Office Politics 101: I have to lay someone off!

Do nothing until you have investigated the entire matter by speaking with your manager and the HR department.

Q: My divisional manager has asked me to lay off an employee as our company’s sales and profits have been lower than expected. I think everyone in the department is valuable, so I don’t know what to do. It seems unfair. Your suggestions?

A: Layoffs can sometimes be a reality for many companies, especially if there are seasonal cycles or unanticipated issues, such as increased competition or declining markets.

Unfortunately, however, layoffs occasionally may be an over-simplistic response to financial pressures. Management might see employees as a significant expense, so layoffs are attractive for a quick fix.

The implementation of layoffs — and the communication with selected employees — is delegated to supervisors (like you) and management, in many cases, is shielded from the resulting tension and despondency.

Apart from the obvious requirement to have work distributed to others, morale can also suffer as employees — especially those performing similar functions —  may believe they also could be vulnerable.

(I will assume you do not work in a unionized office as the collective agreement would govern the layoff process and you would be obliged to follow a set of prescribed procedures.)

I’d recommend you do nothing until you have investigated the entire matter by speaking with your manager, the HR department — if you have one — and even through informal conversation with colleagues.

You may learn your department has been selected arbitrarily to be downsized or perhaps someone has recommended you because you have a nice personality and won’t be expected to protest.

On the assumption your departmental layoff is one of many company-wide you can still make a case for retaining everyone. Prepare a report explaining why a layoff would not be in the best interests of the company and submit it to your boss as soon as possible.

If the appeal is unsuccessful, you should now consider the reality of the requested layoff which will require sensitivity and tact.  Ideally, it may be best to select the most junior employee although this may not be practical.

Ensure you have all the necessary HR documents and arrange a private meeting with the employee you’ve selected.  Be firm and do not indicate you are willing to negotiate by reducing his or her pay or offering a reduced workweek, for example.

Laying off a valued employee will be stressful for you; it will, however, be even more stressful for the employee; Your clear explanation of the situation and the fact the decision is in no way related to his or her performance will go a long way in providing emotional comfort at this time.

Submit your confidential questions relating to work and office life to simongibson@shaw.ca