Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Layoff Project: A HR person speaks

Huge thanks to Derek Lowe for linking to The Layoff Project.



UPDATE: The actual named person has come forth and disavowed these comments; it appears to be a case of identity spoofing. See here for details: http://pipeline.corante.com/archives/2011/10/31/a_note_about_identity_spoofing.php


In the comments to his post, interesting comments from a human resources type:
An unforgetten group of employees are those in hr who have to participate in these layoffs. While it is not supposed to be a central part of hr, it is becoming a full time job. I chose a career in hr to help drive company performance by helping employees achieve their best. Unfortunately now, I'm spending time downsizing them. Some days I just feel miserable, however the only thing that keeps my sanity is that the layoffs aren't my decision and that mgmt is to blame... 
While I cannot obviously comment on particulars, I can say that line management (meaning director level) often has a say in who may be laid off. They process is similar to a hand raising activity. However, in most cases managers are asked to "nominate" individuals and they are placed into a group. Some may get laid off and others stay depending on several factors, but ultimately VP levels make the final decision based on information and target headcount red'n numbers they are given. HR is notified usually that day to avoid rumors. It is tough to say the least. But everything is done by the book and not very personal as far as what I say to an individual. Really hoping this is over for a while. Any way, I'd like to stop there. But think you get the point to the harsh realities of a job I took to "develop" people. Definitely not what I was expecting, but not like I'm in a position to challenge things now.
I think it's a good reminder that HR people have feelings, too. It must stink to have to participate in the process of letting people go.

UPDATE: The actual named person has come forth and disavowed these comments; it appears to be a case of identity spoofing. See here for details: http://pipeline.corante.com/archives/2011/10/31/a_note_about_identity_spoofing.php

Have a story of being laid off from your pharmaceutical or chemical industry position? Write in to chemjobber -at- gmail/dot/com with your own story. 

19 comments:

  1. reminds me an old joke: Why HR can't go to Hell - They would make the Devil redundant.

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  2. At my last place we all had a sense we were heading for the crapper, so when the owner called everyone (all 13 of us) into a room and then had the HR person come in it wasn't a big shock. The only thing that stunk about the process (aside from the being laid off) was having the HR person explain they were giving us a month's notice, but that we were expected to show up every day for the next month... and there'd be no severance. Mind you, the HR person went to great lengths to explain how they were doing us a service by giving us notice in lieu of pay. Yeah, we all felt that way.

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  3. How do pharma HR people inform chemists they are fired? Is there a script? What do you do if someone cries or gets angry?

    The wife of a friend of mine got laid off from her (non chemistry) job. She was summoned to a conference room where she was informed of the decision, then escorted to her desk by security where she was allowed to grab her purse and coat before she was escorted out of the building. The personal items in her desk were boxed and sent to her house by FedEx. I thought this procedure was especially cold, but is it the norm everywhere?

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  4. @Paul:

    Short answer? It depends. If there are a number of layoffs, they might call everyone into a room and let everyone know at once. Usually, if you see quite a few security personnel hanging around it's not a good sign.

    Other times, people are told to wait for a call and then go see your manager. There is no one-size fits all for this sort of thing. I've seen both methods employed.

    What if someone cries? Have tissues ready and try and be sympathetic. What happens if someone gets angry? That's why security is usually not too far away.

    But, I have to say, I don't feel too badly for the HR person. Sounds a bit like this commenter is looking for some sympathy - don't think they'll be getting much.

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  5. "How do pharma HR people inform chemists they are fired?"

    At one company I was at, in which everyone knew we were circling the drain, we had an impromptu company-wide meeting scheduled for 9 or 10 am. I was speaking with a coworker prior to that meeting who mentioned a friend of hers had been through a really galling meeting like this were everyone was brought into the meeting, the layoff was explained, and everyone was given a sealed envelop to take back to their desk. Yup, the letter in the envelope told you if you were in or out.

    Sure enough, we get to our meeting and that was exactly what happened: everyone got an envelope to go read at their desks (both she and I survived that round). It would have been funnier had some coworkers not been fired.

    I'm not sure how widespread this practice is (in the second round of layoffs a few months later the company just put up an overhead showing the 7 or so people who were not laid off, I think this saved paper), or if the idea was from the HR rube (sorry, but I've never found anyone in HR to be of even remote value in any function beyond perfunctory clerical) or the moron (yet highly paid...) execs.

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  6. My experience was similar to the two previous. Impromptu 'mandatory' meeting of our department. When our VP walked in I knew we were toast. Told us the whys and wherefores, then told us to go back to our desks and that we'd be getting a meeting with HR to let us know our fate. Walked in, saw the appropriately colored folder (blue at the time), and knew it was history. The HR rep tried to tell how tough of a decision it was and I told him to spare me the corporate line...

    Earlier in the year here there was an announcement in the first quarter earnings statement by the CEO that cuts were going to be a part of a 'restructuring' plan being put into place. Then got two EMAILs from VPs about 30 minutes apart saying the same thing. Those who were cut were then sent an individual EMAIL from their respective VP inviting them to a 1:1 meeting where they were given their colored folder.

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  7. We had a pre-layoff meeting with HR on how to deliver the news. The HR sycophant leading the meeting recommended having tissue and bottled water on hand during the notifications. I kid you not.

    During the actual event each manager was summoned to a director's office one by one. If there was an HR person sitting next to the director when you opened the door and walked into the room you knew you were being let go even before the "you do not fit the new organization" speech started. If the director was the only one sitting at the desk then you knew you were spared the ax. If you, as a manager were axed, then someone else axed or didn't ax your direct reports. Managers who were not axed then participated in axing or not axing their own direct reports.

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  8. For my most recent layoff, HR jumped the gun and mailed the COBRA paperwork to our home address too early. It arrived on a Saturday before Monday lay-offs. Classy move...

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  9. It was a Tuesday and rumors were going around that HR had confiscated all the conference rooms the following Thursday. Thursday came and upon returning to my office, there was a light on my phone indicated I has a message. I accessed the message and it was the VP (who never calls me) and said to call him on his cell phone. From that point on I knew I was getting the axe. I called him and he said to meet him in conference room A20, and he asked me if I knew where it was. I walked in and saw the VP sitting there with an HR person. I immediately noticed a box of tissues and 4 bottles of water, and promptly said, "I know what this is all about." The VP told me that my position had been eliminated, due to downsizing and restructuring, and then left the room. The HR person lectured me about outplacement services and other benefits. I was then escorted back to my office and was told to pick up my personal belongings, after which I was escorted out of the building.

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  10. (I apologize in advance, CJ. Although you seem to be an honorable person, I'm not comfortable with the show-me-yours-and-I'll-show-you-mine approach of direct e-mail.)

    Three weeks before Christmas, I went to work as usual. Upon opening my Outook at 7:35 AM, I received an e-mail to report to my company's main meeting room at 8:00 AM. After a minute of shock, I and my colleagues (all of whom had received the same e-mail) went into auto-pilot and proceeded to the specified location. We waited in the meeting room for another hour the stragglers/late starters to arrive. At 9:00 AM we were all informed by a the HR manager and 2nd-tier research manager that our site would be closing. With the exception of certain "essential" personnel (legal/IP, business development, and analytical support), everyone would be downsized. After some moments of grief and disillusionment amongst the veteran employees (not me), we began the arduous process of scuttling the site.

    Our severance agreements required us to stay until our designated separation dates, the earliest of which was two months after the layoff announcement. As you could imagine, our morale was low. At least the company reimbursed us for our unused vacation days. After spending weeks of dumping perfectly good equipment and reagents, sterilizing biolabs, euthanizing test animals, and filling out pointless documentation, we were finally allowed to leave and never look back. Perhaps it would've been better for us to be purged immediately. Anyway, I hope that "the next time around" will be easier for me.

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  11. Damn...these stories suck, but thanks for sharing them.

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  12. @Anonymous @ 9:37,

    I had a similar experience...several years ago I had moved to a new position even though there were several rumors about restructuring. I asked the VP about these and he said they were just "normal" moves. I took the position and after 8 months on the job, the entire site was asked to a meeting on a Friday before a 3-day weekend. Lots of security hanging around that Friday morning and at the meeting "surprise" the "restructuring" was completed and they were going to dissolve their research division.

    On the bright side, we were given nearly 4 months to leave, and were not expected to do any work outside of cleaning up the labs, finishing work for manuscripts - which took about 2-3 weeks. Thus, even though morale was low because we didn't have jobs anymore, we at least could look for new work. So, we are now being paid to come to work and look for a new job (and try and find the non-porn end of the internet). All-in-all that wasn't too bad. If you left prior to the termination date you forfeited your severance, but everyone looking for a new job (and got one), just put their start date after the termination date in order to get severance.

    As bad as that was, they basically gave everyone 4 months of severance prior to their severance package allowing houses to go on the market, kids were able to finish school, etc.

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  13. When they did layoffs at my company, everyone went in one at time for a meeting with a group of managers. We knew the number of people being laid off, and those people coincidentally had early meetings, so by the time 9 am came around the rest of us knew we were safe. The managers read straight from a script.

    The people who were laid off went home immediately but came back the next day to finish stuff up, look for a new job, etc. I think there was a month in between the notice and the final date.

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  14. Well, the moral of these stories is... there are always jobs in security. Maybe not HR since those guys will be fired eventually too, but the security will be used to keep the execs safe from the jobless plebs. I'm pretty big and strong so I can see myself roughing up a few disgruntled researchers, or giving a guy a jab in the ribs as I hold him down while someone else puts on the handcuffs.... Well, one can always dream.

    On another note, it seems like it's very emotionally draining to be fired. I don't think people were meant to be fired repeatedly from an evolutionary point of view. Humans probably need some form of stability in their lives when they are adults or they are going to get all sorts of crazy auto-immune or mental disorders, no matter how much you tell them when they are kids that they need to know they will change jobs many times in the future.

    I think you might be interested in the following video. It's not layoff linked, except that the current economic climate with lots of layoffs is affecting income inequality. Lots of chemists (whose skulls I dream of knocking around in my future lucrative profession as security brute), are sliding down the ladder by accepting jobs for less money or having a timeout for a bit while the managers are generally safer, so this problem, as you can see from graphs in the video, now disproportionately affects the USA.

    hxxp://www.ted.com/talks/richard_wilkinson.html

    (replace the xx by tt)

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  15. Richard Wilkinson: "If Americans want to live the American dream, they should go to Denmark"

    Awesome ;)

    This layoff project is only going to get you so far... It does make you feel better while you're sinking, that others who just drowned are sharing their stories. Doomed... but better nonetheless since there are others who went through this and it might not be the end of the world (except for those for whom it really was the end of their career or life as part of the upper-middle class).

    But if a major restructuring of the market system, complete with a better deal for society and a better safety net were in place, then you would really fell a bit better about sinking. Because you're sinking in a shallow lake. And the water only goes up to your waist.

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  16. CJ - I want to thank you. I have been laid off before. My company is currently going through role reduction and some layoffs. Strength in numbers is very helpful.

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  17. A7:19:

    Thanks -- that's exactly why I did it. You're very welcome.

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  18. We got canned on a Tuesday. We had a company-wide meeting with the CEO at the beginning of the month, he told us to work our asses off and that if we made it to the end of the month, we know we had survived. I showed up at 8, and 20 of the 30 people getting laid off were in one department, and they all received emails saying there was a meeting at 8:30, where they each received severance letters and were told they were terminated. The rest of us were seeked out individually by our respective department heads, led to a conference room where we had one-on-one meetings with a company shill. We were each escorted to our desks and allowed to send email, get any personal files or contact information, and take as much of our stuff that we wanted. We could come back on the weekend if we had more stuff to grab. I was grabbed at 10 and out by 10:30.

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  19. This isn't 100% relevant, being as it's from a friend of mine in the UK IT industry, but it still struck me as an awful way for things to happen:

    They knew lay-offs were happening, and were told to stay at home one Friday morning. If they HADN'T had a phone call by XXam, that meant they still had a job and should come in to work.

    He didn't get a call but he left the company of his own accord not long after.

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