Staff Reductions: Dignity And The Pink Slip


It’s never easy to let someone go or be let go. I’ve experienced both. In today’s turbulent economy staff reductions happen on a routine basis. Very few people are immune from its effects. In some situations, people can see it coming and they mentally and financially prepare for the inevitable. For others, it’s a complete shock that creates a devastating ripple effect.

Over the years, companies have gotten better in how they handle terminations. In the not so distant past, people received a notice or “pink slip” with their paycheck. This is a rather cold and impersonal approach. Today, while much has been written about the dos and don’ts of how to effectively terminate an employee, it’s seldom done with a deft touch. Depending on one’s experience, people delivering the news either say too much or too little. They overly empathize or show no emotion. The exit process can be abrupt; “leave immediately” or vague, “why don’t you gather your things and check back with me when you’re ready”. Even the terminology used during a layoff feels impersonal. Some companies call them “events”. In the U.K. it’s referred to as “redundancy”. I worked from a British firm and that language always troubled me. How disheartening would it be for someone to say, “thank you for your service but we now see you as redundant”. Nevertheless, whether that word should be used or not is a different topic of discussion, but most companies can make the process of letting employees go slightly easier, by coming up with procedures to go about it in a way that balances emotions and business, or at least comes close. Firms specializing in HR & Employment Law, such as Sentient, could provide appropriate employers redundancy advice to company management and help them do a better job of it.

There is nothing graceful or elegant about the process of letting people go. It’s disruptive to everyone. In large corporations there is a protocol and script to follow to ensure it’s handled consistently. Translation. It’s impersonal and awkward. When you’re the one being let go, you want nothing more than to get out of there. Your mind is racing and you don’t hear anything that’s being said. You can’t help feeling rejection, embarrassment and disdain.

Layoffs also affect those still employed. What are they suppose to do? Depending on the scale of the layoff, it can be quite unsettling. They aren’t notified beforehand and usually not much is said afterwards. Inevitably there is hallway chatter. “Did you hear…” “Can you believe it.” “Are there anymore?” What is protocol for those still employed? Over the years, as close associates I know have been let go, I try to reach out to extend my support. This small act of kindness is met with great appreciation. Apparently, this is not the norm. I’m usually shocked to find out how little this happens. People will say, “you’re the only one I heard from” or “I feel like people are avoiding me”. I’d like to believe it’s because people don’t know what to do so they err on not doing or saying anything.

Fortunately, there are positive ways to respond. Recently a friend of mine experienced layoffs at her company. The layoff wasn’t significant but it did impact colleagues within her group. When they were informed of the layoffs they were asked, out of respect for the people involved to not speak about it within the office. Rather, they were encouraged to reach out to the folks and offer assistance with names of recruiters, recommendations on LinkedIn and any other support they might need in helping them find another job. The focus is on helping them not commiserating or stoking the fire of injustice about what happened. I found this incredibly thoughtful and humane. It eased the tension and guilt for those still on the team and provided guidance on how they can help.

There is nothing dignified about getting the proverbial “pink slip”. However, bringing some dignity to the people involved is an incredibly generous way to help ease the painful effects. It creates positive energy for those who have to reset their career and those still working.