Civility in the Time of Layoffs

I had an interesting conversation a couple of weeks ago with a friend whose company is experiencing major cutbacks. Her entire large branch office is being disassembled and all 1200 employees are being either laid off or relocated – some to other parts of the country. My friend is one of the lucky ones. She has been relocated but she does not necessarily need to move, although her commute has increased from 5 minutes to over an hour each way. Many of her colleagues did not fare so well with many of them now being forced to look for new jobs or contemplate putting their houses on the market.

One of the interesting elements of this situation for me is that the employees seem to have been told of this turn of events both too late and too early to maintain a civil working environment. On the one hand, rumors of the branch elimination have been circulating for months and even years. The workforce at the branch had already slowly shrunk by two thirds before the most recent announcement.

In other words, everybody knew that something was going on but the employees did not know how it would affect them and their jobs. Not knowing this information caused many people to effectively put their lives on hold for months, which is incredibly frustrating and can cause employees to feel that they are not valued as people. In this information void, people may also have purchased houses, turned down job offers, or made other life decisions that they may not have made knowing what they know now.

On the other hand, the announcement may have come too early. Today everybody knows their fate within the company but many of these changes will not take effect until the fall or even the end of the calendar year. Consequently, many people are continuing to come to work knowing that they will not have a job in a few months. While I’m sure these people are still fulfilling all the requirements of their jobs, their engagement and effectiveness is almost certainly at an all time low. They have just been told that they are unequivocally not valued by their employer but are expected to perform as if nothing has happened.

At the same time, barriers are starting to appear between those who kept their jobs and those who did not. The people who are being relocated are facing major upheaval and possibly being forced to consider leaving the company but they are still in a better position than those who have been told they have no jobs at all. Those who are being laid off resent those who at least have options and I have already heard rumors of laid off employees lobbying their bosses to get rid of a relocated employee in their place.

Readers, I’m very curious about your experience with layoffs and major corporate restructuring: is there a way to manage these events and maintain civility? Is it more respectful to employees to give them all the information as soon as managers know it or does this lead to an even more problematic work environment?

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