It Certainly Hits Harder When Layoffs Get Personal

It always feels different when things hit close to home.

It always feels different when things hit close to home. Take, for instance, the dot-com carnage taking place these days, with companies shutting down and employees being escorted out into the street by security personnel. Those of us still gainfully employed can only look on in muted horror, seek assurances that our own job is secure for the time being, and give the old résumé a once-over to see if it needs updating.

But when its someone you know, someone youve had a working relationship with in the past and still keep in touch with via calls and e-mail, its different.

An old friend of mine lost his job recently. Apparently—as I havent had the chance to speak with him, and his e-mails been cut off—he showed up for work on a Monday, was given word that his division was being disbanded, and that was that. I sent out a quick, commiserating e-mail, and got back a terse, "Im still in shock—Ill call you later." Damn. That one made the hair on my arms stand up.

Listen, it doesnt have to be this way. Even if youve blown through millions of dollars of other peoples money, please dont lose your humanity, as well. There are right ways and wrong ways to tell people theyve lost their jobs, and it doesnt cost you anything to be up-front. Managing people is a skill and a privilege, and part of that responsibility is that you really should do the right thing whenever possible.

Before I joined [email protected] Partner, I had been with another technology publication for four years. I realized my career had gone as far as it was going to go there, so when the invitation to move crossed my desk, I accepted. This was just prior to the Christmas holidays, and I thought it would be the right thing to do to give three weeks notice and forego my planned vacation, so that I could train whomever would replace me. My immediate supervisor had other ideas.

I was told to clean out my desk immediately and to leave the building. I declined and said I would be in early the next morning, a Friday, to do so and to say some proper goodbyes to fellow staffers. At 9:05 a.m. the next day, while attempting to send out a note telling those who needed to know where to send company-related e-mail, a message flashed across my my screen, stating, "Your access has been denied." I ruefully chuckled, then went to change my voice mail, again directing callers to the proper editor. After entering my password, a recording on the line informed me, "This person does not exist." Ouch.

OK, so they got me. But it wasnt like I was stealing company secrets one last time. Id known a week earlier I was leaving. I had had ample time to "steal" anything I wanted to, but I didnt. I would imagine a large majority of other workers wouldnt, either. You put in your time, contribute where you can, and collect your check. It should be a simple thing; why does it have to get nasty at the end?

Ive yet to hear from my laid-off friend, but Im sure I will. Hes a keeper, and if we have any room in our organization for a person of his caliber, Ill be in there pitching for him. I know hed do the same for me.

And my old supervisor? Well, its a small world we techno-folks inhabit. Im sure well cross paths again. Itll be an interesting meeting, thats for sure.