Compassion when Downsizing
Profitability is the object of all businesses, whether they are small or large businesses. It is a given that organizations want to increase revenues and decrease costs. After all, companies want to report higher profits for their investors and shareholders. Therefore, it does not matter if we are in a pandemic; organizations must continuously take a head count and determine what people are required.
With that in mind, Human resources and Senior decision-makers often find themselves in positions where they may need to downsize the number of employees in their companies. Often these decision-makers must painstakingly consider what job functions can be reassigned to other employees and what employees need to be downsized.
When these decisions are made, family members of employees are directly or indirectly affected. For each person who is downsized, there is a multiplier effect of 2, 3, 4 or perhaps even five or more family members who may be impacted by the decision to restructure one person from the organization. These other family members are often dependent upon the decision-maker who has been restructured. The schooling, basic living requirements, and extra-curricular activities of all family members can be significantly impacted by the layoff of one family member.
Missed Opportunity for Compassion when Downsizing at Better.com
Now, let’s reflect on a layoff of 900 employees from Better.com. Given the possibility that the layoff may impact 3 or 4 family members on average for each employee, it can negatively affect many people. Many will remember how the news was delivered by its senior leader. All people were called into a video meeting and abruptly told that they did not have a job anymore. There were reports that the CEO wanted to give only one week’s severance pay to each laid-off employee. Media reported worldwide the cold manner with which a Better.com layoff notice was delivered to its employees. Many employees complained about the lack of empathy and consideration that affected the laid-off employee and their families.
Downsizing Preferred Practice
I suppose if there is anything I have learned in my 20+ years of career experience in working with employees who have been downsized, it is that consideration is a critical element in ensuring that notice is compassionately delivered to downsized employees.
Like communicating any bad news to anyone in life, it is essential that the HR Professional show compassion and consideration when planning to downsize each employee.
There is never a great time to downsize. However, please try not to lay off anyone just before or immediately after a holiday, birthday or another special day in a person’s life.
Many of us have been downsized in our careers. We know how we felt when the news was delivered. Whether you have been laid off or not, it is essential to self-check when you plan to downsize an individual. Continuously ask yourself throughout the entire layoff process how you would feel if it were you who was being laid off. By considering how you would feel if you were being laid off, let this be a guide to ensure that you plan and downsize an employee with the same compassion and care that you would want for yourself.
Compassionate Downsizing Guide
- Do your research first. Become an expert on the laws and rights of an employee laid off. Learn and apply the laws concerning severance pay in the province where you are located. More importantly, be “fair and reasonable” for the time of service that the employee was with the organization.
- Plan to do the downsizing in person, if possible. This has been complicated during a time of a pandemic or distance between the person who is delivering the news. Conduct the meeting ideally on a Tuesday or Wednesday (the middle of the week), and when you think fewer people may be present in the office. Schedule the meeting in a more isolated room from other employees or managers.
- Learn as much as you can about the employee who is being downsized. Seek out information if they have a partner/spouse, family or friend that they can contact after the employee has been delivered the news.
- Schedule a meeting on a day that is not on a birthday or religious holiday or is too closed to a special or an important day in the employee’s life.
- Prepare and communicate a very well-planned message to the employee. Let them know that this layoff decision is a business decision. Although they may want to ask a lot of questions, keep to your prepared message, assuring the employee that the decision is a business decision and that you and other HR professionals in the company would like to help them as best as your company can, to navigate through this transition period as they look for new employment
- After communicating the news about the downsizing to the employee, provide this employee with the opportunity to express his thoughts. Tell the employee that personnel in the HR department will do what they can to positively support them during this transition. Tell them that you empathize with their situation. Emphasize that you and your colleagues will do what they can to help them through the period of layoffs.
- Offer them career transition or coaching support. Encourage the employee to utilize the services of an Outplacement Consultant that the company is offering them as this support will help them during this critical time in their life. If the company has an Employee Assistance Program, show them, Employee Assistance Program’s services.
- Schedule a suitable day and time with the employee so that he/she can pick up his possessions.
- Be prepared to offer the employee a taxi to drive home. Even if they have their car, they should still be offered a taxi. They and a friend should be picked up in the car later.
- Offer a reference to employees if it is the company’s policy.
The above ideas are some recommendations a company’s HR professionals and managers should consider when downsizing an employee.
Downsizing is often not easy for the employee who has been downsized. In most cases, the company HR professional who delivers the news may be stressed and worried about providing the news to the laid-off employee. However, if proper time, consideration, and compassion are considered in the planning, preparing, and delivering the notice of a layoff, the event can occur more smoothly. And it should always be remembered that compassion and consideration should be provided to any employee who has been downsized.
In a few days, there will be an election in the Province of Ontario. As Kathleen Wynne conceded over the weekend, that means there will soon be hundreds of Liberal political staffers, and a few MPPs, looking for work. That is part of the real aftermath of an election.
Now, if you’re not a fan of the Ontario Liberal government — and not a lot of people are right now — you’re probably not going to lose a lot of sleep if they’re voted out of office. If you’re a Liberal political staffer, you’ve probably already lost sleep — and you’re about to lose a lot more as you try to figure out what to do next. But, if you’re an employer, you should probably be excited because a lot of talented people are going to be available for hire soon.
That’s because political staffers come with a skill set that are valuable to companies and leaders. Unlike officials in the bureaucracy, political staffers don’t have job security. Rather, they serve a minister or premier and get fired when their party loses an election. After an election loss, these highly skilled people all hit the workforce at the same time creating a temporary smorgasbord of talent.
While private sector employers may not be aware of the qualities that political staffers bring, they are incredibly valuable. They include:
When your job depends on the government being re-elected, you have a built-in incentive to work as hard as possible to help your party succeed at the polls. Political staffers are used to working long hours and being on call — and doing whatever it takes to get the job done.
Politics is one of the biggest employers and incubators of communications talent. Again, when your job depends on persuading people, you get pretty good at crafting a message, managing issues and dealing with the media.
Every day, even very junior political staffers give advice or make decisions involving millions of taxpayer dollars. To do this properly, staff need to be able to analyze the risks and rewards of a project from all sides. As a result, people who have made a career in politics usually have excellent decision-making skills.
Flexibility and adaptability:
Consider all the government portfolios – education, health care, infrastructure, transportation, natural resources, environments Each of these has its own dedicated ministry. Most political staffers have worked for multiple ministries, meaning they can quickly adapt to new files, people and new projects.
Immediately, political staffers are thrown into morning briefing meetings with government ministers and senior leaders. This can include the premier or prime minster. Even the most junior staffer has a lot of experience dealing with big personalities and high-stakes meetings. Policy staff, in particular, are used to high-level meetings with companies, governments and other stakeholders.
Though you might think it was more advantageous to hire staff from the current governing party, it is even smarter to hire staff from a party just out of power. In Ontario, where one party has been in charge for 15 years, staff turnover has meant that many former staffers now have key and senior positions in organizations all over Ontario. These people — thousands of them — are all connected through LinkedIn and Facebook. This massive and very loyal network can be helpful when you’re looking for a vendor or a contact or information about an issue — and they all have relationships with senior government bureaucrats.
In the next few weeks, when these talented people hit the market, some private sector employers will gloss over their resumes, thinking that they’re typical “government” workers. But that’s a mistake your competitors are going take advantage of. Bankers – take a good look at Finance ministry staff. Corporations and startups – kick the tires on some Economic Development staff. Run a clean-tech company? Environment staff. Universities? Education staff. And on and on it goes.
Originally published in the Financial Post.
Image: Financial Post
To find out more about how to choose the right people, contact me.
An earlier version of this article about the CEO Whisperer appeared in the Financial Post on August 30, 2017
Canada’s job market is booming and unemployment is at its lowest point in more than two years. So why are so many people, particularly senior executives, so nervous about the economy. Where is the anxiety from?
The anxiety is real, palpable and growing. A recent poll says that nearly half of all Canadians are more concerned about the economy than any other issue — 10 per cent more than at the end of last year.
Why so much anxiety? It’s true that global politics do not appear to be particularly stable right now, and there are always ups and downs in the markets, but most analysts say that overall, the Canadian and much of the world economy is pretty strong. As someone who works closely with CEOs and high-performing professionals, I think I might have an answer to what’s on peoples’ minds.
I think a lot of the anxiety is because people now have wider access to information, but it’s harder and harder to process what they hear without objective, outside help. At one time, people judged their economic security by what was happening in their community. Things may have seemed fine on the surface, but if the local firm laid off one of their neighbours, they got anxious. That was their network. Now, it’s a much wider network, including our social network. If one of our Facebook friends is laid off — even someone we barely know — we feel like it’s happening at home.
Blue-collar worker are now, sadly, used to the ebbs and flows of good and bad times. For CEOs and other high-performing professionals whose job is to assess risk, these new networks, arguably, make matters worse.
Professionals usually live with the possibility that they could be reorganized or downsized at a whim. But that anxiety is amplified right now, thanks to political uncertainty in the United States, fluctuating commodity prices, climate change and lots of other factors outside most peoples’ control. Often, what modern business leaders really need is an outside perspective — a “CEO whisperer” if you will. An experienced, professional version of someone who does not have a direct stake in every situation but can listen and give good advice.
A growing number of professional CEO whisperers provide this kind of advice. In some cases, they are former business or political leaders who have stepped off the corporate ladder. Others are employment counsellors. When they do their jobs well, they provide objective opinions that can help people make better decisions when they’re worried about their jobs or what comes next.
The best professional advisors all share similar characteristics:
- They use data — Good information is the best remedy for anxiety based on feelings or hunches. Look for an adviser who can analyze real risks and opportunities using data, not speculation based on rumours or vague impressions.
- They can say no — Business leaders often find it hard to let go of the pet project that simply isn’t working, or to tell an underperforming unit that it’s time to pack it in. On the other side, it’s hard for employees, friends or colleagues to give their best advice to the CEO when their livelihood or relationship depends on the boss’ favour. Find someone on the outside who can look in, tell you when you’re wrong and has nothing to lose by doing so.
- They can say yes — Good ideas aren’t set in stone. Leaders sometimes need to test and validate their ideas in a safe place. They can benefit from talking to someone who doesn’t have a stake in a new idea, yet can listen and encourage. The best professional advisers act as a sounding board letting leaders bounce ideas around and raise concepts that may come out of left field, yet might work.
- They identify strengths — Often, business leaders under pressure fixate on their weaknesses, while their strengths are hiding in plain sight. A good adviser can help leaders identify the best parts of their leadership style — what gets people to listen — and encourage them to develop these.
- They give perspective — I often remind my own clients to stay grounded. I remind them that, in the end, what brings us security is not the precarious world of work, but our families, friends and community. What gives us strength are the people we love.
Perhaps it sounds trite or ironic, but sometimes the best person to help a CEO make better decisions in anxious times is someone who can objectively and dispassionately listen and be a CEO whisperer.
If you are looking for a CEO Whisperer, contact me to find out how I can be that person.