How Not to Lay Off Staff

The chairman of a network of local websites in the Northeast sent the following email to his staff on a recent Friday afternoon. It was a follow-up to an email they received earlier that day informing them that the CEO was resigning.

“Monday morning we will share with you the news about where we’re going and how we’re going to get there. The news is good—but you’ll need to sit tight while we finalize our plans. Check your email about our company-wide phone conference early Monday morning.  …I am pumped about the prospect of working with you to build a great company.”

urlIt’s nice to get a positive, hopeful email from your chairman in our still-struggling economic times, isn’t it? But what happened on Monday could hardly be classified as good news.

That morning employees at Daily Voice were told that it was shutting down 11 bureaus in Massachusetts and laying off everyone in those offices with no severance pay. The Chairman had flat out lied to the employees.

That’s just one example of how not to handle a layoff. You’ve probably heard plenty stories of bad layoffs. There was the woman who received a FedEx package at home with her severance in it. Problem was no one told her she was being laid off. Or the woman who was lying in a hospital bed when her boss thoughtfully came to visit, bringing her a bouquet of flowers. And a severance check.

Another woman named Sylvia found a document, available for public viewing on the company’s shared hard drive, called SylviaFired.doc. She read it and spent her last few hours at the company correcting its many spelling and grammar errors. If you’re being let go like that, at least all the words should be spelled correctly.

At one small ad agency where a husband and wife both worked, the husband got laid off. Then a few hours later his wife was laid off as well because the creative director thought she would be uncomfortable working in the office that laid off her husband. More uncomfortable than losing both incomes in one day?

One of the worst stories I’ve heard is about a company that evacuated hundreds of employees for a fire drill. They were all standing outside when a person on a loudspeaker said, “Due to the ongoing recession and bad business climate, the company is laying off 50 percent of its staff. So when the announcement finishes I ask all of you to move back to the building. If your employee card does not give you access to the building, it means you have been laid off and will not be allowed inside the building. All of your belongings will be sent to you.”

That sounds like the premise of a horrible reality TV show, but in this case half the people get kicked off the island.

In my position as The Turnaround Authority I’ve had to lay off hundreds of people. It’s never easy and I do it with full recognition of how losing their jobs will affect the employees’ lives and those of their families. But sometimes it is the only way to save the company and employment of hundreds, if not thousands of other people and their families.

While unpleasant, there is a right way and a wrong way to lay off someone.

Stay tuned for my next blog post for the right way to lay off an employee. And there are no fire drills or bouquets involved.

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