As children, our immediate family and friends are all we care about. How we do at school is a part of our identities, but not the whole enchilada. As adults, a chemical reaction takes place in our heads, one that changes what we prioritize and how we derive our own self-worth. We become attached to how we are perceived at work — be it our own business or that of someone else — by our peers, other co-founders, other businessmen.
The chemical change, the one that ascribes a large chunk of our sense of self to performance at work has many consequences. A wise man told me when I was starting out at Microsoft that, “Many a relationship has been sacrificed at the altar of professional growth”. His advice was to leave work where it belongs, at your desk, and to go home with a slate wiped clean. An impossible undertaking, I know that now.
We adults get so caught up in the race that we let our health — mental, physical, and emotional — suffer as we climb that next rung. With our identities so wrapped up in work, we do not prepare for the worst. Which is why when something as unsettling as a layoff notice comes our way, it upends every notion of being an adult that we hold dear. In my 15-some years of corporate travails, I have observed that folks who are laid off fall into two large categories:
- The ones that anticipated the change; and,
- The others that had no clue.
They are wrong!
No matter the circumstances, no matter your “crystal ball juju”, a layoff hits every impacted employee hard. Being laid off after the perceived HIGH of being acquired, of a successful start up or company exit, aggravates the pain. Personal situations further exacerbate the underlying feelings of depression and loss of self worth. Friends who have had this happen to them describe it as a “punch to the gut”. As if the morale squelching isn’t enough, being laid off has far reaching implications for kith and kin. Mortgage and car payments, health insurance, care and education for the children; the stress concomitant with the event has been shown to put a real strain on relationships.
The unfortunate truth is that a change in control like an acquisition leads to layoffs. Adding to the variability is corporate policy on layoffs/separation. The good corporations take care of the impacted employees with sufficient notice time for folks to find another opportunity, generous separation packages, and fair terms for COBRA/health insurance coverage continuity. The bad ones get bad reviews on Glassdoor. Here’s the net-net:
- If you are reading this, I hope you aren’t impacted.
- If you are, I pray that you chose to be employed by one of the “good” corporations.
- If you answered NO to the first two, God speed success with finding the next opportunity.
- If you are an HR Integration Leader or people manager who has to deliver the devastating news, my only advice to you would be to own the message. Deliver the news with sincerity, empathy and awareness of the impact. Be prepared for any eventuality — to provide a shoulder for grown people to cry on or for a confrontation. The former outcome will take you by surprise no matter how much you prepare; prepare nonetheless.