The other day a friend of mine told me that he had been given notice that he was being laid off from his company. He worked in a medium/small sized technology equipment company. As we all know the economy has not been such that any of us can take our current employment for granted. We all know that it can in fact come to an end either when we do or don’t expect it.
We had lunch and started the planning process on where he might look for a position and how he should present himself. I put him in contact with some of the networking groups that I had been associated with in the past as well as gave his resume a fairly aggressive review. For a sales guy, he did not seem to have enough “sales” activities on it. I made some changes and I also put him on to a person who was something of a resume “guru” to help him restructure it going forward.
He then started to tell me the story of how he got laid off. He was not caught off guard. He was probably far from surprised. But it also provided the grist for the ethical question that his manager faced, and that I am posing here.
Secrets are hard to keep in any company, let alone a smaller one. As decisions of this type get made they have a tendency to filter down at least in deed, if not in fact. If management knows they are going to be making a change, they start planning for it. As the plans become apparent, so does the precipitating action. This is the situation that my friend faced.
He did the right thing. He called his manager. He asked the question. Should he be prepared for an employment event? This was a man that he had known and been friends with for more than 20 years. His manager and friend told him “no”.
3 days later his manager called him in and notified him of the company’s decision to make a change and of his severance.
When he asked “Why didn’t you tell me when I asked 3 days ago?” his manager responded by saying that he had been instructed by management not to tell him until the official notification date, “… and besides, what difference does 3 days make?”
This brings up the question: What would you do if you were in the manager’s position?
Would you too rigorously obey the corporate directive? Would you disobey the directive and provide the direct and honest information to a friend and colleague of 20 years? Would you try to find some middle ground where you don’t directly disobey the corporate directive, but do obliquely confirm that the notification is going to happen?
I can not, and do not speak for my friend. If I were in his position I would believe that a 20 year relationship may have been irreparably damaged. I don’t count myself as lucky as to say that I have so many friends that I could take the losing of one in such circumstances lightly.
I can not and do not speak for the manager. I have been in his position. In today’s business world we all have varying levels of concern regarding or employments and our future employments. Do we truly fear for our own positions at such a level as to alter our behaviors to such an extent? I will say that having been there, that open, direct and honest responses and communication in these situations has always, always been the best approach. If a decision has been made, I would respond as such. If it is still pending, then that should be communicated as well.
Yes, this approach has gotten me in a little trouble in the past, but it has always proved to be the proper course when dealing with these types of employment situations. The company knows what it is going to do with respect to the employee in question. It has probably known for some time. It is the trouble I would prefer to have when confronted by an employee who asks “Am I on the list for the coming lay-off?” instead of having to respond to “Why didn’t you tell me when I asked?”
To me a direct question deserves a direct response, even if it is a response that is not desired, or even feared. If you really don’t want to know, then don’t ask. If you do want to know, accept the response, good or bad, in the same way as the question was posed.
That’s just me. What would you do?