We're laying off my only team member tomorrow morning . . .
November 4, 2019 3:51 PM   Subscribe

Do I tip this person off? Details below the fold.

My boss asked me to do him a favor and not let this person know. Part of a company layoff (about 15% of the total company). We're a small company (< 50 employees)

This person reports directly to me and has been with us for less than a year, but has been incredibly valuable. I have gotten to know them well and, as a good manager, feel I owe them a tipoff just before the actual call comes in that we're laying this person off. I would do so because I know this person is going to be emotional about the news, and feel like they'd handle it slightly better if it was coming from me.

I don't think this person would let on to senior management that I've told him/her just in advance, nor do I think even if my boss found out there'd be any consequences. I'm primarily thinking about any unintended repercussions I haven't considered.
posted by eggman to Work & Money (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Do I tip this person off?

I would tip them off with no hesitation. Because there may be legal issues associated with the termination, I would make the tip off be as vague as possible and speculate on nothing - "I've been informed you will be laid off tomorrow. I don't know why, and I don't know how the company will be handling the lay-off. I will catch up with you afterwards to see how we work this out". I would also say that I was told not to tip them off in order to indicate the confidentiality (and your trust of them).

I also think that if any company viewed me negatively for the tip-off, that I would consider looking for a new job regardless of the financial state of the company.
posted by saeculorum at 3:56 PM on November 4 [5 favorites]


I don't think this is a good idea. You never know how somebody is going to respond to the news, and companies have systems in place to mitigate Problems that result.
posted by General Malaise at 4:08 PM on November 4 [33 favorites]


You've specifically been told NOT TO by your boss. Remember, you still have to work at this company. I wouldn't do it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:10 PM on November 4 [76 favorites]


That said, it's too bad they won't let you tell them. I would though try and reach out to them afterwards and let them know that you can be used as a resource if they'd like to.
posted by General Malaise at 4:10 PM on November 4 [6 favorites]


I would probably not, because of the potential problems if they take it super poorly, but I would ask the boss if you can be present for the news or be the one to break it when the time comes if you think it will generally come better from you. Relatively few managers are more than reluctantly willing to do that sort of thing, so they may take you up on it.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:15 PM on November 4 [10 favorites]


As someone who has been on both sides of this (the group that was let go, the group that got to stay) at various times, it's much better not to say anything. Better for bad news to come as a surprise, especially for people who are going to be emotional since they'll be emotional from the moment you tell them until they leave the building for the last time.

Also, with it being such a small company, everyone else will immediately know this person is one of those getting laid off, and I'd bet money that just about everyone will know who told them it was going to happen (you).

I also think that if any company viewed me negatively for the tip-off, that I would consider looking for a new job regardless of the financial state of the company.

Since the jobs where obeying the very direct orders of your boss is every job, you might as just go put in your notice and retire now if you take this advice.
posted by sideshow at 4:17 PM on November 4 [14 favorites]


What’s the gap here 12 hours or so? Fuck that, get out in front. Maybe I’m misunderstanding; it would be wrong to telegraph policy decisions weeks ahead of time, but as I understand it you are looking to cushion the blow by less than an a day and a say: Yeah, DO THat.
posted by SaltySalticid at 4:30 PM on November 4 [1 favorite]


Thanks for all the commentary . . .

I'm leaning heavily on NOT saying something, based on a conversation I just had with my old boss. Essentially, he pointed out that I'd be doing this to satisfy MY need to feel better about it--that there is no inherent strategic value or goal in letting them know. Also, that tipping them off is just prolonging the pain and anxiety--introducing pre-call anxiety . . .
posted by eggman at 4:38 PM on November 4 [55 favorites]


Your boss directly asked you not to do this. Presumably there are Reasons. If you don't want to work at a company where you not obeying a direct order is looked upon with disapproval, then work for yourself. It's not like they're asking you to do anything illegal or immoral.
posted by schroedinger at 4:40 PM on November 4 [3 favorites]


Agree strongly with your old boss - there are all sorts of reasons not to do this. And then you're just what - trusting your report to not say "yeah eggman already told me". And decisions change, even last minute. There is no advantage to doing this. You can ask if you can be there, but it's worse - not better - for your direct report if you do this.
posted by brainmouse at 4:45 PM on November 4 [2 favorites]


For those who are harping on the "my boss asked not to tell" them . . . I appreciate the perspective; again, we are a small company. This isn't a big corporate machine; we don't even have an HR department. I have a great relationship with my boss and no doubt he would understand. If it mattered a great deal I'd just tell him I was going to tell this person.

Separately, I'm the type of person who does what's best for his employees, and with management's edicts mixed in as considerations but not gospel--and I know that this is possible as I've successfully lived my professional life as such.

My relationship with people who work with and for me will last far longer than the time I spent at this particular company. That's just my personal feeling but understand that others view situations like this differently.
posted by eggman at 4:48 PM on November 4 [5 favorites]


I've been laid off before and I think I'd prefer to get the news only once -- in addition to creating extra time to worry about it, they would also have to react to/engage with the news twice, and both times will likely be deeply unpleasant for them.
posted by space snail at 4:50 PM on November 4 [19 favorites]


Essentially, he pointed out that I'd be doing this to satisfy MY need to feel better about it

Just wanna say, it took me too damn many years to make this realization myself, and I wish I'd connected the dots earlier. There's a big difference between "this feels like a wrong thing that I must fix" and "this feels bad, so I am going to make myself feel better by taking this action".

...in the latter case, I basically never fixed anything. Just made myself feel temporarily better, at the expense of others/myself/the situation.
posted by aramaic at 4:52 PM on November 4 [22 favorites]


You could still get an invitation to the meeting and be responsible for breaking the news...that seems pretty righteous. And that *would* be about emp, and not about you.
posted by j_curiouser at 4:54 PM on November 4 [1 favorite]


Eggman ,you've been told of the layoff in advance so that you are not blindsided by this; so that you can prepare yourself. It is for your benefit

You've also been told that this is confidential and not to divulge this information
There is nothing illegal or immoral about that.
Intentionally betraying that confidence that your boss has placed in you is not wise.
posted by yyz at 5:11 PM on November 4 [5 favorites]


It's going to be crummy news, I'm not sure how much a tip-off helps.

Right Now, write the glowing reference letter suggested by your question. Print on company letterhead, make copies, be ready to forward a digital copy by email. Be prepared to help Employee document their accomplishments at the company. Start making a list of contacts to call and recommend Employee.

Review your state's and the federal rules on layoffs. Companies like to take shortcuts; don't let them. Employee gets their accrued vacation pay and is eligible for Unemployment and COBRA (benefits continuance).
posted by theora55 at 5:17 PM on November 4 [20 favorites]


There is a lot of business risk in keeping someone around who knows that they are about to be canned - they can delete all of their work, all of your work, etc., steal data, steal equipment, what have you. Also, if they keep a gun in their car and have badge access to the building, that’s also not great. Worst case scenario stuff, but that’s what these processes are in place to prevent. You gain nothing from taking this type of risk.
posted by oceanjesse at 5:17 PM on November 4 [15 favorites]


If this were coming a month from now instead of tomorrow, I would say definitely tip him off. But given that this is happening tomorrow, I think it’s nicer to let him get a good night’s sleep and just get the band-aid ripped off tomorrow. That’s what I would want in his position.
posted by sallybrown at 5:20 PM on November 4 [8 favorites]


If there were rumors floating around I might say to them "By the way, if you ever need a good reference just ask." But given that it’s tomorrow I’d just let it sit.

Still, you don’t need to take the office policies at face value. HR policies exist to cover absolutely every remote liability for the company; they’re not written with the employees in mind. This is doubly true when they’re laying you off. No matter what guidelines HR gives you, don’t be afraid to make a human connection with a person who is suffering.

(Certainly don’t give a second thought to potential shootings. 21.9 million people were laid off last year and you can count the number of layoff related shootings on one hand.)
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:40 PM on November 4 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't, but I would say to the person after the fact that you'd be happy to be a reference for that person and that they were a good worker, etc, etc. It doesn't sound personal so I'm not sure why you would let them know, unless it's immediate and without severance.
posted by ancient star at 6:58 PM on November 4 [1 favorite]


I was in a similar position to you many years ago. A colleague of mine was going to be laid off and my boss gave me a heads up the day before, with the same explicit instructions.

I considered telling my colleague ahead of time, but decided not to. It was a pretty horrible feeling on my end, and for the people who said it only serves to make *you* feel better, I concur.

I'll also take it one step further. It's been almost 15 years since that happened, I still socialize with this person and even hired him for a project in a different context. I still have never told him that I knew. I don't see what good it would do.
posted by jeremias at 7:45 PM on November 4 [4 favorites]


I would reach out compassionately and encouragingly AFTER they find out. And as said above, support them with a reference letter, getting them all their accrued vacation pay, giving them a very short window (4 days?) to submit outstanding benefit receipts, and any networking / career ops you see that suit them.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 9:44 PM on November 4 [2 favorites]


Your boss is the one who (presumably) has made the decision to lay off your team member. The heads-up to you, as his line manager, is a courtesy - a wise one, I suspect. If I was in your boss's shoes then I would prefer to break the news to the person I was terminating myself: it is my decision after all and I would not want to shirk it by asking somebody else (you) to be the messenger. I might have also formulated a specific way of breaking the news - and maybe checked that with an HR specialist/lawyer etc. If I was in your boss's shoes then I would also choose not to let on to your team member that you knew about the decision in advance (unless I was directly challenged about it): I'd be happy to be the bad cop and let you be the good one. You might wish to discuss that last point with your boss if you would like to ensure that this 2 way confidentiality to be respected.
posted by rongorongo at 1:33 AM on November 5


I know you’ve made up your mind but just wanted to add another reason not to tell them, which is that you have no useful information besides “you’re gonna get laid off”. I’ve been on both sides and it’s important that this news is not just an announcement. You have zero information about the context, timelines, or support, and you couldn’t answer any questions they may have. It would be incredibly unfair to dump this news on someone if you have no follow up information to offer.
posted by like_neon at 2:47 AM on November 5 [7 favorites]


I've been laid off once and was one of the few employees not laid off on a small team once. In neither case did we get warnings from anyone about it, and honestly, warnings would have just given us all a sleepless night. (I still appreciate the boss who had to leave a consolatory letter to be distributed after the layoff news, because *he* had gotten laid off and was interviewing in Paris that day.) All I wanted when I was laid off was two more hours of corporate internet so I could get my content push finished and not fuck over my successor, my team, or my community, and they were bright enough to allow it.
posted by restless_nomad at 4:06 AM on November 5 [2 favorites]


Worst case scenario stuff, but that’s what these processes are in place to prevent. You gain nothing from taking this type of risk.

Let's say the employee uses the ~12-hour window to wipe every hard drive in the company...including all of YOUR work. Now it's not zero gain - it's seriously negative. You could lose your job as well (not counting the boss' trust you broke in the first place). Don't take the risk.
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:36 AM on November 5 [3 favorites]


I know you’ve made up your mind but just wanted to add another reason not to tell them, which is that you have no useful information besides “you’re gonna get laid off”. I’ve been on both sides and it’s important that this news is not just an announcement.

Working in a corporate environment, it's always just a notification from the boss- no questions. The info from HR comes much later. Also no questions. All the while the rumor mill is churning.

I don't get people who say this guy would delete all his work - that's why you don't lay people off for no cause - and most decent people wouldn't do that anyways. I'm on team give the guy a heads up, so he can cry in private or cheer or whatever and start planning his new life.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:19 AM on November 5


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