Marvelous Layoffs

I’ve heard a fair number of horror stories about people being laid off in demeaning ways .   As in “pack up your things in a box right now while your co-workers are watching and a security guard is standing over you.”  If you’re being fired for threatening the boss with a semi-automatic weapon or for embezzling large sums of money, this makes sense.  But, I’m wondering how many people are actually planning a vengeful attack on their way out the door.   Isn’t it possible to protect company interests without stripping away all sense of dignity?

To counter this, I’d like to offer two layoff experiences of my own that were overwhelmingly positive.  I’ll always hold these two firms in high esteem, even if they did have to lay me off.   Although I suspect there may have been some deviance from standard operating procedures…

The first was from a large engineering firm.   The economics practice area I was in had suffered from a low volume of work for some time, and the higher-ups had been making heroic efforts for months trying to find billable work for their junior staff.   When the day finally came, I was still shocked (in retrospect, I’m not sure why) but I’d swear my supervisor had tears in his eyes, too, when he had to deliver the bad news.  Not only was I allowed to quietly creep away that day and collect my things later, they insisted that I keep the company laptop and access card for awhile, and they encouraged me to come into the office on my own after hours to print things if I wished.  (This was in the early days of the internet, when you still had to mail or hand-deliver resumes.)  Even though my junior employee severance package was just a few weeks of pay, I still feel grateful for being treated like a trustworthy adult.

In a later experience I was part of a bank that was purchased by a larger bank.  The day the merger was announced, we knew our entire division was toast; it was just a matter of when.  The outgoing executive management negotiated very nice severance packages, even for the rank and file, which was classy, even if there were pragmatic reasons behind it.  (Transferring customers and products from one banking system to another is neither quick nor easy.)  For me the timing was especially nice, as it corresponded with a family leave.  Division management was especially accommodating during the merger period, in part because they were on the way out, too.  (I think they spent the year’s party and entertainment budget on us during the first quarter before the merger closed, but that’s another story. The bread and circuses were a nice added touch, though.) Best of all, this experience created a huge diaspora of contacts all over the region within the same industry, a network I’m still drawing on today in my job search.

I challenge HR departments everywhere to treat people with trust and respect on the way out, even if you can’t leave them with the keys to the office.

In retrospect, the Miami office of that engineering firm was an anomaly in several ways – as far as I know, they were the only company location at that time without functioning voicemail, and the only one with a kick-ass expresso machine.  Bot that’s another story, and if you’ve ever spent much time in Miami, you know that the usual rules do not apply there.

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