The following article, titled Crew Cuts by Erica Jacobson, originally appeared in the February 2009 issue of Inside Business Magazine and features an interview with Paul Meshanko regarding best practices for managing employee terminations.
There’s no easy way to break the news when employees must be let go. Just make sure you’re not alienating everyone who’s still on board.
Back in the late ’90s, when it was clear BP America was leaving Cleveland but had yet to actually go, Paul Meshanko would stop in for an occasional beer at a bar in Independence.
He didn’t work for BP, but many of the other patrons had survived rounds of BP layoffs and lived to complain about it — loudly. This is from people who are still employed, he recalls thinking at the time.
As much as layoffs change the lives of those who lose their jobs, they also have the potential to disrupt the remaining employees, their managers and the company’s work environment. Meshanko, now the Owner and CEO of Legacy Business Cultures, consults with employers and employees before, during and after jobs are cut. He sees plenty of room for improvement.
“Companies don’t do a very good job of managing their culture,” he says. “It happens by accident, not by intent.”
Here is his advice for companies seeing pink:
Call off the guards
Give employees, both those leaving and those left behind, a measure of grace and dignity during these tough times. The easiest way to foster distrust and discontent among your remaining workers is to have someone escorted off the property who would have gone peacefully on his own. “Those kinds of things leave very vivid images and very vivid emotions in people’s minds,” Meshanko says.
Tell the truth (even if it hurts)
Among the remaining employees, top performers are the most likely to get spooked by layoffs and leave when their names are nowhere near the pink-slip list. It’s OK to give such workers an idea that their positions are safer than others, he says, but be careful beyond that. “You can’t make promises,” Meshanko says. “But you want to communicate that you have a plan for moving forward, and you want to make people aware that they are part of that plan.”
Open the books
Yes, you have fewer employees than when the day began, but a little silence can be filled with a lot of talk. Many employers feel like they can’t say much about layoffs for legal reasons, Meshanko says, but some have started to let employees see the financial straits they face. “What do you do in an information vacuum? You start telling stories,” he says of employees reeling from having to say goodbye to co-workers. “Transparency at some level goes a great length to keep the trust of the people.”
And if you happen to be an employee facing potential layoffs …
Pollyanna isn’t needed after a day where desks are cleaned out, but Meshanko emphasizes that employees can choose whether to spread the negativity of the situation or be supportive of their remaining co-workers. Rather than demonize, communicate with your supervisors, and realize that this is a tough situation all around. “You ask questions,” he says. “You ask, ‘What can I do to help the situation?’ That is probably the No. 1 safeguard that will keep you in good standing with other people.”