Friday, January 2, 2009

What's Worse: Losing a Job... or Keeping

Is it tougher getting laid off or left behind as a survivor when a company starts cutting jobs?

The simple answer is a no-brainer. Losing a job is harsh reality; it can be catastrophic. But there is a problematic shadow that often hangs over survivors of workforce reductions -- on a personal level, as well as on an organizational level. And that's a reality often overlooked.

In "the best" layoff scenarios companies offer employees generous voluntary buyouts, right? Best Buy Co. this month offered packages to almost all 4,000 employees in its corporate offices. The US's largest electronics retailer is hurting and "needs to reduce significant expense" from its payroll. Details of the cuts are unfolding, but soon decisions will be made about who stays and who goes. Desks will be emptied. Payroll will be slashed. Problems solved?

Unh-uh. No way.

Here's what happens when a struggling company offers employees buyouts:

1. Some take the offer. It's often the best performers because they're confident and credentialed to find something else.

2. Some watch others leave and in short order wish they had taken the package themselves.

3. Some fear their jobs will be the next targets for elimination and there won't be any more packages, just pink slips and escorts to the door.

4. Some, often the weakest performers, hunker down hoping no one notices them going back to business as usual.

5.Some get angry.

6. Conversations at the water cooler get darker and longer and productivity suffers.

Reducing costs can be a vital step in saving a company, but it's impossible for a company to cost-cut its way to great success, especially when eliminating people.

Is it tougher getting laid off or left behind as a survivor when a company starts cutting jobs? The not-so-simple answer is it's tough on the victims and those who get to stay. If you're responsible for leading those staying, or if you're responsible only for your own decision to stay, a couple of thoughts for getting through this kind of tough exercise:

1. Acknowledge the pain of the change. Deal with the grief.

2. If you are a leader, get people involved in creating a new reality. Pose the question to your team/yourself: How can we/I make this new reality work? Then act on those ideas.

3. Create/take ownership for the challenge and opportunity to create new success in a tough situation.

Make a Difference.

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