I had coffee with an old friend this week and, by the end of our conversation, I had the content for this week’s post.
My friend, Kelsey, was a human resources manager when I first met her 30 years ago. Sitting across from her in her office one afternoon, I endured the most grueling and stressful interview of my life. Gratefully, things worked out and she hired me into my first career-level position after college; we’ve been friends ever since.
As background, Kelsey is characteristically no nonsense and direct in her business dealings, and not generally one who displays her feelings to others. She’s the managing director of an executive outplacement firm that provides professional coaching to employees who’ve lost their jobs through layoff or job elimination.
Over the past several years, her firm has been extremely busy. Not only have more managers been out of work, but new career opportunities have been scarce. As a result, she and her team have had to work longer to help clients define their strengths, construct effective resumes and prepare themselves for interviews to compete for prime positions.
That it’s taking people longer to find employment has changed the dynamics of Kelsey’s job. Where in the past, her relationships with clients were brief and superficial, recently she’s had time – and had to take the time – to know them more personally. And because Kelsey’s been able to establish greater intimacy with these clients, she made an interesting discovery.
Kelsey found that many people were stymied (paralyzed even) in their efforts to move forward in their job search because they lacked meaningful resolution with their previous employer.
Over and over, clients described the same process of how they were let go.
Managers in charge of communicating the layoffs seemed inclined to quickly get in and get out – almost as if they were being asked to identify a dead body in a morgue. They spoke from scripts, focused exclusively on the severance package the employee was receiving – often emphasizing how generous it was – and concluded the meeting quickly.
What these managers rarely did, however, was to come from their heart and treat the worker like a human being. Ignored were all the years of service and contribution. More than anything, laid off employees wanted to hear someone say “thank you…what you did here mattered… for that, we will always be grateful.”
Now whenever Kelsey learns a company is about to layoff workers, she insists on coaching managers beforehand and directing them on how to most effectively conduct the meetings.
Tied to everything she’s learned, she now tells managers to “Man Up!” She emphasizes that they do profound damage to people through their perceived indifference and reminds them that as painful as the experience is for them – it’s far worse for the person losing their job.
While Kelsey wants business leaders to treat laid-off workers more kindly and humanly, she also reminds them that how they regard workers on the way out has a significant effect on all employees who remain.
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