A friend of mine just went through a few days of unnecessary terror. The company she works for has several divisions, located in different cities. A couple of weeks ago, the staff in her office received an e-mail stating that one of the company’s honchos was going to be in town and had set up two meetings with the staff.

Sounds pretty harmless, but here’s a little background on my friend: Over the last 15 years, she has lost two jobs due to downsizing. One place she worked was purchased by other companies three times. The first two times, she was lucky and there was very little change in the day-to-day workings, except that the existing CEO stepped down and moved on, taking with him much of the positive culture that he was instrumental in creating.

When the third sale rolled around, the parent company thought geographic proximity was a business plus, so they moved my friend’s company to its home office in a truly craptacular city where it snowed 364 days of the year. She chose not to relocate.

So, not unlike Pavlov’s poor little manipulated dog, the e-mail from headquarters set off some fire alarms in her head. Attention from the big executives? This could not be good. A sale? A layoff? Soon, she had herself convinced she was going to be spending Christmas in a soup line.

It turns out that the meeting was actually a positive gesture by management to plan strategy for the coming year. In fact, the executives expressed some surprise when employees took them aside and asked if this meant there were going to be layoffs.

This whole thing was not a lesson for my friend as much as it was a lesson for the execs. Sometimes you can be so concerned with looking up and ahead that you truly fail to see the little ripples around you. I think the whole thing was an eye opener for those executives in that they got a crash course in how insecure and gunshy the modern workforce can be. I’ve never seen it actually happen, but maybe in the future, execs will begin their e-mail with “This is not about layoffs” and save some people some unnecessary anxiety.