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BLUF: As we face layoffs, would it be inappropriate for me (as a manager) to ask my boss to consider demoting me back to a functional line person in lieu of laying me off, should it come to that?

My company is in the inital planning stages of layoffs.  As managers, we were asked to stack rank our DRs, which I've done, in preparation for layoffs.  The word was received late Thursday that our general group will need to layoff 25 people - out of 200+. 

There are 6 managers reporting in to our VP / boss and our DR count is:

Me: 7
T: 9 [my counterpart in our functional group]
A: 14 [a stand-alone functional group]
S: 11 [S, J & L all in the same functional group]
J: 10
L: 7

Combined with my counterpart's team (totaling 16), our functional job area needs to layoff 3 people - all of which will be coming out of my counterpart's team, dropping his group to 6.

The standard rule of thumb, from our corporate office, is that managers within our company should handle about 7-10 DRs.  My count won't change as a result of the layoffs but given the loss of 25 people, that's at least 3 managers-worth so I need to face reality.

Of the manager's at my level reporting up to our VP (and there are six), I have the least tenure with the company, though I've been in a manager role for about 2 mos longer than another peer - who sits in the same office as my VP & who has a much longer relationship with him.

We've already determined that 4 of the layoffs will happen outside of our VP's group and we've determined that 3 will come from T and another 3 from A - so that's 10 people identified out of the 25 total already. 

Our VP's group (specifically the S, J, L teams) handle orders from new customers as well as from existing customers.  The other two functional teams within our division (outside of our VP's control) are dedicated solely to new customers.  The main group in the division is running at about 70% of plan and our new/existing group is running at 105% of plan - due primarily to orders from the existing client base, of course.

While we're all hopeful (within the VP's group) that the remaining 15 people to be selected for layoff come from the other two main groups in the division, there's a distinct possibility that T could be asked to re-absorb my 7 DR's to eliminate a manager position.  (Yes, that would be 13 DR's which is above the recommended 7-10 but since A's group has been running at 14 for 18 mos, I doubt anyone would have a problem with T having 13.)

That said, would it be inappropriate for me (as a manager) to ask my boss to consider demoting me back to a functional line person in lieu of laying me off, should it come to that? 

I don't want to send the message that "I think I'm the worst manager you have which means I automatically see myself on the chopping block."  I really DON'T think I'm in the lowest three managers in the whole division but I also want to be realistic and pragmatic about this. 

My husband was laid off about two months ago and while he was able to secure a new job, it's for about 1/2 of what he used to earn and it's 55 miles away (one-way!) 

So ... what do you think?  If you were in the VP's shoes and had to make these decisions and were told that you had to let go of one manager, would it be good to know that you have a manager willing / interested in going back to the line, should it come to that?  

I should also mention that when I worked on the line, I was a top performer.  I was consistently high in productivity. I had a wealth of product knowledge. I demonstrated leadership and a positive attitude.  You know, essentially all of the things that made me stand out as a candidate for the manager position when it came open last September. 

I have to think that, if I were being stack ranked as a line person, I would be pretty high in the weighted rankings, therefore somewhat justifying letting another line person lower in the rankings go and eliminating a manager position - again, should it come to that.

Or is the risk too great - if I speak up, will I be putting the idea on the table to either lay me off or demote me, sealing my own fate?  Is it in poor taste?  Unprofessional?

All thoughts and opinions, as well as suggestions, welcome at this point!  As always, thanks in advance for your wisdom and guidance.

US41's picture

If I am asked to lay people off, it is to save not only their salaries but also on rent, supplies, benefits - all overhead. In order to save the amounts needed, a headcount is calculated that must go. Those people offering to take reductions in pay are not offering even a fraction of what is needed to preserve their jobs, so in my experience, it is totally ineffective. 

Other managers may have different experience. 

ashdenver's picture

25 line people and 3 managers need to go.

I'm suggesting that I be put back to my old line job with my old line salary (thus leaving 2 other managers to get laid off) and then a 26th line person gets laid off -- someone with less productivity, product knowledge, skills, etc. -- in other words, someone less valuable to the company overall, someone less versatile.  (The difference between line and manager pay grades isn't too terribly high, btw.  I would only be going back $12k.) 

One of the line people "on the bubble" has over 30 years with the company but has only ever setup one product in all that time.  I guarantee she's making as much as, if not more than, I am as a manager.  (I've got a DR with 32 yrs of tenure who earns about $500/yr less than I do as a manager.)  

Darrell's picture

That's a a tough spot.  

I'm pre-supposing that a) your VP would accept your proposal and b) you are interested in becoming a manager again.   

What would your chances of getting back into the manager position be in 12 to 18 months?  How would your directs, soon-to-be-peers perceive this?  Especially 18 months down the road, when they become your direct report again, and they remember you saving your own bacon, which caused forced popular person X out the door.  The peer resentment isn't a show-stopper, but its something you should be prepared for.  You'll also face a rumour mill that is unlikely to see your demotion as voluntary.

Another Option.

I'd suggest an internal search, perhaps for a 12-month temporary assignment or project role to fill.  Showing flexibility will help the VP out, and it could give you some extra experience / breadth / contacts and reach within organization. Depending on the role, and degree of salary difference, your company may allow you to keep your existing salary during the temporary assignment.  Approaching your boss about this prospect;  Say you're concerned, and that you are considering options.  It is still an awkward conversation, but it shows flexibility, maturity and less weakness.  If the VP agrees its a preferable option, they may even open doors for you.  You can always have voluntary demotion as a fall-back.

I'd also consider an external job-search.  Times are tight, but someone is hiring somewhere (perhaps on your husband's 55 mile commute).

US41's picture

So your strategy is to grab someone weaker than you and throw them into the volcano in your place? I don't know how effective that is going to be. 

This is really a good question for Mark: How hard should one try to preserve one's employment when told you are being laid off?

My guess is that this situation is similar to counter-offers after you resign. I will guess he is going to say that it is not effective for your reputation to try a last-ditch plea for mercy during the lay off conversation, and that on the off-chance it succeeds, you will have burned yourself so badly that your future survival in the company will be in question from then on. Especially since another person lost their job specifically because of you saving yourself. That tidbit of information WILL get out. Especially if the manager who takes you up on your offer talks to ANYONE who is friends with the guy being laid off. He'll probably tell everyone that you shoved him to the front of the line to save yourself. I would think your name would be mud from there on out. 

I'm going to guess that it is better to simply be a top performer that your boss would lay off last of all no matter what, and if laid off  work on transition, discuss your exit package, and plant a garden of goodwill there that you can leverage for future references or perhaps a boomerang after things improve.

 

ashdenver's picture

Darrell, we don't really have the assignment option at our company, unfortunately and I have been keeping my eye on the available jobs - both on Monster and LinkedIn - externally.  I would agree with you that it is best to simply be a top performer to avoid being laid off - that kind of falls into the "no brainer" category for me and I always-always-always do everything I can to be a top performer.  The issue is that I don't have but 3 mos in this new role which means I haven't had much of a chance to show my management skills as "top performer" status. 

In general, either I need to do a better job of communicating or there are a lot of assumptions being injected into things I've said / posted.

I have not been told I'm being laid off and I do not intend to throw a weaker person under the bus to save my own job at the very last minute.  I was looking for a proactive way to broach the subject of my willingness to step into whatever role may  be necessary following the layoffs.  After speaking with my husband (who is NOT part of this community) I got the best advice on the subject yet: to simply focus on "whatever role necessary" rather than trying to define it for my boss & his boss. 

"Boss, I empathize with the tough decisions you're facing right now and I want you to know that I am 100% on-board with stepping into whatever role you and (your boss) see as a best fit for me following the layoffs, if it comes to that."

On a side note, I have been surprised over the last couple of days to see how negatively some people here seem to view me.  The conjecture, assumptions, etc have been quite eye-opening. 

My intentions have always-always-always been above-board and for the best of the organization or individual, depending on the circumstance.  To be characterized as a cutthroat bitch willing to act in a desperate fashion by throwing weaker people under the bus in a defining moment is quite revealing to me. 

I was taking myself AND the other person (whoever it happened to be) out of the picture entirely and looking at it from the 50,000 foot view -- what's best for the organization: to keep a top performer versed in many products over a medicore performer skilled solely in a single product or to simply layoff a manager (with a commensurate salary) because that's the dictate that came down from corporate.

US41's picture

You posted a question asking what we think about you offering to take a pay cut. I wrote that I as a manager generally couldn't do anything with it, and I worry you would damage yourself by doing that the way people do when they take a counter offer. Is that not a helpful and different perspective from your own that you can use to help you plan your communications should you face a person similar to me with a similar perspective?

You wrote this:

"I'm suggesting that I be put back to my old line job with my old line salary (thus leaving 2 other managers to get laid off) and then a 26th line person gets laid off -- someone with less productivity, product knowledge, skills, etc. -- in other words, someone less valuable to the company overall, someone less versatile."

Is is not fair to say that this says:

  • You get to stay
  • Another, weaker person has to go to make up the difference
  • This would be your proposal.

???

I drew the conclusion of throwing a weaker person into the volcano on your behalf. I think it is possible others would draw that conclusion, and that knowing that it could be seen that way would be helpful to you.

I may have missed something in what you wrote. But re-reading, I don't see it. I do not understand why you feel I am characterizing you. I characterized your strategy. I did not write that you are cut-throat. You did that. I don't know why you did that.

I just didn't think the strategy was going to be effective.

It was my attempt to help you - not hurt you. If I did not wish for your success, I would not take the time to respond to you.

Whatever happens, I hope that it turns out in your favor. Good luck.

US41

Darrell's picture

You attributed comments about a lack of top performance to me.  I said no such thing, and I have no basis to determine this.  

When people's perceptions are filtered through a rumour mill, they become overly skewed.  I cautioned you to anticipate this.  

I also do not recall you saying that you were only 3 months in on your new role.  That extra info puts an interesting spin on things, because if "three managers have to go," it means your VP either did not anticipate this layoff coming before they gave you the promotion, or they saw you as a top performer to retain with a promotion.  Why would they reverse course in only 3 months?  Maybe the situation isn't as dire as you fear.

Your husband sounds like a bright man.  I like his suggestion.

 

lenon76's picture

Hello Everyone,

I've been working for a company in Spain as a regional sales manager for North America for 5 months now. Two weeks ago our department was notified that there would be layoffs because they wanted to reduce the size of the team due to the low sales of the company.

They called me in today, and they offered me two options, one being demoted to sales assistant for two regional sales manager earning 25% less (one of them being my current boss who is also demoted). The other option was to lay me off.

I was told that the company considered me a valuable part of the team, but since I'm new to the industry I lack enough experience, and they needed to increase sales in the short term. I had never had any complaints on the way I was doing my job, I was always told that I was doing a very good job. Even my current boss and the CEO told me during the meeting that I had done a good job, but I lacked enough experience.

In the first 4 months I had dedicated a good part of my time on hiring reps, which the company didn't have in the U.S. And also taking care of current clients and cold calling potential new clients.

I was told that when the situation turned around, I would be promoted back to regional sales manager, and

What should I do? Do I take it or should I tell them no, and have the company lay me off? Right now it is very hard to find a job in Spain. The economy is very slow and very few companies are hiring people.

 

Thanks.

 

 

Lenon76

peterddw's picture

I absolutely understand this is a bitter pill to swallow but do not  make a decision to depart based on the emotional circumstances. A reduced salary is better than none whatsoever. The economic climate is quite poor and you will find that it will take longer than expected to find a new position. You certainly can put yourself into job hunting mode but don't leave until you have secured a new position.

That being said, it appears others around you are also impacted and shouldering some of the burden. This is exactly what you would be doing if you owned the business. So keep your chin up, this is a team effort and you will likely come out on the up side when sales improve.

Peter

MsSunshine's picture

Don't do anything until you are emotionally distant from this.  This was one of the wisest pieces of advice I got a few years back from a EVP when I got the short end of a re-organization.  Give it time to go through all the emotions around these types of things - anger, embarassment, frustration, sadness, what did I do wrong, etc.  When your head is clearer, do an analysis of the economy, where you want to be, whether this company is still right for you, ...

I think you have pretty clear signals that the company still values you.  The economy is not good but they tried to find some way to keep you around.  It's not perfect for you.  But another great saying I tell people is "what's best for the individual isn't always best for the company".  I'm not sure where that quote came from but it fits in lots of places.  I'd be guess from your comments that they valued both you & your boss and were trying to figure out how to not lose good people. Your boss probably isn't happy either.

Now think about how to make this work.  Talk to your boss about how you can do more in the new job to get the experience you need.  If the boss has no ideas, find a mentor or figure it out yourself.  Find something to be positive about every day.  If they are laying off, it's likely that there is a lot of work to go around.  So, try to be the positive one who tries to help fill in the gaps.  Look to see what you can learn about what experiences they wanted that you didn't have and figure out how to over come that.

Having been there, I know it's hard to start.  But once you get into it opportunities present themselves.  When things get better, you'll have grown during the time.  You can either stay with them if they come through on their promises or go on to somewhere else.

RichRuh's picture

I would do the following:

- Accept the demotion

- Update your resume (as needed)

- Reach out to your network

When your emotions have cooled down, you can make a decision on whether or not to leave.  If you decide to leave, you can leave on your timetable, and not on the company's timetable (i.e., now).

--Rich