Career Transition - The Other Side

Much has been written about the effect of losing one's job on the affected individuals, namely the employees (or ex-employees), but what of the managers and team leaders charged with delivering the unpleasant news?

As the "bad guy," there is not a lot of sympathy reserved for these people and yet the process of having to let people go from an organization can be equally traumatic. For better or worse, "outplaced" individuals are often provided with an opportunity to move on in the form of severance, career counseling, and other post-employment services.  However, for those left behind (especially those whose job requires them to administer notifications of employment termination), an avalanche of guilt, regret, worry, and second-guessing remains and can take a devastating toll on physical health and emotional well-being.  This can affect their ability to effectively function as managers and productive contributors at a time when they are needed most.

The fact is most individuals in this unfortunate position are sometimes ill-equipped to deal with the emotional trauma and myriad of different reactions from the individuals they've been told to notify.  These emotions can range from apathy, anger, and sorrow to just about every other emotion associated with the human condition. Sometimes friendships are even put on the line, adding to the emotional burden borne by those whose task it is to deliver the bad news.

What can be done to prepare for such difficult work? Surprisingly, quite a bit!

Most senior managers will likely know well in advance when such news is coming down the line. During that time, it's important to prepare emotionally and physically for the toll that is sure to be exacted. Some managers have the ability to detach themselves from the process, thereby limiting the impact on their physical and emotional state. Most, however, cannot disassociate so easily and must follow a prescribed set of exercises designed to get them through the process.

In the days prior to notification:

  • Do whatever you have to do to get sleep and adequate rest. Rest builds up your reserves, which, when the dreaded day arrives, will be tapped extensively.
  • Rehearse (to yourself) the language you will choose to notify affected employees. In the midst of emotional upheaval, it's easy to misspeak and say something you may come to regret (emotionally and legally). Practice - even in front of a mirror if you must!
  • Make note of what NOT to say. Identifying and marking those pitfalls will help you to steer clear of them when the time comes.
  • Distract yourself with hobbies and other interests unrelated to your work. Dwelling on the events to come will only make the situation worse and add to your anxiety.
  • Focus on nutrition and make sure to stay hydrated. Water is your friend! Avoid tea and coffee if you can.

On the day of the notification:

  • Look the affected individual clearly in the eye. Stay focused when you deliver the news. A fidgety response will paint you as uncertain and uncommitted to the process, thereby encouraging the individual to question you, second-guess your motives, and plead for a reprieve which you are not in a position to deliver. That just prolongs the inevitable and makes the process worse for all concerned.
  • The day of notification is exactly what it says. A day where the focus will be on notifying employees of an irrevocable decision for which there can be no negotiation or turning back. Ache as you might to offer a modicum of hope, you're not in a position to offer it. Keep the delivery short and to the point - 3 to 5 minutes should do it. The sooner the affected employee realizes the decision is irrevocable, the sooner they can get on the process of moving on. It may not seem like it at the time (or ever become a subject of appreciation) but under the circumstances, every second counts.
  • Upon completion of the notification process, call a meeting ASAP. Open your door to staff and prepare yourself to answer questions and quell anxieties.

After the notification:

  • Shift the focus back to yourself as quickly as possible. What's done is done. Sure, it wasn't pleasant but it was necessary. Don’t blame yourself.  Accept that the decisions, regardless of the reasons that led up to it, were beyond your control and you did everything within your power (and your mandate) to deal with the situation as best you could.
  • Maintain your focus on nutrition. Chances are you won't feel much like eating in the immediate aftermath. Force yourself if necessary!
  • As before the events, go out of your way to distract yourself from work-related thoughts. Go out. See a movie. Work out. Spend time with friends and family.
  • Get rest. It may seem like sleep will be elusive, but chances are the sheer exhaustion of the day's events will catch up to you. Don't fight it.

As a manager, dealing with unpleasant tasks comes with the territory. There are fewer tasks more unpleasant than having to tell someone their livelihood has just been taken from them. Your job is to manage the process throughout in a way that minimizes the trauma for everyone involved - yourself included!

We would love to hear your tips for managing the difficult task of notifying displaced workers! 

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  1. Russ Knight's avatar
    Russ Knight
    | Permalink

    This is a great piece and I have sent it to a couple clients already today. Thank you!

    When you said "bad guy" it made me think of efforts to offer career transition services to companies and when I call they think I'm the grim reaper. "No, no, we are in growth mode!" I'm looking for growing, healthy companies but no one hires at 100%. :)

    From what I have seen when a company has to go through this, the managers who have to deliver the notification are supported when they also get to offer career transition assistance. It makes it easier!

    Great post!

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