Career and Executive Recruiting Advice
Terminations That Save Face, Pt. 1
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With layoffs still a major part of the employment sector scene, the need for diplomacy in handling them is paramount. In Part 1 of this series, we look at ways to handle staff layoffs so that people still, as with the Eastern tradition, save face.

Many feel that the concept of "saving face" is exclusively Eastern. Actually, it's universal and always has been. Let's face it. Not many people want to be publicly humiliated. Nor do many want to have the distinction of being fired or asked to step down from a position of leadership. The first thing that comes to anyone's mind, given either scenario, is there was some type of shortcoming or failure. This is damaged goods, therefore not as marketable as others because the long-term profit opportunities just won't be there. If proof of these statements is necessary, consider the current public opinions of Kenneth Lay, former CEO of Enron, or any of the other "C" players who have been removed from office amid boiling publicity.

There are two distinct instances when saving face is especially important. Concomitant with that concern is preserving company goodwill and future referral opportunities - the intangibles that accompany attention to these times. One is when you're doing layoffs among your staff -- the people you may want to rehire at a later time when conditions are more lucrative and you are in need of those talents again. The other is when not only the CEO or other high profile executive is asked to step down or move on but also when a manager of any level is asked to do so.

In the current climate of massive, global layoffs, some degree of tact and delicacy is needed in making cuts. Many times the reason for the cut is not because of poor performance or judgment on the part of the employee nor egregious gaps in ethics. Instead the issue is a matter of dollars and cents when looking at the number of people doing few tasks compared with the efficiencies that can be realized when combining responsibilities. Even when the person is a poor performer, for whatever reason, the budget just won't justify keeping them on for the additional training or retraining that employee needs while keeping the company in the black and still delivering quality product.

Saving Goodwill and Morale
It isn't just a matter of saving "face" to make these exits as positive as can be under the circumstances. It's also a matter of preserving morale. The survivors want to feel that they are survivors with a purpose and that those who have left the ranks are not expendables. Nor do the survivors want to believe that their former associates or leaders were the causes of the current down times.

It will serve the company's goodwill with customers and remaining staff alike to be able to say that those who left went on to better situations and new opportunities for growth or development in more promising situations.

Prefacing the Severance
In the case of large layoffs, it's best to make a general announcement to the group that downsizing has become a necessity. Continue by explaining that the decisions will be based on metrics that have revealed where certain redundancies and cost overruns are occurring. The cuts are being made in order to contain costs and are not a reflection on an individual. In this way, and considering that people have already been feeling pressures from overwork and the rumor mill, no one will feel as though they're being singled out for punitive or retaliatory treatment.

Open the meeting to questions and answers. Keep the meeting as long as is necessary to attend to the major, group concerns. A half hour to an hour is usually sufficient for the entire meeting. Close by recommending that anyone who has additional concerns or questions make an appointment with the Human Resources personnel or their manager in order to get clarification.

Next have private meetings with those who will be terminated. Discuss any further unresolved concerns. By this time, your employee assistance personnel should have had some debriefing and counseling sessions with the candidates so that they have some outsourcing and alternative path resources. Come to an understanding about what type of reference they may expect from the company and their manager and who will be responsible for providing the reference check. If the matter is handled in an amicable fashion, layoff rage should not become an issue. Still, it may be a good idea to have a general contact, instead of a specific person, where general reference check confirmations are conducted.

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Originally published as "Saving Face" at on February 19, 2002.