Without diminishing the miserable effects for victims of mass layoffs, I’d like to give a shout out of support to all the #hrprofessionals who’ve had to engineer those layoffs.
Firing employees is easy. Laying off employees is one of the most difficult things an HR person will ever have to do.
Unlike employees who are fired, laid-off employees lose their jobs through no fault of their own and they have no advanced warning that their job is in jeopardy.
When company executives determine that they have to lay off employees, HR is brought in early to the discussions. Who should be laid off? Why? When? How?
HR sits in secret meetings behind closed doors, poring over spreadsheets with employees’ names, salaries, dates of hire … and learns in real time the names of our colleagues whose jobs are going to be eliminated. It’s a discussion, where we go person-by-person to discuss the merits of keeping them employed vs. the merits of cutting their job.
Once we know the names, HR then gets everything prepared in advance of the big announcement: writing required notification letters to government officials, figuring out benefits continuation, putting together severance packages, and scripting what the company is going to actually say in the layoff discussion.
The process is cold, but the emotions are heavy.
This is true for HR people but not necessarily executives:
The employees identified for layoffs are our co-workers. We’ve eaten lunch with them, been to their weddings, seen pictures of their newborns, welcomed their children visiting the office, laughed with them, cried with them, and worked with them through the full life-cycle of their employment since the day they were interviewed.
Our co-workers didn’t do anything to deserve losing their jobs, so it hurts.
And we HR people have to keep the layoffs a secret. We have to go on interacting with our co-workers as though we didn’t know that they were about to lose their jobs. We know how betrayed they’re going to feel when they get an official layoff letter – probably signed under our name and definitely with our contact information.
And more often than you’d think, we HR people ultimately get laid off ourselves. When there’s a mass layoff, our usefulness to the company ends when the mass layoff process is finished. From the minute we’re brought into a mass layoff discussion, we suspect that our job is on the line, too.
Mass layoffs are a sad, sad thing … let’s not forget the HR people behind the scenes who are sad, too.