What’s the hardest thing a manager ever has to do? How about knowing what to say when employees’ jobs are at risk and they ask for reassurance?
You don’t want to torpedo morale. On the other hand, you don’t want to make promises you can’t keep. Something like this happened when two veteran employees of the Kansas City, MO, municipal budget office were worried about their jobs amid a steep fall in city revenue.
The employees, white women in their 50s and 60s respectively, said their manager assured them they weren’t on the layoff list that was being compiled.
But eventually both women were in fact dismissed as part of the austerity drive. They sued the city for race and age discrimination, claiming younger and minority workers less qualified than themselves were kept on. Their claims sounded plausible to a state court jury, which awarded them $2.6 million in damages.
The jury was swayed by the ex-employees’ lawyer when he said their manager “repeatedly lied” to “lull them into a false sense of security.”
The manager had a different take on what he’d said. He told them they weren’t on the layoff list because it hadn’t been finalized. He was trying to protect the list’s confidentiality, he said, and anyway, he thought they could find jobs elsewhere in city government.
What to say
So what should a wise manager say to good employees in such circumstances? Try this approach:
- Assure them you’ve told higher managers of their value to the organization (assuming you have, of course)
- Make clear that any layoff decision won’t be yours, or yours alone, and
- Tell them they’ll hear about any layoff directly from you (assuming that’s a promise you can keep).
Subscribe to the Leadership Blog
Get the latest research on workplace learning with weekly posts delivered to your inbox