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Q&A

MARK L. ALCH : Senior Vice President and Managing Director, Drake Beam Morin Inc.

April 05, 1993|Ted Johnson | Times correspondent

"Hit the road, Jack": a popular '60s song, but it's no way to tell someone they've been laid off. Getting a pink slip can send some employees into hysterics. And in this economy, prospects for finding a new job are rather dim. But many managers are nearly as stressed about telling workers they've been terminated as the employees are about hearing it. Drake Beam Morin, a management consulting firm, instructs managers on what to say. Mark Alch of the firm's Irvine office talked with Times correspondent Ted Johnson.

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It used to be that layoffs were often made on Fridays, but you recommend against it. Why?

I guess from a manager's point of view, it's easier on Friday because they think, 'I don't have to think about the employees. I don't have to see them or deal with them again.' (By laying off on Monday) they are faced with 'What are you going to do with the employees? Is there going to be any fallout? Is the employee going to sabotage the place? Are they disgruntled and upset enough to cause some incidents?' But it's better in the earlier part of the week. You can work with the employee and meet with them the following day. We talk with them and discuss what has taken place, discuss the barriers and how they see employment from their own eyes. We have to deal with them on both the emotional and professional level. We also talk about what they are going to tell their families, how to describe what took place and the reason for termination. Giving them structure and some guidelines ensures that there will be a successful transition process.

Should employees be tipped off ahead of time that they might be laid off?

We do not like to have the managers know ahead of time who in their group or area is affected. There is a temptation that if they know the information ahead of time, they will call up their employees over the weekend and tell them, 'Hey, you are part of the hit list. I just wanted to let you know as a friend of yours.' Then the next Monday you've got chaos.

Are you seeing any slowing of layoffs?

Some curious things are happening. More companies are providing overtime work for the hourly employees. Maybe they are not really confident things are changing or are waiting to see what the Clinton Administration is going to do. Another trend is that a lot of the folks laid off, senior executives, have the opportunity to get into consulting. The company doesn't want to waste its time and expense hiring someone who may not work out. So maybe on a project basis they will give them some work and then try them out. It's a good sale on both sides. Another trend is that ever since Labor Day last year, more and more people are finding jobs at a faster clip.

Is it wise to publicly announce a total number of layoffs and then gradually decide who goes and who stays?

They have to communicate to the employees that these things are coming about. But the fact of the matter is (that) the tendency is for the most capable, the brightest, the most aggressive employees to see this and hit the streets running. And they may not even be affected. So all of the sudden, the cream of the crop has left. There is a possibility for brain drain. My suggestion would be to go more at a pace where you are giving information to employees but not create a panic. Say there is going to be a reduction, maybe give the estimation of what it would be, but perhaps not in total numbers.

What laws are there for severance packages?

There are none. Companies either have a plan in place or they kind of work around it based on what they are capable of providing the employees. It is sometimes based on length of service, sometimes based on salary, sometimes on age group. It's all over the board. The reality is you need to provide a bridging income. What the income provides is financial help so their focus is not totally on the finances.

Do you give advice to a company on who should get laid off?

Only from the standpoint that we try to protect the company. They have to be cognizant of the equal employment opportunity (laws) and affirmative action. They can't make a statement that they will let everyone go who has high salaries, because look at it and all of those employees are older. What would really be helpful is to look at what are the company's goals. If the company hasn't thought about its game plan, that may not work out. Sales and marketing, for example, is the life blood of most organizations. Sometimes those areas are hit the hardest, and it doesn't make sense. Another thing that happens is companies are not totally thinking about what will happen with the current business. There must be a thought given to the people who remain in the company as to what the expectations are and how they will reform it.

How should managers tell employees they are being laid off?

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