Advice from a Real Life Corporate Downsizing Expert
By now most of you have seen the movie,Up in the Air with George Clooney. If you haven’t seen it, George Clooney plays the part of Ryan Bingham, a corporate downsizing expert. Some of us, like myself, have had to play this role in real life. Unfortunately, some of us have had to take on this role throughout our career, but even more so in 2009.
Most employees don’t realize how much work goes on behind the scenes before a layoff decision is ever made. My clients and former corporate CEO’s I worked for grieve over tough layoff decisions, sometimes for months, before they make a final decision.
Companies should consider a combination of factors such as performance, length of service, skills required, and operational needs. For larger group layoffs, companies may want to consider bringing in
- an onsite outplacement team,
- a representative from the Employment Development Department to discuss the unemployment program and possibly
- someone from an Employment Assistance Program counseling services program, if available.
I think companies should invest in having a downsizing expert to work with them to make sure employees are taken care of as much as possible to lessen the impact. Treating employees well during an exit is so important – more importantly, companies may need to hire them back in the economic upswing.
Having to tell employees (that, in some cases, I’ve never met) their job has been eliminated is one of the toughest tasks to do in HR. For me, it’s one of the toughest things I’ve had to do in my life. In one case, I thought the executive I was sitting with was going to throw up during the layoff meeting. He was literally sick to his stomach and upset about having to deliver the news to a team of six employees that there were being laid off.
In this case, business had dropped so significantly, they had to shut down part of production and start saving costs in order to pay the bankers to avoid shutting the doors completely. The company tried everything before they finally had to make the toughest decision – to layoff teams of employees.
I can truly say I know how it feels to be in their shoes. I had to layoff myself, along with the corporate executive team. For me, I think being part of the decision made it easier, but in the end, I was still shocked that it finally came down to writing my own layoff notice. Even though I knew my job was eliminated due to an acquisition of my company, I still felt embarrassed that I was laid off. I knew working for a start up was a risk, but I still felt shocked that I was unemployed.
I’ve heard people say, “It’s not like it used to be when you worked for a company forever.” Having entered the workforce in the late 80’s, I never experienced that sense of stability. I learned fast that I always needed to have a “Plan B” in the event my job was going to end without notice. Even so, I think we should work hard to do a great job at work, feel good about our contributions and be great employees.
However, we owe it to ourselves:
- to keep a good balance in life,
- to continue to network outside of our company to keep connections that may be a lifeline to our next career and
- to keep up our training or get our certificates we need to stay marketable.
Bottom line, we need to take care of ourselves – and be in control if we are handed a box.
If you’ve been laid off, how do you feel your company handled it? The good and the bad? What sort of reaction do my words stir up in you? What would you like to share with someone like me? Or, what would you like to see companies do differently? What action can you take to prepare yourself now or in your next job so you are in control of your career?