Fortunately, I’ve never been laid off. But I’ve worried about the possibility several times.
As I’ve written, I resigned from The Dallas Morning News in September after 27 years as a reporter. Ironically, my last day occurred as another round of layoffs was being implemented at the beleaguered newspaper.
Just as in previous layoffs, I saw the devastated expressions of longtime colleagues after they received their notice. Some people wept openly. Some struggled to hold back tears. Some looked dazed and unsure of what to do.
I understand that companies sometimes must let go people and cut costs to survive. But there’s no excuse for any company – large or small – to mishandle layoffs and inflict further emotional harm on workers.
Too often, executives don’t share details of upcoming layoffs with employees. Rumors of cutbacks begin to surface, but the bigwigs won’t confirm or deny the speculation. Anxiety in the office becomes palpable.
Bosses often cite legal reasons about why they can’t share even the most basic details – such as when layoffs might occur or how many people might be affected.
Advice on humane layoffs is easy to find
I’ve never been a manager, but it took me about 2 seconds to find loads of Internet advice on the proper – and improper – way to handle layoffs.
Don’t some human resources executives know how to use Google?
7 Tips for Compassionate Layoffs read one headline I saw.
“Layoffs are never easy, and they always create uncertainty and fear in the workplace,” writes business consultant Susan M. Heathfield. “But you can do layoffs in such a way that you win in the court of public opinion.”
Her first tip? Give employees detailed information about the planned layoffs as soon as possible.
“Remember that your employees and former employees may not remember why you were forced to do layoffs, but they will remember how they were treated,” Heathfield writes. “Treat people with dignity.”
Another headline in my search results: Downsizing with Dignity.
Too often, managers shy away from making difficult decisions about layoffs, such as who should go and how much notice they should receive, writes Alan Downs, a psychologist and author of the Fearless Executive.
Lawyers shouldn’t make layoff decisions
“These decisions are handed to the legal department, whose primary objective is to reduce the risk of litigation, not to protect the morale and intellectual capital of the organization,” Downs says. “Consequently, downsizing is often executed with a brisk, compassionless efficiency that leaves laid-off employees angry and surviving employees feeling helpless and de-motivated.”
I survived five rounds of layoffs at The Dallas Morning News before I voluntarily left. Each time layoffs occurred, management seemed to give less information about the size and timing of layoffs.
Consequently, workers became panicked and resentful. The tension extended to spouses and children of the employees. Productivity and loyalty to the company plummeted.
“Helplessness is the enemy of high achievement,” Downs writes. “It produces a work environment of withdrawal, risk-averse decisions, severely impaired morale, and excessive blaming. All of these put a stranglehold upon an organization that now desperately needs to excel.”
Again, I found this outstanding article – and many others – with a few clicks of the mouse. Learning the proper layoff protocol isn’t rocket science.
If information on handling layoffs is so readily available, why do so many companies bungle the process?
I wish I knew.
If you get laid off, you’re bound to be distraught. And if you’re laid off in a heartless way, you have a right to be angry. Companies can’t guarantee continued employment. But they should guarantee they’ll treat workers with dignity and respect if layoffs become necessary.