The Difficult Task of Laying Someone Off

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Have you ever been laid off or been in the position of laying someone off? I have been in both positions and it’s never felt good. Can it ever? Saki Knafo writes in The Atlantic that there’s a California tech company called HopeLab that’s made firing people a, well, not an enjoyable experience, but one that doesn’t have to feel absolutely negative:

HopeLab, a company that builds educational apps and games aimed at improving people’s health, has gone to unusual lengths to make the process respectful and considerate, even celebratory. In one instance, the company organized a Thriller flash-mob to send off an employee known to be a big fan of Michael Jackson. In another, the company said farewell to a group of workers by throwing a party with balloons, beach balls, and tacos. As Murchison put it, it’s all part of HopeLab’s effort to put “the good in the goodbye.”

If you’re like me, maybe you read this paragraph and thought, okay, the last thing I would ever want to happen to me is to get laid off and then have a flash mob come in and send me off (actually a flash mob in any kind of situation is like a nightmare to me, but that may be irrelevant here). But then Knafo goes on to explain that it’s less about the creative sendoff and more about the actual layoff process:

One former employee I interviewed sounded truly appreciative of the tacos provided at her going-away fete. (“Delicious,” she reported.) But more than that, she was grateful for the company’s willingness to talk through its decision with her both before and after the layoff, an approach that provided her with many opportunities for “closure and appreciation.” Another employee, an administrative assistant who lost her job at HopeLab during the recession, said that Murchison followed up with her every few months after letting her go, and even coached her for job interviews. “He really wanted me to succeed outside of HopeLab,” she said.

Okay, that makes a lot more sense to me! Talking through the decision in an open and honest way, and then allowing colleagues to have some time with you before you go is a lot better than the way I was first laid off during the recession: The CEO took everyone who he wanted to keep to a restaurant, and then the CFO let go the remaining employees in the office. We were told to immediately pack up our things and leave. I made a few frantic (but professional!) calls to people who expected meetings with me later in the week to let them know someone else at the company would be in touch, and then threw some stuff in a bag and left. It was horrific! Many of us did not take it well. Some of us ended up at a bar to commiserate. And the people who got to keep their jobs went back to work with very low morale.

The one time I had to lay off someone was when I was working at a place that was experiencing budget cuts and I had to let a contractor go. I explained the situation to the contractor on the phone (the contractor worked remotely), and, well, as nice and honest as I tried to be about the whole thing, the contractor became upset on the phone, and then started yelling at me. Like, “You can’t do this to me!” Well, I did because I had to, and a week later I got an apology email from this person saying, “Sorry, it was all unexpected and things were rough, and I know it was not your fault.” I do not think a flash mob would have helped.

What about you guys: Any good experiences? Horror stories?

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