What To Do, And Not To Do, When Layoffs Loom

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When Radio Shack recently announced layoffs they told everyone what was coming in a meeting, but when it came time to notify those being fired, management inexplicably used email. In the UK a retail store fired a salesperson using phone texting. Both approaches, as common sense would dictate, aren't professional and aren't good business practices. Layoffs, for those making the cuts and those getting the bad news, is a scenario most tenured people within the tech workforce have suffered more than once. And while it doesn't get any easier, there are best practices for each side to ensure the experience doesn't hinder future career goals. Surviving A Layoff When word of a layoff takes to the wind, more than a few human emotions kick in. Fear, anxiety, panic, and anger often wash over the staff while awaiting news of who'll have a job and who won't. Despite the emotional tremors, career experts advise all IT staffers to do one thing: stay professional.
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"You don't know when, in the future, you will run into the people who are laying you off. It could be that 10 years from now, they will be interviewing you at another company," says Ruth Haag, author of Hiring and Firing: Book Three. The next steps are to start reviewing your financial situation, get the resume prepped and start looking at the job market before and after work hours. "It is easiest if you look at life as a game. You should always be thinking a few steps ahead, always be aware of the job market, and where you might fit in. These days, it is very unlikely that you will retire from the first job that you ever get," Haag adds. If you are being laid off, keep your cool and your temper in check. You'll want the job reference letter, and the networking opportunity in the future in case other jobs open up, the expert says. After the layoff, but before you start interviewing for a new job, you need to get comfortable talking about the layoff experience so that you don't come across angry or bitter, says Haag. "When discussing your past job with your potential future employer, explain how many people were laid off, and why," she advises. For example, it might be that a major client was lost, and the management chose to lay off those with the least seniority. Or perhaps 10 percent of the entire workforce was laid off, and you were caught in the mix. Don't ever sound irritated about your former employer. "Explain what positive things you have learned from the layoff," she sayss.

The Other Side Of The Layoff While learning you're losing your job is obviously harder than having to make staff cuts, the job experience is still very tough for tech managers. It can be made a little easier if it's handled professionally and respectfully, says Haag. And, she adds, don't take the path Radio Shack did with its approach. Haag says this faux pas is not only an object lesson in what not to do, it's a stark indicator that employers have lost sight of the importance of respect. "While quick and expedient on the part of management, letting someone go in such a disrespectful way is destructive to morale and worker loyalty." It is bad enough to be laid off, adds Haag, but being told by an impersonal e-mail message worsens the situation. It makes employees feel that they were never important to the company. What's more, being cyber-fired also will have a negative effect on the employees who aren't being let go. "First of all, the remaining workforce will be spending an inordinate amount of time talking about the layoffs, rather than working," says Haag. "And as they will fear that they could meet the same fate, your best employees will begin looking for new jobs. To top it all off, the e-mail layoff method will most likely lead to trouble attracting dedicated workers in the future. What promising candidate will want to work for a company that treats its employees so inconsiderately?" She says IT managers should tell their staff face-to-face; and a meeting is a fine approach. "The sooner that the staff knows that there will be a layoff, the better," she adds as rumors only slow productivity even more. Trying to keep it a secret when others in the company know is a bad move as it could end up with retained staff losing trust in leadership. The Earlier The Better "A person's job is a part of their identity. It takes time for anyone to overcome the upset of being laid off. So, giving them an early warning that this might happen is very useful. It also gives the staff a chance to get used to the idea, and to make alternate plans. For example, people will avoid large purchases if they know there might be layoffs, and will then be in a better financial position if it should happen to them," says Haag. Yet many companies hold back on the early alert policy as they fear that the "good" staff will leave. But that will boomerang on the company, notes Haag. "The more that the staff can trust the management, the less likely it is that the 'good people' will leave," she says. Also, if a company shares the information with the staff, it might be able to avert a layoff action. "I find that two things happen when I share the news of a corporate downturn: staff members who were thinking about going back to school take the opportunity to do so, and some staff members ask if they can reduce hours. They haven't asked before because they perceived that they had to work full-time. So by sharing the information early, you might not have to do a layoff," says the career expert. The Need For Compassion If a layoff has to occur, let the staff know what the strategy will be to determine who is to go. Then tell them one-on-one, face-to-face, that they are to be laid off, she adds. "One of the worst things managers can do in this situation is not try to help their laid-off workers find new jobs," she says. And a lack of compassion is inexcusable. "Managers doing layoffs need maturity and they need to think about the other person involved," she adds. Laying off employees will always seem like a lose-lose situation, of course. But if done with compassion and respect flowing from the employer to the employee, Haag says a company can avoid permanent damage to its reputation. Besides, treating people with respect is the right thing to do, says Haag. "Some managers and CEOs forget that behind the numbers on the spreadsheet are workers with families to support and bills to pay," says Haag. "Employees should be treated with respect at all times, and especially when you're delivering the kind of news that affects their financial and emotional wellbeing." Other recent articles from TechCareers Career Profile: Mark Slaga, Dimension Data CTO Why You Need To Map Out Your Value Proposition Before Seeking That Next Job Building Tech Talent Through Extensive Professional Development
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