IM LAYING U OFF
It was a throwaway item in the latest Atlantic Monthly:
In response to a sharp increase in text-messaged layoffs, South Korea, a country mad for thumb-typing, will change its employment laws in July and require employers to provide hard copies of pink slips.
Okay, we know that IM is a great and wondrous form of communication.
But laying someone off via IM? Can this possibly be true? I know that Radio Shack sent out e-mail pink slips last summer. While that raised howls - including mine - it was a far kinder and gentler solution than getting a text message on your cell or an IM popping up on your screen.
Lay-offs are no fun. Especially when you're the one delivering the message. But if you're grown up and responsible enough to be in a management role, guess what? You should be grown up and responsible enough to sit down face to face with someone and tell them that they no longer have a job.
Lay-off are no fun. Deciding how many is agonizing enough. Deciding who is torture.
Sure, you might be able to nail a poor performer or two in the first round, but in the subsequent waves - and I've yet to work at any lay-off prone company that didn't have multiple waves of lay-offs - you're making hard decisions. Really hard decisions.
And one of the implications of those hard decisions is a face to face sit-down (or if someone's remote, a phone-to-phone sit-down), an encounter unmediated by technology. Person to person. Human to human. "I regret to inform...."
You get to regret to inform, then you get to put up with the tears, the bargaining, the anger, the bitterness.
Did I mention that lay-offs are no fun?
Even when someone asks to be put on the list, it's still not pretty.
And it's something I decidedly do not miss about working in full-time corporate role.
It's not that I've done lay-offs all that many times. In a lot of the lay-offs I went through, I was an aftermath buddy (officially or unofficially), helping people pack up and tote their cartons to their cars. On many occasions, I was one of the people helping figure out who was getting laid off. Sometimes, even if the people getting riffed were in my group, my manager cowboyed up and did the actual laying off (with or without my being there). But sometimes I was the one sitting there with the tissue box, the HR person, and the packet of information.
One thing about the lay-offs I've been through: whether large or small in number, they haven't involved decimation of entire groups or departments. They've all been piecemeal, and "executed" (gotta love that word) at a small group or deparment level. None of this massive, anonymous shut down when the announcement is made to an entire group at once (and after they've already seen it in the local newspapers).
Here's how I think you should handle the actual lay-offs of the sort I'm used to. (This does not take into account how to make the tortured decision on who goes and who stays).
First off, you have to deal with the fact that, the higher up you are in an organization, the more likely you are to have information before, say, the folks who work under you. And you can't, of course, reveal that information.
The folks who work under you are very likely to have rumors. Lots of them. Pretty good ones, too.
So here's how I started handling lay-offs, predicated on how I would want to be treated under the same circumstances, which was having at least a vague head's up that there might be a head rolling. Namely, mine.
At a group meeting, when someone asked about rumors, I would make a comment along the lines of "yes, there are rumors, and, given past events and current circumstances, it would be prudent to believe that there was some truth to the rumors." I'd add something about how it might be prudent for everyone to have a current resume. How it might be prudent for someone in the group wanted to pull together a list with everyone's personal contact information in it. How it might be prudent not to sit around fantasizing about our group being exempt.
I would also say that I expected people to get their work done, and not spend an inordinate amount of time rumor-mongering. And that I didn't expect anyone to be looking for another job on company time. Maybe a peek at Monster during lunch, but no job searches and letter writing campaigns. I also said that if someone was planning on taking time off to interview, that was personal time they were taking off, not company time.
As lay-off day neared, and the names were about to be named, I informally told people who were being laid off that their jobs might be at risk.
I know that in doing this, I was going beyond company policy. But what I wanted to do was help people mentally prepare themselves for the actual event. Most of the people I told were happy I'd done so. No, it didn't spare me the tears and bitter comments. I didn't expect it to. I just didn't want anyone to walk into the lay-off conversation completely blind-sided, feeling ambushed and betrayed.
Surprisingly, despite warnings that I thought were pretty clear (i.e., "your job may be at risk"), some people were still completely shocked when they got handed their pink slip. Which shocked me. There was no way I would have told someone ahead of time that they were officially on the list (other than an exception I made for a very dear friend). But someone who didn't translate "job at risk" into "I'm probably toast"...well, everyone's got some denial going on at some point in their life.
In any case, I was never the best manager on the face of the earth, nor the most benevolent and wise. But I do know a bit about lay-offs, and a big part of what I know is that it's personal. Which means it should be handled personally.
Not through e-mail. Not through voice-mail. And certainly not through IM.
Pink slipped via IM? Beyond the pale.
There shouldn't have to be, but there ought to be a law.
And now, in South Korea, there apparently is.
I haven't done tons of googling to see whether there actuallly have been layoffs by IM, but it doesn't appear to be listed on Snopes as an urban legend.