Layoffs: The execution

Layoffs are unfortunately a part of most industries, and the technology sector ( or department ) is no different, in fact we are often some of the first to be hit.

The execution of the layoffs ( pun intended ) is the actual delivery of the message, both to those being laid off, as well as those being kept on.  I covered the selection process in a previous post, and will continue this series from here.  I have been using my past experience with various companies, to show examples, but again these are only my thoughts and opinions.

The execution

I will break this portion down into 2 parts, the delivery of the message to those being laid off, and to those being kept on.  Since the message is different, as well as the delivery, they deserve their own description which I will identify as the march, and the hope.

The March

This part is about getting the people being laid off isolated into an office, conference room to minimize the impact of the rest of the people.  During mass layoffs, its common to have the rest of the team called to a meeting while the affected resources are being told the news.

First is getting the person/people away from the masses, this can be accomplished by either walking by someone’s desk and asking them to come into an office, or calling them on the phone and having them come to your office.  The goal of this is to do it as discreetly as possible.  Most of my experiences around this all happened in similar fashion, and were done with professionalism.  It is also important to do it quietly so as to not worry the rest of the staff.  One good idea that i have seen is to have the rest of the team away from their desks when the person being laid off comes back to their desk to collect things ( more on this later ).  All electronic accounts and access should be disabled for this person at this moment.

The delivery of the news should always be done by either an human resources person with the direct supervisor, or if no HR resource exists, the supervisor should have training on what the process should be.  This is to be sure that all laws are respected, questions answered, and information provided.  If some things are neglected to be communicated, said resource has legal recourse against the company, and that can be bad news.

The next important aspect is to be sure not to get into the why me and not them discussion.  Stand by your decision, keep it short and factual.  Do not let the person begin an argument.  Keep the conversation short, simple and straight to the point.  Communicate that the decision is taken and is final.

Following the discussion, each company seems to have their own policy/opinion about letting the person collect their things, or having someone else collect them.  The important part is to minimize the contact this person has with other people for the moment.  This is why having a general meeting with the rest of the employees during this period is a good idea.  I have seen the extremes, of letting say goodbye, to having people escorted around by security guards.  The more sensitive the data, the higher the security risk.  Do not let people access any form of electronics once the message has been delivered, you cannot predict their reaction, and you don’t want them sabotaging your company.

Now let me ask a question, what’s the best policy for dealing people working from home/remote?  This can apply to a remote worker, or someone who had to work from home that particular day due to kids/delivery/appointments, any reason can apply here.  If the person is being let go, do you call them, and then cancel their access while on the phone?  If this person is only home for that particular day, do you wait until they come in the following day, and return any equipment that they may have?

The Hope

This section will address the communication to the rest of the employees and resources working for the company.

The idea here is to communicate what is happening to the rest of the company.  This is to avoid rumors and to maintain the trust the employees have in the company.  The important points to this are to share the high level information,  tell the people the circumstances, inform them that they are not the affected ones.  One important thing to keep in mind, is to not address particular cases with the group.  If a specific question is raised about who/why/etc take that person aside and speak with them, keeping it at a high level, and re-iterate in a general fashion that the choices were difficult and they were made with the company’s interest in turning around in mind.  Do not try to justify, as this will cause more problems.

One issue here, is people that are remote again.  How to inform them, and when to inform them of what happened.  Again ideally, have them call into a conference number so that they can hear the message first hand, if not, depending on the volume of people remote, a phone call or email is an important step.

Most instances this was handled well, if not by the upper management making the call, then by direct managers who called their resources to tell them.  One instance where i have seen a lack, is a person who was working remote that was having a VPN issue, and so they called the help desk, to which the person replied, “please hold while i check to see if you are still employed here.”  This lacked planning and organization, but planning such things is a tricky task at best.

The import thing to keep in mind is the delivery needs to be surgical, no emotion.  It needs to be clean cut, and format.  It doesn’t matter about friends during the delivery, this was done for the business, and you need to keep that mentality.  Planning of delivery is crucial to achieving a “smooth” execution during layoffs.  You don’t want a scene, you definitely don’t want a panic, and taking the proper steps and planning can avoid this.

stay tuned for part 3, the cleanup.

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Tim Voet has been in the IT industry since 1997. Tim started his career doing tech support and network administration at a large Pharma company. He then spent the next 12 years doing development, leading and managing development teams, mostly in Java, but also some PHP, and Ruby on Rails. Tim has always hands on, and loves challenges that make most people cringe. When he isn't at work, he's spending as much time as he can with his wife and 3 boys. Life can be a busy time with that many young kids. He is currently open to new consulting opportunities, please feel free to contact him with your project information tim - at - timvoet dot com

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