The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Layoffs

Estimated reading time: 6 mins

There are ‘good’ ways of dealing with layoffs – indeed there are ‘bad’ – but there are real ‘ugly’ ways of conducting the process too. Here are some stories to illustrate examples of each. Make you’re own mind up on which you will choose, if you’re going to lay people off (or be laid off!).

The Good

If you’re being laid off, is there such a thing as a ‘good’ lay off? Apparently there is. Below is a letter sent to me personally by a Business Analyst from Grand Rapids. It was a surprise to see this!

Dear Simon

You probably don’t receive many stories about how layoffs go well; they are almost always a sad story for the people being laid off. I do want to tell you about my recent experience of being laid off. Despite the shock and disappointment of losing my job, now that I have had time to reflect upon the matter I must say that my employer, XXXXX, handled it very well.

My reasons for seeing it that way are because I was treated with respect and honesty throughout the process. The initial consultation I went through discussed the company outlook in recession and that many non-core projects and activities were being shelved in order to keep core operations running. I was in a role that wasn’t core, and therefore fell into the bracket of cost cutting. At all times, my employers were transparent in their communication and I felt that I was being told the real reasons why the savings had to be made.

My employer was also candid in the opportunities for work in other areas. They gave me several options for roles inside core activities, and left the choice to me to apply for them with their support. I wasn’t pressured either way to take or leave these opportunities.

During all stages I was offered legal and emotional support through independent people, or I could talk with managers inside the office. When I felt angry or emotional I was given choices to talk, or have some time by myself.

In the final stages of being laid off some of the senior managers discussed what I could do in the future and offered their help in finding alternative work. I did not expect this and I felt pleased that these people would make me such offers.

My severance package wasn’t great at first, but I did negotiate with them so I could have headroom through the end of the year. I don’t think it was a generous offer, but they at least listened to my situation and met me in the middle.

I have found another job now and I start next week, thankfully. I wonder what my confidence would have been if I hadn’t been treated with respect by my previous employer. Who knows, but I do think that the respect I experienced meant that I didn’t leave bitter and twisted.

Yours sincerely


The Bad

Here is a link to a story on the infoworld blog that paints a bad picture of handling layoffs. Can you imagine being in this guy’s shoes? I think it would be extremely frustrating to be treated like this – all the humanity has been stripped out of the situation. Sure, the organization referred to has done nothing wrong as far as the book of law is concerned, but I wonder if news got out to who the organization is, how is their brand damaged and will they find it really tough to recruit in the future?

The Ugly

Take a look at these anecdotes on :

Find these stories shocking? It’s hard to believe they are true. But I have known first-hand similar stories. I once knew a guy that was called on his cellphone to be given his marching orders. It seems that some organizations believe that employees turn up to work just for pay, and that this transaction can be easily cancelled. Some employees are like that, but they’re only a small percentage. Ironically, many of these organizations performance manage out workers who do just that.

What’s The Difference?

The key difference between these stories is the humanity and respect in which the situations were handled. Management and HR concoct their approach to minimize the effect of lay-offs on their organization. In each of the above stories, the perception of the potential impact must have been very different, as are the situations of the organizations.

Why do some organizations behave with deplorable disrespect to their employees? I doubt there are reasonable excuses, but the reasons might be:

  • Protection of company assets/secrets (if people hear about lay offs they’ll start storing away documents, right?)
  • Minimization of risks of key-man dependencies (if that lead designer knows his job is at risk, he’ll take the next month off as sickness, won’t he?)
  • Leakage to press (if the press hear about severance, they’ll say we’re bad people, yes?)
  • Avoidance of productivity decreases across the workforce (if people think they’ll be laid off, they’ll stop working, right?)

All these ‘reasons’ are based on FEAR, and a lack of TRUST. OK, the fear and lack of trust might be grounded in past experience or seem the thing to do against a totalizer of a risk-matrix, but I go back to the point that these are very human situations. Unless people are dealt with as human-beings in these circumstances, then the social backlash always results in a situation felt across the organization.

For leaders, the greatest challenge is felt when the towing the corporate line is in conflict with a sense of fairness and justice. If your company policy towards lay offs goes against our own approach to followers then this is a stressful dichotomy. There isn’t a silver bullet to load here. What we do have is our own integrity, sensitivity and empathy at hand. There is one rule I believe we should all live by: do unto others as you would have others do unto you . Forget that at our peril! If you find yourself with this conflict, I recommend:

  • Actively engaging with HR and senior management to establish what latitude you do have through the process, and assertively requesting for any additional powers if you believe it is not enough
  • Whatever company policy mandates, never working at arms length from your followers. Creating distance will lose any trust you enjoy which will leave you disabled from influencing their behaviors
  • Above all else, stay consistent with your leadership style and your approach to your followers

At the end of the day, we all have to rest easy and fall asleep when our head hits the pillow. My stance on this (and I have genuinely been through this enough times) is to treat people with respect. If I can’t do that, then I wouldn’t want to continue working in that place!

If you’ve just been laid off…

Then check out my post Laid Off? 7 Essential Things To Do Immediately After a Lay Off to learn the best way of getting yourself back on your feet FASTER, STRONGER, and MEANER!

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