Pardon me while I vent. Yes, I’ve seen a lot as a career and executive coach for the last 12 years, and in my decades working in corporations. Sadly, I’ve seen people so stressed out and wounded by being laid off in insensitive ways, that they sometimes never fully recover. They become the walking wounded, and often end up working at a lower capacity, having lost trust and dignity. The repercussions of a brutal layoff can impact not only their self-esteem, livelihood, and professional capacities, but negatively impact their personal relationships and overall lifestyle.
It doesn’t have to be this way!! As a coach, I’ve had clients who come to me after a layoff, sad or disappointed that their jobs ended, but still holding their heads high, maintaining their confidence, and ready for new employment opportunities. These people were treated respectfully and emerge intact. On the other hand, I have seen people brutally laid off and walked out of their office as though they were common criminals. They were shocked by the layoff, given no advance warning, and truly suffer from symptoms of post traumatic stress.
COACH JOAN’S REMEDY!
If I were in charge of the layoff process I’d implement: Layoffs with Dignity. Here are the three BEST PRACTICES I would mandate:
COMMUNICATE: Management, at a certain point, has the responsibility to communicate when the winds of change will be impacting the company . Not all employees are politically tuned in or sensitive. Sometimes there are mergers and acquisitions that cannot be made public and managers are mandated not to say anything. But at a certain point, it becomes clear that jobs will be eliminated. It is at that point that the management has an obligation to give some kind of heads up to the employees. They might not know the details, but they can suggest that everyone document their achievements and skills, update resumes and linked in profiles and can spend a certain number of hours each week interviewing for new opportunities. And it means taking any phone calls from recruiters and perhaps reaching out. Employees are still obligated to complete their regular job responsibilities. Once a layoff has happened, it is vital that the organization let the community know that the employee has left, and if possible, acknowledge their contributions. It is disrespectful and sometimes eerie, especially for longterm contributors, to just disappear without a trace!! No closure is not a good thing for anyone. It makes the organization look bad for treating people disrespectfully. And it leaves room for rumors and gossip among the employees remaining and the larger community.
ASK FOR INPUT: In some cases an organization can see that profits are trending downward, competition is getting more fierce or other factors that indicate the need for contracting workers is on the horizon. In one instance, a non profit knew that they would require a different kind of executive director, but they didn’t tell her about it. So instead of giving her a heads up that they would be looking for a new leader, they waited until they lined up the new person and quickly fired her after 30 years of service, with no notice. Yes, they gave her severance, but the humiliation and shock was overwhelming. And it didn’t have to be that way. They could have let her know that their requirements in a leader had shifted, they now needed someone with excellent financial management skills and could they could with her to create a new position or would she like to move on? They could have respected her contributions as a key member of the team for decades rather than go behind her back and eliminate her in a legal but highly unethical and painful way.
POST-LAYOFF SUPPORT SERVICES : This is an important one. They organization can recognize that the employees are being laid off through no fault of their own. So they can provide short or long term outplacement services that provide resume and Linkedin preparation, interview skills, and other ways to help to get a new job.
We, as a society, need to expect decency in our employers. Our jobs and careers are more than a paycheck. They often provide the structure to our days, to our lives, they provide social interaction, they provide an extension of our identity. So the practice of taking people into a small room and being told their services are no longer needed and then being asked to clear out their workspace and then walked out the door like a criminal, it is not only unethical but it is emotionally painful and I believe almost abusive.
Yes, let’s move to a new normal in layoff practices. YES, layoffs can be done with some dignity.
Onward to a more enlightened workplace, one that treats employees with dignity, even during layoffs.
Lately I’ve had clients in their 50s and 60s who are facing a dilemma. They’ve
been laid off, their company has been bought or merged, or they just see signs that their current
job is ending. They are not sure what to do next. Some are
fortunate in that they have adequately saved and saved sufficiently to stop working.
Some have already downsized and are able to begin social security. A choice is a good thing to have
but that still leaves some in a quandary. Should they look for another job to continue their career as it
had been? Do they make an intentional move away from their lifelong career? Here are three scenarios:
Dean just can’t let go. Dean, at 59 years feels as healthy and vital as he did in his 30s. He has been a competitive and successful sales professional in high tech since college graduation. His last two companies were bought and both times he was laid off, despite having an excellent track record. Both times the companies chose to keep the sales team of the company that was doing the purchase. The first time he was laid off he felt fortunate to get hired rather quickly, working for a competitor. The second time he was not so lucky and he came to see me after an eight month period of a long, unsatisfying job search. He was losing confidence and patience and didn’t know what steps he wanted to take. We reviewed his life situation. He was long time married with no kids and no extra financial obligations. His wife was an executive and planned to work at last another five years. He still had energy and motivation, and realized he enjoyed the ‘win’ of making sales. He was still motivated to make money and he felt he keeps score with his income. (Yes, people have different kinds of motivations and values.) He was well connected in his industry but kept losing out to younger candidates. Finally we found a niche that could work for him where his decades of experience would be valued. He moved into sales training. He found a company that provided advanced sales and leadership training. He liked their curriculum, they liked him, and he embarked on a new and last stage of his sales career. This time as a mentor and trainer and still well compensated.
Barbara was ready for change. Barbara was a music teacher with the public schools. She enjoyed her work but was concerned with the ongoing cuts in arts education. And finally, after 25 years, she was laid off. Barbara was relieved that she qualified for her pension. And fortunately, her husband had invested their savings well, and she did not have to think about making a At first Barbara was at lose ends as her whole career had been full time music teaching, and she thought it was going to continue another decade. We had some deep discussions about her values and interests. She realized that over the years she had changed, she was very concerned now for older adults. She had been the caretaker of her parents and saw them lonely in their assisted living situation. She decided to devote her time to volunteer work with the aged. In fact, she went through some excellent training and realized that her work was rewarding and perfect for this stage of her life.
Sam moved to the other side of the table. Sam had been a powerful litigator and would have continued his work for several more years. But his law firm had a strict retirement age of 60 so it was time to go. Sam did a lot of soul searching and he realized that he saw the legal system in our country in new ways now, different than he had seen it at the start of his career. Even though he enjoyed making money, he started to see that other rewards might be more meaningful for him now. He started to volunteer with the local legal aid group and ended up finding the advocacy work extremely rewarding. He wasn’t aware of how much he had changed until he started to explore different ways to apply his legal skills. He has been doing advocacy work now for over a year and he is feeling on-purpose and surprisingly happy at his choices. The key takeaways for people who are in their later years and have changes imposed on them career-wise, is to start with an inventory. First, do you still need to create an income. If so, how much do you require? Second, what do you really enjoy about your work? Have those things changed over time? Are there other things you might prefer to do? Have your values and interests changed over time? Somehow we think that we’ll always be the same. But we really do change. I see that all the time in my career coaching practice. People deepen and often they become more interested in being of service as time goes by. Naturally, you need to provide for your own well being first. Some people choose in their later years to downsize so they have lower expenses that free them from a paycheck, and they can put more time and energy into helping others. Know thyself. It’s key way to look at career decisions. “What will you do with your one wild and precious life?” That quote is from Mary Oliver, a celebrated poet who just died last week. I think this line of hers is perfect for today’s career article. Onward to bringing your best to life, Coach Joan
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