“I could never do your job” I’ve heard this more than once, most likely in the course of discussions about a layoff, termination or particularly difficult employee investigation. Often I could never do their job either, especially if it involves science or any higher level math. Of course it’s not the technical aspects of the HR role that seem most daunting; it’s the thorny stuff that affects people’s livelihood.
If you are an HR professional or business manager tasked with breaking the bad news about a layoff you know it’s never easy. It doesn’t make you want to race back to your desk to tackle the next project.
An AllBusiness reader who had to “let some good people go in order to cut costs” summed up the feelings when he wrote:
I am looked at like the bad guy and people get nervous when I come around thinking they are about to be let go. My morale is at a low point and I need some advice as to how I can get that fire going again.
It’s a Business Decision
Layoffs and staff reductions have become part of the way we do business in the US. It’s been a long time since there was a stigma attached to job elimination.
This may be the first time you have been the bearer of bad news but it is unlikely to be the last. Realize that this is a business decision taken to keep the organization afloat, move it in another direction or respond to realities in the marketplace. Don’t just take the decision on face value; learn as much as you can about the reasons behind the job cuts. The more you know the more you can explain and support the downsizing.
Listen to Employees
My first role as an HR Director was at the Hyatt Regency Buffalo, a promotion from a more junior spot in New York City. The Hotel van driver who picked me up at the Buffalo Airport didn’t flinch when the radio weather report announced the potential for 6-12 inches of snow that evening. The Regional HR Director, who accompanied me on the trip, was busy checking return flights so he didn’t have to stay the night.
The weather was not the only change in atmosphere I had to negotiate. By the end of my first week I asked my staff, “Why doesn’t anyone ever come into HR?” We were located in the requisite spot near an employee entrance and I had persuaded the department to keep the door open. My admin told me, “The only time anyone ever comes into HR is to get fired or laid off. No one wants to come into your office.” My predecessor had been fired. I needed to do something, fast, it was getting pretty lonely.
I took extra steps to listen to employees. I attended as many department meetings as possible, became a regular in the employee cafeteria and did as much management by walking around as I could.