Thursday, March 15, 2012

Is there a good way to do a layoff?

Over at Just Like Cooking, SeeArrOh writes about stories he's heard from Pfizer layoffs:
One said that layoffs were announced as early as six months prior to corporate action, leaving employees wondering if they would have a job next season... Another worker alluded to overemphasis of negative traits during performance reviews, such that if you were laid off in the future, the document might seem to presage your departure. 
@Kromablography writes about his experiences with the dreaded "Attriting Adapting to Scale" initiative:
Of course the best way, they said, to adapt to how big you have become is not to adapt to it at all. The best way is to become smaller. And we are busy figuring out where we are too big. We will let you know in about 3 months where cuts will be made. 
Three months. 
It's very hard to focus on your work for three months while the sword of Damocles dangles above you by an increasingly weaker looking thread. 
Three months came and went. So did four and five. Around the six month mark, the rented circus tents were erected, site meetings were called, and announcements were made, but only the most vague. The real information trickled down the hierarchy over several days or more. 
Slowly, we learned who was being "ATSed". The uncertainty over all that time had eroded the morale of many, including myself.
Just so that we're on the record, I was a postdoctoral pseudo-employee of a site of the Blue Pill Factory. But I started there after ATS had its biggest waves; it always bothered me how I worked in a building that seemed weirdly empty and full of abandoned offices. What bothered me the most is how leaky and rumor-driven the one layoff I experienced was: the rumor started in August and was said to hit in September October November. It finally came in January.

I don't really think there's a good way to do a layoff in a huge organization, but no one wants to see the train creeping slowly down the track. Shakespeare was right: "If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well /It were done quickly".

5 comments:

  1. There have been three sizable layoffs in the last 5 years where I currently work. The first time 5 years ago pretty much came out of the blue. Very little rumor mongering, just one Thursday morning there were 'mandatory' meetings followed by individual meetings with HR.

    A year ago there was a fairly large layoff throughout the organization, not just research. The rumors of this one were a bit more rampant, to the degree that my boss and I started looking on-line at individual conference room schedules to see how many HR meetings were going to be had the following day. Again, we came in, EMAILS started to fly and those let go were sent EMAILs asking them to meet with their VP.

    I'd rather not know and come in one day and get the boot (Which I did in the first layoff mentioned). Waiting around for 6 months to wonder is no way to get any measurable work done.

    Our shop is undergoing some major changes this year, so there's a lot of ambiguity as to what our fate will be when it all shakes out. There have already been some layoffs with more on board, but no-one knows what part of the company will be hit next. It's hard to focus on the task at hand when you wonder if a few months from now you'll be looking for a job...

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    1. Yeah, when my first shop closed down it came as no surprise to everyone there (small CRO that fulfilled all outstanding contracts and signed new ones), and while the uncertainty of timing put us in a sour mood, I was grateful the management was forthcoming as soon as it was a sure thing.

      What really stank though was when they asked us to work out our notice. That was a great way to get unhappy people fast.

      All-in-all I'd rather be surprised with bad news (and some severance), than to be in limbo for months. Pity the feelings of us worker bees are rarely the first priority of the management.

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  2. Long notices or limbo is TIME TO FIND A NEW JOB. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth. Unless you have a big severance windfall opportunity, start looking the second your company enters limbo state.

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    1. The other big blockade to finding a new job is golden handcuffs. Big Blue has both huge severance packages and golden handcuffs so everyone waits... and waits... and waits... Some not knowing what they are hoping for, others praying for the package. The only sure thing is the uncertainity.

      Awful way to live.

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  3. I don't think there's any good way to lay people off. It's more of a least of all evils type scenario.

    I was let go from my postdoc in a decent manner. Funding ran out and my PI saw it coming. He let me know the exact date that my funding would run out, and it was months in advance. He was also very supportive of my job search. I had time to finish up my projects as well as look for jobs, and there was no ill will on either side. I will admit, even under those circumstances, I found coming to work the last month very challenging as I was basically completely focused on my job search.

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