Towards the end, I have my list of things you should be thinking about if you get laid off, or if you think that it might happen. First, however, a few stories concerning things I have seen.
There was once a time when many could work for the same employer their entire career without worrying about being laid off. For some that still may be true, but for most that is just not the way things are. Even where this is possible, loyalty is often rewarded with a bit of a kick in the teeth. One place I once worked at was deeply structured and very process orientated. People progressed slowly up the numerous layers if they stuck it out. Rules dictated that you must spend x number of years before being considered for the next level. Others who left often returned by jumping back into the hierarchy several levels up and on a far better salary.
It nurtured a culture of disloyalty.
I’ve been through several layoffs. One organization did it very ethically, the other was an example of how you really should not do this. Both still exist, so I’ll not name them. This is not because I wish to protect them, but because both have been bought and sold multiple times since it all happened, and so those making such decisions are long gone. In other words, what happened then is not who they are now.
I’ll get into these examples shortly, but first a quick side story
There was an individual whom I knew but I shall not name, who demonstrated an astonishing survival skill. He was the senior IT director of an organization that was acquired. All his fellow board members left or were let go, but he remained in place. The organization was then rebranded, floated, bought, and sold. He remained in place while all the other seniors were replaced again and again.
How did he manage to survive?
I asked him about this over a beer. What follows is the story he told me.
He, along with all the other board members, was sitting in a conference room waiting to meet a new CEO.
He explained, “I noticed that my shoelace was undone, so I leaned down and ducked under the table to tie it. Just as I was doing this, the new CEO walked into the room, proceeded to point at each board member in turn saying, ‘you, you, you, and you, go pack your belongings, you are fired’, then turned and walked out. When I sat back up, I realized I had been missed and so I was still officially the IT director. I kept quiet, carried on.”
Well, that’s the story he spun.
To be honest, I have my doubts and consider it to be a beer story and not what happened. Having said that, it’s fun to think about something like that happening, and so I enjoy the thought that it just might be half true.
Being Laid off: Getting it very wrong
Financially, the writing had been on the wall. The organization’s founder, Brian, had one good idea. It more or less bankrolled the company, but unfortunately, despite hiring a guy to follow him around and record everything he said, no further good ideas ever emerged.
Brian was also deeply eccentric.
When they hired a guy to run a new office, he was told on his first day that “Brian would like to meet you“.
Nobody warned him.
He thought to himself, ‘founder and CEO’, so dressed in the smartest suit he had and went to the address given.
Brian opened the door. When he spotted the suit, he went “Woh”, and got the guy to come in, strip down to his boxer shorts and jump on the trampoline that he had in his living room to… “release the creative energies being blocked by the suit”. This was his first clue that Brian was rather eccentric.
With a guy like that running the show, the inevitable financial brick wall was hit. How they handled it was not good.
A security guard appeared on the door one morning with a list of names. If you were on the list then you were not allowed in the building. Your pass was taken and you went sent to a local hotel to be debriefed.
There it was explained that your job no longer existed and that the severance you would receive was the absolute legal minimum.
I understand that they had also bought some quite vicious-looking guard dogs and asked the security team to patrol with them every hour each night. A few nights later somebody stole the dogs.
Given the way they ran things, I think we could consider that a rescue.
Since the organization had been floated, the board needed to do something about Brian, so they gave him a fancy job title, explained they would call him for guidance, then got on with sorting out the financial mess.
Apparently, nobody ever called Brian.
Being Laid Off: Getting it Right
On to a story about a completely different organization.
When the political wind was blowing in a specific direction then the federal government spent lots of money. This organization cashed in on that in a big way.
Times changed, and so when federal belt-tightening kicked in, this organization suffered financially.
In a lean year, we all received a Christmas gift that consisted of a card that read “Our gift this year is the promise we now give to each other that we will all do better next year“.
Layoffs needed to happen, the numbers no longer added up.
One of the guys in my team was at the airport meeting family. As he waited, he spotted stepping off the flight from head office the senior director. As soon as he saw that face he knew his job was gone. There was only one reason for her to be there.
She went directly to the office, called a meeting of all staff, and explained that a decision had been taken to close the office. The deal was that an offer would be made to any who were willing to relocate. For those that did not want to, or could not, the severance package was generous. She also explained that they had hired career counselors and they were immediately available in a conference room.
They kept the building for a bit longer. Anybody who wanted the facilities could come, and freely use the phones or laptops to job hunt. The message was clear, “We trust you to be professional, and we will do our very best to help you in any way we can“.
What was truly impressive is that the director, who had made the hard decision to close the office, did not delegate or simply send an email. Instead, she boarded a flight, came, and looked us in the eye to explain it all face to face. She felt that nothing short of that would be appropriate.
That is how you get doing something that hard so very right.
It was difficult to receive at the time, but they did do their very best.
What if it happens to you or might happen?
There is a key point.
First, an important thing to appreciate is that it is not about you. Don’t take it personally. Such decisions are generally driven by seniors who adjust the size of the organization in response to financial pressures.
If it does sadly happen to you, or you suspect that it might happen, then here is my list of things for you to consider putting in place …
- Consider Alternatives: Looking for a new job is not your only option. You could also think about setting up your own business or look for contract roles.
- Leverage your network: Don’t hide what has happened. Reach out to contacts, advise that you are looking, and if they know of any opportunities to let you know.
- Go On-line: If you don’t have one, create a LinkedIn profile, highlight your skills and achievements. Flag up that you are available for work. Don’t wait until you need this, start work on setting this up now and take time to polish it up so that it shines.
- Get your CV up to speed: Have it realy. Also, be prepared to fine tune it and have different versions that are specific to any role you apply for.
- Do some Financial Housekeeping: Do you actually use that Apple+ subscription, do you really need that Latte?
- Negotiate the Big Payments: If you are going to have problems paying the mortgage or the rent, don’t hide this and let it rapidy escalate into a crises. Instead, work with the lender/landlord on a plan. Ask if a mortgage holiday is an option to help get you over this temporary challenge.
- Be professional: Don’t bad mouth your previous employeer, even if they are truly obnoxious bastards. Whispers that you are “difficult”, “challenging”, or “bitter”, is not what you want floating about. You may also need your old manager to give you a good reference, and so you should strive get that. Don’t piss him or her off by venting your frustration about what has happened.
- Negotiate: Even if your department is being canned, it is also worth asking HR there are other opportunities available that you could apply for.
- Grasp the Opportunity: Don’t just job hunt, use your time to learn new skills. Take courses, online or face to face. No I don’t mean “how to be a great drummer”, but instead skills that are in demand and will help. But hey, if the drumming course helps you to de-stress, go for it. When challened during an interview and asked “Why do you have a 6 month gap here?“, you can explain that you took time out to learn a new skill such as Python programming, or similar. It sends a clear message that you don’t just let things happen, but that you are an individual who takes control and are a valuable resource worth hiring.
Have you ever been laid off or fired?
If so …
- How did you feel about it at the time?
- Looking back, how do you feel about it now?
- What advice or guidance would you offer to anybody facing something like this? (This is not just for me, but for anybody searching and finding this article. Additional comments with hints and tips might really help somebody).