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Treating Employees with Dignity

Part of my job is to work with professionals who have recently become unemployed. It’s incredible how many people are impacted by layoffs each day. Often, the person was let go due to something outside of their control. Their company reorganized and laid off an entire department. The employee had a great track record of loyal service.

Ultimately, the company had to look out for their own best interests. Perhaps they needed to eliminate a department that uses out of date technology. Or maybe, they need to scale back operations in order to survive. Even though an employee is sad to lose their job, typically they understand that this sort of thing happens.

This is the part that I don’t understand, and I’m not sure if I ever will. Approximately eighty percent of those I speak with have had the same experience. They went to work one morning, and started to do their job. Then, their boss called them and asked them to come to their office for an unplanned meeting. The boss informed them of the reorganization and told them their job would be ending – effective immediately. The person was then walked out of the building.

Company reorganizations are a part of life. The situation I just described doesn’t have to be. Without fail, when I speak to someone who has gone through this experience, they’re broken – often for months or years. They have gone from a loyal, productive employee one day to a hopeless, crying person the next.

It seems that the company feels that if they give the individual some kind of financial payout, this procedure is acceptable. In reality, the sadness and depression the employee is facing is only partially about money. What it’s really about is losing their identity. It’s about being walked out of their workplace as if they’re a criminal. It’s about being suddenly separated from those they have considered their second family for years. It’s like going through a death.

It seems there’s an assumption that a jilted employee may strike back. They may doing something to get retribution while they’re still in the office. I have never seen a single job seeker who was given advanced notice do anything other than be appreciative that their company gave them a heads up.

Companies are slow to implement new strategies. This means that very often, big layoffs were planned months in advance. Months when the impacted employees could have been planning their next move, if they had more notice. This time would not only help them plan, but it would help them to avoid the giant emotional loss that comes along with being walked out of a building you have worked in for so long.

Try to be empathetic with the employee. Put yourself in their shoes. They aren’t just a number. Employees are people who have given years of their time and their heart for their companies.

Angela Copeland, a career coach and founder of Copeland Coaching, can be reached at copelandcoaching.com.

When you thought it wasn’t personal

A reader recently wrote to me with a unique situation. They landed an impressive contract position. Everything was going along great for eleven months until one day, they were let go. The company laid off a large number of people all at the same time. After soliciting feedback, the reader was given a good review and sent on their way.

It wasn’t personal. Or, was it? Just a few days after being let go, their contract job appeared online as an open position. It was the same job at the same company. Then, a friend of the reader was hired at the same company. They asked what had happened. They were told the reader was let go due to poor performance issues.

How could this be? The reader had never been given any negative feedback. They were told it wasn’t about them.

After this incident, the reader has had multiple job interviews. This has left them with a difficult question. “What should I say in future job interviews if someone asks ‘Why did you leave the company?’ How do I honestly answer that without bad mouthing anyone?”

Reader, let me say first, I am so sorry this happened to you. Being let go from a company is difficult enough. Receiving conflicting messages about it later is even worse.

When you interview, it’s very important to be honest. It’s also important to be as accurate as possible. The problem here is that the company may not have been honest with you. If there was a performance issue as you have heard, it’s possible that your manager avoided their duties by not giving you direct and constructive feedback.

The problem is, you don’t really know the truth. What you’ve heard is third hand information at best. It’s tough to know how much of what you were told is a rumor and how much is reality. For example, did the feedback come from your boss or from an old coworker who likes to gossip?

In a case like this, it can be tough to know what to say in an interview. But, the best course of action may be to go with the company line. You were part of a random company layoff. It wasn’t personal. Your performance ratings were good. It’s what is documented in your employee file.

Unfortunately, when someone leaves a company, others have a tendency to talk. Often, they may try to guess the reasons someone left. This gossip can spread misinformation.

Even if the rumor is true, how would you validate it? And how would it benefit you to do so? It would not be helpful to provide unproven, negative information to a future employer. It would also not be helpful to explain a long story of events about your departure and the rumors that followed.

Stick with what you were officially told and move on to a more exciting and fulfilling opportunity with a manager who appreciates your skills and talents. Best of luck in your job search!

Angela Copeland is a Career Coach and Founder of Copeland Coaching and can be reached at CopelandCoaching.com or on Twitter at @CopelandCoach.