Layoffs: UR DOIN IT WRONG

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In my former life as a Human Resources Manager, I worked for a large insurance company. I was the regional HR Manager for the mergers & acquisitions division. After 9/11, the layoffs began. The acquired companies were divested; everyone who was assimilated into our company (& our culture) was given a severance package or sent to work for another company (without their consent & without severance).

At the end of my tenure, there was nothing left of the M&A division except ugly P&L statements.

Then I went to work for a large pharmaceutical company. My first day on the job consisted of two important meetings: my employee orientation (where I learned about my health insurance) and a lunch & learn session with other HR Generalists to discuss the processes by which my company was laying off its employees.

It’s not an overstatement to say that I’ve been involved in thousands of employee layoffs since 2001. I’m not good at delivering bad news, but I’m very good at coaching managers on how to deliver bad news. My role in the planning and preparation of layoffs is all logistical: I’ve learned how to prepare for the worst, identify red flags, and coach the managers on how to communicate the job loss notification in a clear, simple and efficient manner.

Most employees hear about 30% of the message when you tell them that they’re losing their jobs (& that number might be optimistic). They hear the basic information and an internal conversation begins.

  • How will I tell my spouse?
  • What about my health insurance?
  • Oh. My. God. Why?

To that end, the best thing I can do as a Human Resources professional is prepare, prepare, prepare and recognize that my preparation is more for the benefit of the company (to avoid risk) and the manager (who is often ill-prepared to share this news). I’m there — physically — during the job loss notification to provide resources and information for the affected colleague, but I’m also there to provide support for the poor sucker people manager who has to communicate this shitty news.

It was interesting to read Rachel’s blog on the recent news of layoffs at a company that does business with her own organization. No one from the other company called Rachel (or anyone in the HR department) to discuss the openings or future job opportunities that might be a good fit for the affected employees. I’ve never called a competitor or another company to find jobs for employees; however, I’m always sure to go above and beyond the script. I demonstrate genuine empathy, which is something that is often lacking from most employers and Career Transition providers.

I’m a big believer that layoffs are a statement of failure by an employer — and it’s a failure of Human Resources. As part of the management team, HR often fails to proactively recognize an unfavorable business climate or market conditions. We don’t have a strong enough voice or deep enough knowledge to realize that our company’s overall business plan is incompatible with a staffing plan. To that end, many people in HR are reactively filling requisitions and not stopping the insanity and trying to link a workforce planning statetey with the overall business needs

I’m not an employee advocate, but I’m an advocate of good business practices & common sense. It’s not enough for me to feel good about a company that writes big severance checks and provides career transition services. There has to be a lesson learned from layoffs — and I want my company to make a thoughtful commitment to do things differently in the future.

I’ve learned so many lessons since 9/11 and have a better understanding of the employment lifecycle. If Human Resources is more interested in the event-planning of a layoff instead of the hard work of preventing future layoffs, we are doing something wrong.

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