Dealing With The Aftermath Of A Layoff

A layoff can be devastating for an IT team
A layoff can be devastating for an IT team
Image Credit: Rob Gross

I have a number of friends who are IT managers at Verizon. The other day Verizon announced that they were going to go through a round of layoffs and they were going to be targeting 6,000 current employees. You can only imagine the level of chaos that this caused. It does bring up an interesting question, assuming that your job is not going away and that you’ve never had any IT manager training on how to deal with this situation, what is an IT manager to do when the company is laying people off left and right?

What To Do Before The Layoffs

What I have discovered by working at large firms is that the worst part of a layoff is that they are never a secret. One way or another everyone knows when they are coming. As an IT manager, this is a real pain because what you are going to start seeing is your team shutting down and then breaking off into small groups and talking about the impending layoffs as they try to guess just exactly who is going to be affected. In this environment, not much work is going to get accomplished.

Your options as an IT manager at this stage of the game are somewhat limited no matter how good your IT manager skills are. Members of your team will be coming to you and asking you what you know about the forthcoming layoffs. In most cases the answer will be that you don’t yet know anything or at least you are not permitted to share what you do know. This leaves you in a tricky situation. You’d like to be able to provide your team with some sort of reassurance, but if you don’t know if they’ll be impacted then these words could come back to bite when the layoffs happen and what you told them turns out to not be true.

What I have found to work the best in this type of situation is to call the team together for a group chat. I share with them as much as I can – sometimes this is nothing. However, what I try to steer the conversation towards is why the company is planning on having the layoffs. There can be a number of different reasons: poor financial performance, a failed product line, or a change in strategic direction. Sharing with everyone why something is going to happen seems to make it a bit easier to take when it finally does happen.

What To Do After The Layoffs

Layoffs are never fun. My friends at Verizon reported that whole departments were eliminated in their latest round of layoffs. Directors and in some cases even Vice Presidents were also let go. Clearly the axe man came calling for a lot of people. As an IT manager, assuming that your number is not up, you’ll have to make it through the layoffs, perhaps you’ll be told to let part of your team go, and then it’s going to be up to you to pick up the pieces and try to do some IT team building.

The first thing that you are going to have to realize is that the members of your team who are still on board are going to be going through a real mix of emotions. There will be the natural sense of relief that they somehow managed to avoid getting laid off (this time). However, at the same time they will probably also be feeling a sense of “survivor’s guilt” where they feel bad that their friends and colleagues got let go while some how they did not. This is the emotional minefield that you are going to have to carefully pick your way through.

I believe that communication is the key to getting your team back on track. This means that once again you are going to be called on to gather your team for a group meeting. What’s interesting about this meeting is that it’s not about you – it’s really about them. What you’ll need to do is to provide the members of your team with an opportunity to vent how they are feeling. Expect them to ask a lot of “why” questions. Why was so-and-so let go? Why were so many let go? How will the work get done now? You don’t have to have all of the answers but you do need to listen and acknowledge each of the questions. Letting your team get all of their shock, anger, and frustration out of their system by sharing with the people that they work with will go a long way in helping the team to heal more quickly.

What All Of This Means For You

Big layoffs occur more often than any of us would like to admit. This is especially true if you find yourself working for a large firm. Verizon just went through a round of layoffs in which they let 6,000 workers go. As an IT manager you need to help your team prepare for the layoff as well as deal with it’s aftermath.

Somehow a team always seems to know that a layoff is imminent. When this happens, you are going to have to take the bull by the horns and have a talk with your team. You’ll need to share with them any information that you have and you’ll need to help them to understand why the company is getting ready to do the layoff. When the layoffs hit, you’ll be involved so you won’t have a lot of time to help your team out. After it’s all over and done with, you’ll need to once again have a talk with your team. The purpose of this talk will be to provide your team with an opportunity to share with each other what they are currently feeling.

Part of the job of being an IT manager is to help your team make it through tough times. A layoff is a very tough time and it’s going to affect every member of your team in a different way. Take the time to work with your team both before and after the layoff in order to lessen the blow of the layoff and to help your team find their way forward once everything is done.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: If a layoff has not been announced and your team starts asking you questions about it, what should you tell them?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

I’m willing to bet that one or more of your team members has come to you and requested that they be permitted to work from home. For most of us IT managers this tests our IT manager skills and poses a dilemma: we can understand that our team members want the convenience of working from home; however, at the same time if we can’t see them, then how will we be able to tell if they really are working or not?