“Up in the Air” and the science of layoffs - SmartBrief

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“Up in the Air” and the science of layoffs

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Today’s guest post is by Aubrey Daniels, author of “Bringing out the Best in People,” and “OOPS! 13 Management Practices That Waste Time & Money And What To Do Instead.” He blogs on workplace and management issues at Aubreydanielsblog.com.

In “Up in the Air,” George Clooney plays a corporate downsizing expert who travels from city to city laying off employees for bosses that were too cowardly to do it themselves. With the film spotlighting a practice that many managers may eventually have to face, it is an ideal time to take a look at the best — and worst — ways to handle downsizing and layoffs.

First things first: Asking someone else to do the dirty work for you is not only hurtful and disrespectful to the people being let go, it further exacerbates feelings of fear and mistrust of upper management for those employees that remain. It is a short-sighted, easy way out for companies that think they are being efficient, but it will come back to bite them.

While downsizing is sometimes necessary, especially in challenging times likes these, the way it is usually done is rarely effective. Those who are terminated are typically done so in a matter that shows no concern and the ones that are left have just inherited more work. The remaining employees look very carefully at the way the terminated employees are treated because they assume that it could happen to them. More often than not, they spend more time looking for another job than they do in looking for ways to be more efficient and productive.

If your company finds itself facing potential layoffs, these tips, based on the science of human behavior, will provide a strong roadmap for doing it in the most effective and productive way possible.

  • Get all employees involved in a solution as a first step to avoiding a layoff, such as eliminating wasteful expenses, temporary salary reductions, and furlough days.
  • Take care of those being let go fairly in order to demonstrate to those remaining that you care for your employees. How well you treat those who are terminated will determine how much time and money is wasted by a downsizing. Be generous with severance pay and resources for helping former employees find good jobs elsewhere. The survivors will be watching what you do and it will determine how they respond and what they do to help you out at a difficult time.
  • Take care of survivors. As a matter of fact, it is important to increase positive reinforcement on the first day of the downsized workplaces. Since there is always more work for fewer people, there are many opportunities for providing positive reinforcement and recognition for those taking on additional tasks and helping others. Reinforce suggestions, ideas, and any efforts that make things better.
  • Develop a culture of lean. After any downsizing, every company should motivate employees in such a way that they are continuously looking for ways to do things more efficiently.

As we know, fluctuations in employment are inevitable. To avoid wasting time and money, plan for those fluctuations by creating a culture of rightsizing to make downsizing rare and to ensure you are never in a position where you would turn to someone outside your company to deal with such an important task.

Image credit, MarsBars, via iStock