Should I Tell My Team That Layoffs Are Coming?

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Dear Liz,

I have an ethical dilemma. I don’t have faith in my company’s leadership. I started the job a year ago.

I had issues with the decision-making process and the personalities of our top leaders almost immediately. The job itself is fine and my team and I have more than reached our goals but the company’s outlook is shaky.

I had a heart to heart talk with my VP a month ago. He told me that he agrees with my observations and concerns, but he’s not in a position to influence the company’s direction. Yet he is a VP and a founder!

That was my wake-up call. I started putting my new resume together.

Then a week later at our staff meeting, I was told to look at “payroll reduction opportunities” as soon as next month. They didn’t give me a target, like cutting ten or twenty percent of my payroll budget. It was very ominous. None of the other managers in the room even asked questions. I did, of course, but I didn’t get any good answers.

The likelihood of layoffs (maybe small numbers, maybe large ones) is close to one hundred percent. Seeing how this company is run, if they lay off a few people this summer I’m sure that will not fix their problems and more people will need to go in the fall.

I’ve been job-hunting since the meeting with my VP a month ago but now I wonder how much of the bad news I should share with my team. They are amazing people. I don’t want to be in possession of knowledge that could help them, and withhold it.

I don’t have a contract but I know that I am not supposed to say anything about possible layoffs until I actually have to lay someone off.

However, I feel it is my ethical responsibility to say something to warn my employees of very likely headcount reductions, even if I do it on my last day of work. That could be soon because I have two second interviews coming up.

What do you think?

Thanks Liz!

Yours,

Natasha

Dear Natasha,

It’s a tough position to be in. As a manager, you care about the welfare of your employees after you leave the company. At the same time, Rule Number One for managers (even when it’s not articulated) is that managers aren’t supposed to let the employees in on management secrets.

What will happen if you tell your employees to update their resumes? Your company can’t fire you — you’ll be gone. However, they probably won’t be pleased. Could they try to slime you in the industry? It’s possible. It happens every day.

I conducted a Twitter poll, asking Human  Workplace followers what they would do in your situation.

Here’s what they said:

The poll results are conclusive. Eighty-six percent of respondents said they would tell their teammates to prepare to job hunt. But would they?

The reason many managers in your shoes would keep their mouths shut is simple.

The reason is fear. Managers who would decide not to say anything about likely impending layoffs would stay silent out of fear that it could hurt them to speak up.

We all feel fear at work. It is a constant influence, especially in the United States where the doctrine of Employment at Will allows employers to terminate an employee for no reason.

It’s easy to spot fear in other people. It’s easy to tell people “Do the right thing — don’t be afraid!”

Yet working people keep their mouths shut about important topics every day.

They keep quiet because they’re afraid to speak.

You have a big advantage over most working people. You don’t have to worry about getting fired.

When you give notice, you’ll tell your team you’re leaving. They’re sure to ask why. You’ll say something bland and vague like “I just decided it’s the right time to step into something new.” They won’t buy it. They will press you for details.

Some of them will ask “Do I need to be worried about my job security?” That’s when you can say one or several of these things:

  • It’s always a good idea to have your resume up to date.
  • Nobody knows what will happen in this business, or any business. It always pays to network.
  • If you’d like me to look at your resume and make suggestions, please let me know.
  • You always want to keep one eye on the job market, now and throughout your career.
  • Who can afford to tune out the world beyond our office walls? We always have to stay awake.

Your teammates are savvy. They will get the message.

You will not need to say “Look you guys, I was told to prepare to lay some of you off.”

If someone asks you, “Are there layoffs looming?” you will say “If I had been told to prepare to lay people off I wouldn’t be able to share that information. We should all be ready to change jobs at any moment.”

All the best,

Liz

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