Layoffs have become unavoidable these days. So be prepared, constantly upgrade yourself. Have multiple skills. Develop a wide support network. And create mental toughness
Losing one’s job is always stressful. Apart from issues of performance for which some employees might be asked to leave, several other reasons such as the cyclic nature of some industries, global recession, jobs being taken over by automation, or mergers and acquisitions can warrant company-wide mass layoffs. These other reasons typically have nothing to do with the employees who are laid off. Oil & gas, financial services, and IT — all have seen this in recent times.
Such restructuring can cause psychological issues for the employees — those who have been made redundant and those who stay back. As one professional from a global networking and telecom company recently stated, “I have witnessed several such times when my colleagues or seniors were laid off and recently this has happened more often due to challenges in the company. The immediate feeling is demotivation. Apparently, job-insecurity is not a good for motivation. This is followed by lack of trust among co-workers which affects collaboration and team-work. Employees end up losing trust on managements’ direction and in the company’s future. All of this adds up to a situation where employees are left with no sense of ownership in the company.”
Obviously, for managers, breaking the news of layoffs isn’t a pleasant situation at all. And most fumble at it. Companies, already struggling with bigger survival-level questions, have no time or inclination to plan for a systematic well-thought strategic exit plan for their employees. There is often no empathy for people who are asked to leave. One example of the mass emails that the management of an oil and gas company sent to its workforce, “The goal of both [...] processes is a more efficient and more competitive upstream organisation. A key enabler to this goal is ensuring that we have the right skills in our job functions throughout the business. By working together and coordinating this effort, we will be able to better manage our talent from across the enterprise.” There is no apology or sadness. Typically, such emails just lists out the facts and business needs. The only empathy employees can expect is from other employees or from direct supervisors.

What exacerbates the problem further is the level of secrecy involved in the process. Usually, no time is given for employees to deal with the news. Undoubtedly, secrecy is important so as to not cause rumours, panic, possibilities of sabotage, or theft of proprietary information. However, many times the employees get only a two-hour window to wind up everything and leave. And in many cases, employees realise that they have been made redundant when they see that their access cards and online login credentials don’t work anymore. That is too extreme. Losing a job can have deep a psychological impact and employees should be given time to mentally prepare for this possibility.
In all this, sometimes the direct managers do not have the news ahead of time and as such are left without proper planning. As another manager recounted, “one of my team members was fired without my knowledge and that was very frustrating. There is nothing you can say or do and you are the first point of contact.”
Interestingly, there are country-level differences in employees’ rights and the associated firing processes. As one manager from a country with strong labor laws commented on such quick and impersonal style of firing, “As a European I find this an alien concept, as usually companies have to consult with Unions and people can object to the pay package etc. How this was legal is a shock to me.”
The least managers can do is the provide a personal respectful interaction with these employees, give them time to collect and pick themselves up, explain and provide the severance packages, and provide opportunities of relocation to other jobs within or outside of the organisation. In one instance, a manager told me, “At a company that I worked for, they had a merge out and a few people were laid off. In the cases where the HR couldn't find the person, they left a voicemail saying that they were not selected to stay in the company”. This is a strict no. In all, provide support in whichever ways possible.
From an employee’s perspective, layoffs have become unavoidable ‘corporate trauma’ in today’s times and one needs to be ready for this at all times. Constantly upgrade yourself. Have multiple skills. Develop a wide support network. And create mental toughness.
(Dr Kriti Jain is a faculty member at IE Busine­ss School, Spain and an EU Marie Curie Research Fellow)
Kriti Jain