How NOT to lay off employees

Let’s make a little scenario, where you undergo the following experience.

You work for a mid-size Internet company. One day, you receive an email from the CEO to all employees announcing there are upcoming layoffs and restructuring. The email’s subject reads, “Important Updates – Please READ.” Why not mentioning directly about layoffs in the subject – the main subject of the email? In brief, the email (see the image below – I outlined the most “interesting” passages) states that few people will be laid off and the decision to lay certain people off is not based on their performance. It then uses terms such as “aligning business lines” and “reducing costs” as justifications for a layoff and stops short of being outright ridiculous.

The layoff emailIt is about 2pm. In about 30 minutes, you are cartered to the HR manager’s office, where you find quite a few of your colleagues crammed into a tiny space, all of you standing and facing the HR manager – she is seated. You are told that you are to leave the company. No further elaboration – it is all in the email, you are told.  It all goes for few minutes only and you are then dismissed.  You inquire about how you will handover your tasks and to whom – you assume before the end of the month. You are however told that indeed that day is to be your last day – you have 3 hours to handover all of your tasks.

You then return to your office. It is about 2:35pm. You open your Outlook and try to check your email. Your Outlook responds with “authorization failure.” You later discover that, during the time (5 mins) you were in the HR office, your email account has been blocked.

Below is the list of points of how the scenario unraveled, a case study of how NOT to lay off employees.

  • sending an email about upcoming layoffs, containing vague terms and no solid reasoning;
  • not giving an advance warning to affected employees (making the day of email announcement also the last day for affected employees);
  • ignoring employee-employer relationship specifics as written in contracts signed between employees and the employer (and the labor law – subject to sue the company);
  • inconsistently selecting employees to lay off (in some cases, not even consulting an employee’s immediate supervisor/manager);
  • making the employee layoff in an impersonal way (by bringing them all together to a room and the HR manager informing them that they are to go);
  • blocking access to email account/internet (again without any prior warning) for affected employees shortly after they were told to leave;
  • not offering to affected employees reasons/explanations leading to their layoff;
  • not letting affected employees to organize a handover of their work ;
  • claiming “there is nothing personal – it is only business” but contradicting it by saying that decision to lay off is not based on performance, which provides a direct or indirect measure of contribution to the business/output of the employee.

P.S. This happened in a company I worked for.

I was dully told that indeed today was to be our last day – in mere 2.5 hours (working day finishes at 5pm and we were at HR office at 2:30pm).

2 thoughts on “How NOT to lay off employees

  1. My impression is that you’re rather naive. It’s actual standard practice for many firms to give employees only half an hour or so to gather their under, under supervision, before leaving the office when they’re laid off. You’d be amazed at those who will sabotage the data on their computers, send out negative emails to all their work contacts and copy data for their personal use. It’s not pretty for the person affected but better for the firm. Compensation and actual last day of employment should be in accordance with contracts and prevailing laws.

  2. Thanks Sayed for your perspective.

    I heard exactly your perspective from a respectable Egyptian company who burnt out because few employees behaved as described by you.

    While there are certain people/employees in Europe/Egypt/other countries who, due to lack of ethics, professionalism, etc., might sabotage the image of a company or cause it a material/intellectual harm, this does not justify a certain attitude that the company might adopt when it decides to layoff in mass – as the case of this post was.

    There is a certain business ethics and conduct that is a standard and is expected from both employees and employers. The lack of the implied norms, be it on the part of a company or its employee, shows lack of professionalism.

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