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Can we do layoffs with dignity?

Dear Readers,

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.


If I were in charge of the layoff process I’d implement: Layoffs with Dignity. Here are the three  BEST PRACTICES I would mandate:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Coach Joan

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