Sunday, October 26, 2008

Ten Rules For Doing Layoffs Right

SpockImage via Wikipedia"I am sorry to have to inform you that your job is being eliminated. Please report to HR for processing." FAIL!

I have personally removed thousands of people from their jobs through layoffs. I think this is why I keep writing about the credit crisis and the impact it is having on our economy. It sucks.

The people and companies who caused this to happen suck.

Layoffs suck.

Layoffs bite. There is no worse task in Human Resources than having to go forth and tell a group of what is typically otherwise useful and productive individuals that the company don't need them no more!

Doing layoffs right is difficult. Communicating layoffs correctly is a critical skill, and one that Human Resources professionals and managers must do well. The cost is too high not to do it well.

Here are the rules.

1. Don't do layoffs
2. Don't do layoffs without severance
3. Don't do layoffs without thinking about it first
4. Don't use layoffs to deal with other management issues

If you have to perform this task, it is critical that it be performed competently, with compassion and respect for each individual.

Ideally, when you do this, you will be able to tell your associates that the company has done everything it could do to avoid having a layoff. Hopefully, they will know that this is being said with credibility.

Business sometimes has no other alternative, regrettably.

Having said that, I am not a fan of reducing the workweek of all employees before you make a cut if you know the lull in business will be extended. Quoting Mr. Spock from Star Trek, "Sometimes the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one."

Don't Act Like Spock at the Layoff Meetings

Checklist of essential tools for doing layoffs the right way

  1. Be emotionally available. Don't put on your Mr. Spock face! When people are being told they are losing their jobs, they are angry, scared, frightened, in short, emotional. They need to know you are emotionally available to them as well. They also need to know that you care. Don't be afraid to show it, even though the tendency is to avoid it.
  2. You need to "stand up'. Don't try to push the blame off on corporate or some other member of management. In this moment, you are the face of the business. You need to let the associates kill the messenger if need be. (Figuratively, one hopes!)
  3. Bring your mega-managerial skills! Be prepared to listen attentively, answer difficult questions, absorb some anger, defuse some conflict.
  4. Have answers. Come with as much detail about who, what, when, where and why as you can. Hold group meetings if necessary and then follow up individually until everyone gets the answers they need. Information on severance pay, benefit continuation, separation dates, are other opportunities available are all questions you should be able to answer.
  5. Get answers if you don't have them. Get back to people quickly. Have contact numbers for support staff like health insurance, EAP, unemployment office, 401(k) administrators available in a package.
  6. If the reduction is not immediate, take the group temperature frequently. Talk to people, see how they feel.
I hope I never have to do this kind of work again. It isn't in my current job description.

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