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Dear Workforce Which is Better During Layoffs Individual or Group Announcements


Dear Workforce:

When performing a reduction in force of manufacturing employees, is it betterto conduct terminations one-by-one or by a group? We are concerned about violentreactions since no severance is being given and want to know if the groupsetting would inhibit or promote unwanted reactions.

— Safety & Training Facilitator, manufacturing company, Valencia,California.

A Dear Concerned About Safety:

For me there’s no contest: one-by-one exit interviews acknowledge thepsychological complexity of the termination process and respect the integrity ofthe soon-to-be former employee. Group termination avoids the issues and willinflame the fires.

Advantages of one-on-one
Being forced to leave an organization is a trying experience for most folks,especially if there’s substantial work history. A tight job market adds to thestress. Giving the employees no severance package may become salt on the wound.The human resources department needs to take the time in a one-on-one basis tonote hard company economic realities and tough choices. And HR needs torecognize that hard company choices won’t negate the fact that people feeldissatisfied, angry, upset, frightened, etc., about this reduction in force.

Also, it’s important to give the employees time and space to share how theyfeel about the RIF; that’s the reason for the face-to-face meeting. As long asan employee does not become abusive or violent, some expression of anger isreasonable and healthy. (If an employee does become threatening, at least it’sout in the open and an appropriate safety response becomes a quick option.)

If the number of people being let go is very large — beyond HR’s capacityforone-on-one administration — then consider some pre-exit workshops led bytrainers skilled in dealing with grief and termination. Consider employeeassistance professionals or consultants with both a clinical and organizationaltraining background.

Sometimes management cuts off this intimate termination process. Managementmay cut off this one-on-one venting because of their feelings of guilt, whichalso is an understandable reaction. Bringing out this array of emotions, whiledifficult, will likely reduce the chances of an outbreak of violence.

Dangers of a group meeting
A group meeting for the announcement of the RIF exacerbates the violencepotential. Anger and feelings of abandonment or betrayal not vented orhandledconstructively lend themselves to reduction of individual responsibility forsubsequent actions and could lead even to mob reaction.

Also, many people will not speak up in a group. For some of theseindividuals,anger will smolder inside. If such an individual finds this RIF threatening,has preexisting emotional instability (especially a history of uncontrolledrage or premeditated belligerent or cruel behavior), then this person may beripe for a violent reaction, even if a subsequent stress trigger seemstrivial.

Finally, don’t promote the sole purpose for one-on-one termination meetingsto be prevention of violence. Hold this meeting for various reasons, namelybecause it:

  • Demonstrates respect for the integrity of the employees.

  • Indicates appreciation for their past contributions.

  • Shows management is genuinely willing to tackle tough personnel issues.

  • Encourages surviving employees during a vulnerable period that managementdoesn’t get rid of people on a whim.

  • Is the right thing to do.

SOURCE: Mark Gorkin, LICSW, “The Stress Doc” and American Online’s”Online Psychohumorist,” Washington, D.C., April 16, 2001.

LEARN MORE: See “Anticipate Sabotage– Have aCrisis Plan in Place

The information contained in this article is intended to provide usefulinformation on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice ora legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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