returned to the office only to retrieve their car. (not sure how they got personal belongings)

EM1109
EM1109

Manager knew layoff for over 6 months. I still can't stand that btard and I was let go several months later. If I ever see him in public, I'll give him a piece of my mind.

JamesRL
JamesRL

There are rules about these kinds of things, and if the manager had tipped off the employee, he could have been booted as well. I've been on both sides, I've laid off people, and I've been laid off. It wasn't personal. Firing someone is sometimes personal, but layoffs are supposed to be about economics. Though some managers lay people off cause they are too chicken to fire someone or because it will give the person a severance. I understood why I was laid off, and if I had been in my boss' position I would have made the same choice, despite the fact we were good friends and had worked together at a previous employer. James James

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

The company could make a general announcement so that people don't get into situations like that.

Tell It Like I See It
Tell It Like I See It

Here's a bad way to handle it. One layoff situation I saw was handled by a new manager going to certain cubes and tapping the occupant on the shoulder. When they look at him, he motions them to follow him. He gets all these people in a conference room, announces that he's the new manager for this department (HR is in the room too and confirms) then announces that they are all laid off. Unfortunately, one of the people who was to be laid off wasn't in this meeting (more on this later). During this meeting, some of the remaining people were looking for those about to be let go. They began to congregate and figure things out. After the meeting where people were told they were let go, the new manager pulled all the remainder of the department together into the conference room and let them know that he was the new manager and that those not in the room now had been let go. Remember that person I said wasn't at work for the first meeting? Well, unfortunately, she had car trouble that morning and was late getting to work. She was pregnant and left standing by the door because her security badge no longer worked. It was a cold day and apparently she stood there about 20 minutes. A friendly co-worker from another department who didn't know about the layoff let her in. As you might imagine her network account wouldn't let her log in. New manager eventually finds out about this and tells her, escorting her out of the building. They walked right past the friendly coworker on their way out with the laid off employee crying. The friendly worker commented later that he felt like such a heel when he found out about the layoff. Now, for a better way to handle it. This company had massive layoffs (around 20% of staff) from a wide range of areas. Nearly every department lost multiple people, though at least one department (which was understaffed anyway) only lost an open position. The company provided the employees with a "separation pay" depending on their time with the company (I think something like 1 week of 50% separation pay per year of service). Beyond the above, one of the company's clients was looking to hire, found out about the layoff and asked the company for a contact list. The company provided the list and quite a few of the laid off employees were hired by this client. Yes, the company that laid them off coninued to pay out the separation pay.

drowningnotwaving
drowningnotwaving

Picture this: The US CEO of a large software house heads into the UK. This is early 2002, at the peak of the downturn following Y2K, particularly for financial/ERP software companies. He has already told the UK management that 46 out of 72 staff had to go. No argument. No discussion. He deliberately gave them 48 hours to make the necessary decisions, for two reasons: a) to try to keep rumours to a minimum, and b) on the basis that the first decision is usually the correct decision. The manner of communication was literally the CEO arriving from Heathrow Airport to a conference facility where the groups had been split into two separate rooms. He walks into one room and delivers the bad news. He walks into the other, telling what had just happened but telling them that they had their jobs and to work as hard as possible to make sure that was to continue. It took 3 minutes to work out that he had been sent into the wrong/opposite rooms. Now, that will fark up your day. --0-0-0-0 And if you think that this is an urban myth, ask senior management of (what used to be called) Systems Union, a UK software firm acquired by a US equity firm. They brought all senior management together for a meeting in Germany, split the group into two, told half they were sacked and to fly home immediately, and told the second half that they probably would be sacked but if they made their quarterly numbers they may just survive. And that enlightened management approach happened just last year.

toni.bowers_b
toni.bowers_b

I thought my stories were bad!

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

1)Company has lunch meeting for employees, during meeting, disables all logons, has facilities pack up their belongings, and at the end of the meeting, tells them to go back to their desks, take their boxes and leave. 2)Employees arrive to find doors closed, locked and building empty. Owners cleared out overnight. 3)CIO gets up and PROMISES no more layoffs in IT... six months later, I was gone.

simphiwe.mngadi
simphiwe.mngadi

Okay, I believe you. I was surprise that such things could be happing at professional level. I wonder what the feeling is for less professional people.

JamesRL
JamesRL

In my experience, execs get paid more because more is expected of them. If they screw up or do nothing, good companies get rid of them. James

faradhi
faradhi

Contract or the individual can prove they were fired because of race, religion or disability, there are no Federal laws, I know of, that protect the workers from being fired for any reason. There are some laws that protect jobs in specific instances such as the Family Medical Leave Act. However, nothing in general. In some states there are protections. Most states however provide no protections. You may be able to sue a company if you can prove they violated their own policies. This is very hard to do. Many policies get "lost" during discovery. This again depends on State laws.

JamesRL
JamesRL

From state to state, and in Canada, from province to province. I don't think that we have slavery here, in any way shape or form. What you are hearing about is worse case scenarios, even if they seem to happen alot. They are instructive. What you aren't hearing about is the more everyday occurances. James

ProjectCoach
ProjectCoach

Company decides to make the difficult process of lay-offs as easy as possible. Each member of staff selected is called to an individual exit interview where they can recieve the news in private, are given offers of help to find other work, along with a generous redundancy package. While in the interview, their log-in is disabled, just in case, then they are escorted back to their desk to gather belongings and sent home. Unfortunately, the interview and log-off schedules get out of sync. Fred comes back from lunch, finds he can't log on, calling support when he is asked for interview. Immdiately the word is round the grapevine - "If you can't log on, you are out of here!" This was just before I started at the company which had an excellent reputation for employee loyalty and were trying to do things right. To say loyalty and morale went down the pan would be an understatement. They lost a large number of key staff, hence were back on the recruitment market for a major programme a few months later. Perhaps there are no easy ways to do it right, but there are ways to do it wrong.

JamesRL
JamesRL

1) I worked at a company that did something very different. They announced that they would be moving production to another plant in 6 months, and that some jobs could move with, but not all (including management). Theft at the company skyrocketed. Laptops got ripped out of docking stations. Internet porn surfing went up. Cars parked in reserved spots risked getting tires slashed. 2) Presumably some people were owed monies, thats just criminal. 3) Times change. I don't blame the CIO for laying you off, I blame him for promising something he couldn't be sure of. I have had employers that were more open - we are looking at outsourcing for example. James

SysAdminsDoItAfterHours
SysAdminsDoItAfterHours

My last company laid off about half of its CSRs. A week after the lay-off, management threw the rest of us an 'Employee Appreciation' lunch. I couldn't believe it. I was seriously taken aback. I cannot believe someone in HR or management thought that we would benefit from something comperable to a kick in the crotch.

goal120
goal120

Everyone is going to be upset either way, so it is much better to have a couple days to ponder the possibility (and to return the new tv just in case). Sure it might be a little nervewracking, but at least you have someone to commiserate with while you wait for the axe -- better than being blindsided with no warning, and then you and/or your coworkers are suddenly gone with no time for goodbyes or to make plans to meet at the local pub for group therapy.

ips
ips

We recently saw layoffs in several areas. One individual with 30 years on the job was set to retire in Feb. meaning nice lunch and goodbye. Some idiot decided to lay him off with one year severence package. He now not only retires but also gets an extra year of pay. The single mom who got layed off down the hall could have been kept 3 years with what they paid him in severence.

stan
stan

I worked at one place that called a company wide meeting to tell everyone that the rumors that the company was moving to another state weren't true. The problem was, no one had heard any such rumors. But after the meeting when we got back to our desks, everyone started getting calls from real estate agents in the other state. And of course, the company was planning to move, despite their denial. Then, they offered a bonus to the 99% of us who refused to move if we would stay until we were either told we were no longer needed or the company moved. If you gave them notice that you were leaving there was no chance to get the bonus. And then they were surprised that people just left with no notice as soon as they had another job!

JamesRL
JamesRL

Anyone who has "survived" a layoff understands that it is hard on the people left behind as well. They are often asked to work harder, with no increase in pay. The stress doesn't go away. So I can see what HR was trying to do in that case, but it wouldn't really be effective unless it was done some time after the layoff. Are you trying to argue the cost of the lunch could have helped them lay off one less employee? James