Bottom Line: What things are important to do after layoffs happen for those who remain? (Both short term and long term)

I've had a few weeks from when the list was given to me (no I did not get to pick :( but I had been giving regular reports on people to my boss so it's not too far from what I'd do). I've got maybe a week and wondered what I haven't been thinking of that could surprise me.'s my questions...but feel free to add things I'm totally missing!
1. What would you say are the 3 key things to do (after telling them)?
2. What are the 3 key things to say to the people that remain?
3. What do you say if you don't have a plan for what we are going to continue to do? (I've given my boss a bunch of ideas as options. But Product Management hasn't decided. I'm not invited to those meetings so I don't know what reception each idea has gotten, how far away they are, etc.) The fact is that my boss told me that we are the lowest priority group...So, I'm not sure they are focusing on us. My thoughts are split. Continuing on as normal is one. But there is no chance to hit any of our dates. We've talked about going to Scrum and maybe this is a good time to jump into that...but we won't have a goal...and the current Product Manager is being laid off! I talked to my boss and he just shrugged.
4. How do I explain a significantly higher than average cut to my group? We are being cut 50% while the company average is 15%. The reasons are basically that an office is being closed where I have staff. But that could all be made up by transfers from the canceled products. Some other groups are even going up because they are adding people from those teams. But my team isn't getting any of them. I was told my group is lowest priority of what remains. I won't lie. I have several outspoken people who will pick up on this. My thoughts are not to say that explicitly but to say: "I asked and was told that other products were higher priority. We have a good team left, albeit some significant holes due to the office closure. But working together we can figure out how to make this work." Is that too rah rah!
5. Do I let them morn? How long before it's wallowing? Personally, I handle this by getting my mind busy doing something. But is that just me? What about a team full of mostly "high C programmers"?

asteriskrntt1's picture

Oh wow Ms. Sunshine

I feel for you. That being said, this might be the posting of the year.

I think you will want to know their severance package cold. There will be lots of questions.

I don't think you can get into a justification conversation with them - it is not winnable and you can't change the outcomes.

You also want to help them get their job hunting packages together -ie, help them identify and quantify their accomplishments. Point them in the direction of resources (the interview package and the resume review service, the how to build a network podcast etc.) You can also detail what you will do for them as a reference.


jhack's picture

The Compassionate Layoffs and Boomerangs podcasts cover how to deal with those being let go. Keep it straight and simple, know the package, give them your contact info.

Those left behind are the tougher ones. Strangely, this is very much like a mergers and acquisitions situation: your team is at risk, everything is in flux, missions are uncertain, orgs are changing. I think the M&A podcasts are stellar (Aug '06) and the advice on handling rumors and imperfect information are perfectly on point here. Short version: share as much info as you can with your people. Don't lie. Don't sugarcoat. And don't violate confidentiality or your responsibility to your firm.

KEY: Add to that conversation [i]what you are doing to make things better for your team![/i] Remove the sense of powerlessness this situation engenders. Let them know your plan, and what you're recommending to management. You can be excited about your plan, and the overall direction of the company, without coming off as "rah-rah" because you're talking about [i]your[/i] initiative!

Yes, Product Mgt is still reviewing the plans. You don't need to have everything figured out before you tell them what you know and what you're doing. The key is for them to see you taking action on behalf of the team.

Finally, pick something to build, and build it. Use Scrum if you'd like. Keep the team engaged. Maybe in three weeks the company decides you ought to do something else. Your team has been busy, honed some skills, and maybe even built some stuff that can be re-used. That's much better than sitting around waiting for orders, rehashing all the bad news.

It's a very tough situation, no doubt. Be positive, forward thinking, and engaged with everyone. Maybe let your O3's run a few minutes over. They need you more than ever. Be there for them.

Good luck.


MsSunshine's picture

I've gone through the message to those being laid off and am okay with that part.

For those left, I'm thinking of these basic points:
1. Yep, it's lousy but we are all still here and it's a good group that's left.
2. It is reasonable that the company could use the moment to re-prioritize products. I actually think this is a good thing to do on a regular basis.
3. So, let's figure out what we can do. We have some commitments to meet and choices to make. (You're right in that doing something - even if it's a dead end - is better than just waiting and wallowing!)
4. (Note sure about this one.) If someone wants to move to another team, there are open positions and any of the teams would take them. I won't hold it against them if they want to move. (I actually had to fight to keep a few of my stars.)

I'm thinking I'd have a brainstorming session to collect ideas. I've already got half a dozen but maybe someone has a better one. It also gets them involved instead of sitting on the sidelines. Initially, I was thinking that I had to have a plan or they'd think we were just adrift. But then I did the reality check :oops: that I'm not the only one with ideas. Pulling them in could get them involved.

I hadn't thought about the parallel to mergers & acquisitions! Thanks for that idea. I'll look at those talks.

stephenbooth_uk's picture

[quote="MsSunshine"]I'm thinking I'd have a brainstorming session to collect ideas. I've already got half a dozen but maybe someone has a better one. It also gets them involved instead of sitting on the sidelines. Initially, I was thinking that I had to have a plan or they'd think we were just adrift. But then I did the reality check :oops: that I'm not the only one with ideas. Pulling them in could get them involved.[/quote]

That sounds like a really good idea. A lay off is a really big "stuff being done to you" type of thing. Even for those left behind it can feel like they're powerless and just being swept along with the flow. The lay off process can feel rather like being subject to distant Olympian figures, you never know where the next lightening bolt is going to hit! A brain storming session, getting the survivors involved, is a great way to build the feeling of involvement, that they are more than just flotsam in the torrent.


rob_m's picture
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bflynn's picture

Realize that your directs will be very aware of the possibilities when you call them in. Especially if they're not the first ones and they see others come out and leave. They will know what is going on.

Deliver the news as your first sentence, then wait for the buzz to go away. Ok, maybe you can make it your second sentence, right after "Hi John, I'm afraid this isn't good news." Don't beat around the bush.

Afterwards, stop and wait a second. They will needs anywhere from 1 second to a minute to process what you're saying. Look for your cue to continue, such as them looking up again, dropping their head further, sighing...some indication that they've heard what you said. "I'm sorry" should be part of the conversation at this point, and give them time to adjust. Don't start with the severance package until they're ready to listen.

Personally, I'd plan for some time for yourself after everything is done just as recovery.

jhbchina's picture

To all MT'ers going through layoffs

As I read the news and your posts, I can see that this period is going to be much worse than the 2000 - 2003 recession. This crisis is reaching all around the world, even here in China.

One way to make it through this period is to be very active and busy. By that I mean learn a new skill or get involved in volunteering if you can afford it.

Attend some short courses at your community college to sharpen or learn some new skills. This will give you something to do, and the homework assignments will give you the feeling of getting something done.

Join Toastmaster International - More networking and be around professionals that are always positive! Plus you can practice your presentation skills and teach others things they might like to learn.

Create or attend Job Support Groups. Before I left for China, I was a member of two. It is great for networking and hearing about what is happening in the job market. Share what you have learned from MT about how to be prepared for interviews.

Whether it is you or your employees that get laid off, I highly recommend reading "Don't send a Resume". It is a great book on how to find a job especially when times are so tough.

Your going to need more than 6 months cash in the bank, ( if you have it) to get through these times. So make a budget list for your house and update it weekly or bi-weekly. Figure out how to save $$ or make some money. Live in a neighborhood where there is a college, rent out a room.

Take a cooking class and have dinner ready for your SO. Pack them a lunch for work while they are getting ready. Be helpful around the house. Start a garden and grow vegetables (weather permitting), just be useful and active so that your SO does not have to be concerned with minor things.

MsSunshine's picture

Bottom lineAny advice on how to handle people not doing what they would prefer (or were hired on to do)?

My thoughts are:
1. This is short term - probably a few months while we figure out what products are going to stay and what goes.
2. Focus on how you can apply/work on your strengths with the new tasks. Is there anything you can learn/work on even though the tasks themselves aren't what you want. I'll work with you on how we can apply some of your personal goals to the tasks.
3. It's frustrating in the short term. But pulling together and doing a great job of what we have on our plate is the best way to make it better in the future.

I made it through and things went well. Thanks to all the input I felt prepared to handle everything.

Now the reality of having 50% of the team cut and still having all the work to do is really dawning on the team. I had been telling them since the 2nd day that it was going to be messy and they were going to have to do a lot of things they didn't want to do and didn't know how to do...but we'd work through it. It's taken a few weeks for some things to start happening. I can sense the frustration and despair building... We had a meeting to divide up some of the work and a few people were just in a total I had just shot their dog....

I also thought about doing a tough love type of feedback. "Jeff. When you sit at a meeting where we are trying to work through issues from the layoffs and stare at the table and make comments about not wanting to do anything on the list, I wonder if you are committed to working as a team to do what we have to do for our products and customers". I realize that your friends were cut. I heard you when you said you that you said that the work you are being ask to do is not in your area. But it needs to be done. You are a leader on this team and people look to you as a model. What can you do differently?" ... But is it too soon to do this?

jhack's picture

In a crisis, swift action is needed.

You look to Jeff to be a leader. You need have a discussion with Jeff where you make it clear that it's time for him to buck up and demonstrate leadership. It's easy to be a leader in boom times - real leadership stands out when things get tough. He needs to understand that his role is at risk if he can't step up.

You, too, need to be "Ms Sunshine." You need to be upbeat, positive, forward looking. Don't talk about frustration, talk about overcoming challenges. Over-celebrate small victories. Cheerlead.

This is a great opportunity for your team. You need to portray it as such. Have you listened to the "Change Briefings" podcast from Dec 29?

John Hack