RE: Layoff logistics and etiquette

Subject: RE: Layoff logistics and etiquette
From: Martha J Davidson <editrix -at- nemasys -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 22 Oct 2001 14:28:49 -0700

In my many years in Silicon Valley, I've seen a number of layoffs, done in
a number of ways. The worst was the first (April 19, 1984--somehow I've
never forgotten the date), partly because it caught me so completely off
guard and partly because I was still new to the software industry.

It was the day after an announcement of a new round of funding. They
invited each of us into a room, one at a time. My boss-at-the-time told
me that there was a layoff in progress and that this was my last day. I
was not to talk to anyone, and to pack my belongings and be gone within
an hour. I was so shocked that I couldn't do much more than they asked,
though a few of us did manage to talk to each other at least briefly before

The next layoff involved closing an entire division of the company, so
they were required to give us 60 days notice. They announced it at
an all-division meeting, and let us use the company's computers, phones,
and fax machines to search for jobs during the layoff time. That day I
put a sign in my office window that said "Tech Pubs Resume Service."
Writing resumes with people helped us all and created a sense of community.

After that, the next 3 layoffs were much the same: early in the morning
management met with each laid-off person and asked us to pack up
before the remaining employees gathered for a what's-left-of-the-company
meeting, but they didn't make us disappear right away. In all of those
cases, it was good to have a chance to say good-bye, and in 2 of the 3
to come back and use company resources to help with the job search.

The most unusual layoff--the one that prompted me to write this post--
happened at my current company about a month ago. I'm still here,
and very happy to be here, not only because it's only 4 months since I
found this job. The main thing--the thing that astonished me--was how
incredibly humane I found not only the process but also the result.

They gathered everyone for an all-company meeting at 2pm. We all
suspected something pretty severe was up, but no one know what it
would be for sure. It was the week after Sept. 11, so we suspected
it would include bad news on the financial front. The company president
got up on a chair in front of all of us (his usual position at company
meetings) and announced that he was responsible for some poor decisions
based on too-optimistic forecasts, and that severe measures were
required. The result was 19 people (30%) of the company would be
laid off, the remaining people would be asked to take a temporary
20% pay cut, and of those, 15 people would be asked to work only

Then they said we should go to our desks and we would each have
an email directing us to one of 3 locations, where we'd find out which
group we were part of. I ended up in the part-time group, which
was what I had suspected (and sort-of hoped for). By announcing
each group's status as a group, we could talk with each other, and
we could hear everyone else's questions. When the president came
in the room and I asked him whether we'd be able to find out who was
in each of the groups, he promised to read all of the lists out loud at
the next day's company meeting--and he *did* it.

The most amazing thing of all of this was not only that 4 senior executives
agreed to take a 100% pay cut until our next funding comes through,
but that they said the first priority was to bring back as many of the
laid-off people as possible. And that those people were saying, as
they left, "work hard so I can come back." I've never heard that before.
And, even a month later, they've already brought some folks back, and
others are volunteering their own time to see that the company can
become successful. I'm still blown away by it all.

I feel very fortunate to be working here; it's hard to describe what
it's like to work in a software start-up company where they genuinely
treat you more like people than like instruments for producing dollars.
May there be many more companies like them...

Martha Jane {Kolman | Davidson}
Dances With Words
mailto:editrix -at- nemasys -dot- com

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