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During Layoffs, Keeping Information Confidential Is Essential

During Layoffs, Keeping Information Confidential Is Essential

by Frank Roche on January 13, 2009

in RIF

Psst? Have you heard the one about the IT group being chopped next week?

Hey, have you heard that Chris took home her personal pictures?

Did you hear that I found a “RIF List” on the copier?

Rumors fly in the best of times. They become dangerous and hurtful during the worst of times. The unemployment rate in the U.S. is over 7 percent — and it’s climbing. Most economists agree that 2008 was just the warm-up to a really bad 2009, where unemployment could easily top 10 percent. Just ask around; it’s happening everywhere.

The important thing for HR is to keep information about layoffs confidential. I just heard a story about a company that sent out group- and company-wide memos about imminent layoffs. In the email, they split people out of groups that they’d naturally be in. Guess what? The people on the “extra” list are now filing out — they’ve been laid off. And smart people in the company knew who it would be just by parsing the lists. (Never underestimate the wisdom of crowds.)

Why would that have happened? Probably laziness on the part of a single person in HR who wanted to have separate lists for the “stays” and the “goes.” But that’s no excuse. Information has to be treated with extreme caution during these times. It’s never good to be sending people home, but it’s paramount to do it with dignity.

Here are a few communication tips for HR and managers dealing with layoffs:

  1. Observe the golden rule. Would you like it if information about you leaked out? Didn’t think so.
  2. No matter how much you know, resist the urge to “just tell one person.” You studied geometric progression in math, right?
  3. Don’t print on public printers. If you’re in the business of printing lists of people who may stay and who may go, remove public printers from your choices for the duration. Print in your office. Don’t make a mistake.
  4. Exit people with dignity. You know, this economic downturn isn’t going to last forever. Some day those people who are leaving will have new jobs. And, trust me, you will work with them again.
  5. Take good care of the survivors. There’s more than just a little survivor guilt to go around when big layoffs happen. You need the people who are staying to be as productive and creative as they can be. It’s a process. Ignoring it won’t work.

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