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You’ve heard about the wave of layoffs sweeping over the tech industry and swamping careers in the process. It’s about the same story at media companies, both “legacy” networks and newspapers, and the online-only entities like VOX are shedding workers in big numbers. One hallmark of the current cutbacks is the utter lack of humanity displayed. And I mean that literally. There’s no human connection in the career-killing. Employees are finding themselves locked out of websites, losing access to Slack, getting mass emails informing thousands of workers at a time that they don’t work here anymore.

Some company called PagerDuty may get the award for Worst Way to Spread the Word. Their “you’re fired” email started out with what the New York Times described as “several paragraphs of cheery blather.” It wound up with “something Martin Luther King said, that ‘the ultimate measure of a [leader] is not where [they] stand in the moments of comfort and convenience, but where [they] stand in times of challenge and controversy.’”

PagerDuty is a leader, see. And they’re proving it by laying you off. 🙄

Ay, ay, ay.

We might shrug our shoulders—this is just the way the world works now.

The economy being what it is … and shareholders being what they are … the corporate bigwigs feel pressured to cut expenses and cut them fast to get ahead of a downturn. And payroll is usually the biggest target. Still, it’s worth considering. Do they have to be such jerks about it?  A Harvard business professor told NYT, “All corporations say, ‘People are our most important asset,’ but they don’t really seem to believe that.”

They certainly don’t.

Maybe you’ve been there. I sure have.

They weren’t axing by email when I still worked for other people. I have had plenty of experience though, with insensitive dismissals. There was that time at WLS, when I came in for a Friday afternoon meeting with the Operations Director and the Angel of Death, uh, HR guy was sitting there with him. That pretty much told me I was toast. At WJMK, the program director called me at home to tell me they were “going in a different direction.” I still remember wrestling with my rubber gloves as I listened. In a rare moment of housekeeping, I’d been cleaning the bathroom when the phone rang.

As brutal as broadcasting could be, my worst one came from (get this) a communication consulting firm! They walked me down the street to that cute boutique restaurant where we met with clients, bought me coffee, and blew me out at the same time. Their theory was that lowering the boom in a public place prevents emotional scenes. I guess it does, but it sure feels awkward, having an audience for that kind of conversation.

You probably have stories of your own about being shown the door. It’s never any fun, no matter how it’s handled. And, to answer my earlier question, they don’t have to be such jerks about it.

Everything rests on your ability to communicate (says the wise woman in her LinkedIn profile).

Even in a difficult situation. Especially in a difficult situation. How you say it matters as much as what you say. Maybe more. Nobody’s happy about losing their job, and yes, tears and anger are a possibility. That doesn’t let you off the hook for communicating the bad news with some compassion. Here’s how.

Have a conversation.

In person. In real life if at all possible. Yes, with remote working all the rage, it may be that managers and employees are not in the same city; a virtual meeting may have to do. One way or the other, meet you must.

And don’t start with “There are too many of them,” and “They all need the news at the same time,” and “But email’s efficient.”

Everybody has a manager, and that manager will need to spend time talking to each person if they want to come out on the other side with their reputation as a decent human being intact.

Look them in the eye.

It shows respect for them and for yourself. This is how you convey compassion, empathy, and the certainty that you’re doing the right thing, however uncomfortable it may be.

Answer their questions to the extent you’re able.

They’ll likely want to know: Why is this happening? And why is it happening to them? Figure out ahead of time how to give them a brief, straight answer. (And did I mention, “Look them in the eye?”)

Express regret.

No, it doesn’t change the hard, cold, facts. Their job is evaporating, in spite of how anyone feels about it. A little sympathy can go a long way, though, toward making a difficult situation a little bit easier. And it doesn’t hurt you to be human. And humane.

Remember that people talk. And Tweet. And go on Glassdoor to vent.

The job market will shift again sooner or later; workers will be back in the catbird seat as companies scramble to staff up. Your company will have an easier time of it if you have a reputation for treating people well even when you don’t need them anymore.

Got a story?

No matter which side of the desk you’ve been on, I’m guessing you have some feelings about the right and wrong way to say goodbye. I’d love to hear them in the comments.

And if you’re looking for help with a transition, I know some terrific job-search coaches, resume-writers, and people who can update your LinkedIn profile. Hit me up in an email, and I’m happy to make an introduction.