Job cuts are happening at companies across the country — even at the likes of Yahoo, Sony and the NFL. If you've been laid off, how has your life changed? If you're the boss, what is it like to tell an employee not to come to work tomorrow?
Kevin Wilk, former director of sales at Yahoo, laid off in 2008
Steven Greenhouse, labor and workplace correspondent for The New York Times, and author of The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker
Getting fired is bad enough, but some companies are finding new ways to be cruel and impersonal when they downsize. Call them slayoffs.
For example, Tesla Motors, an electric-car manufacturer in California, planned to lay off workers in October, so CEO Elon Musk put the information in his blog. Musk told The New York Times that he had no choice because another blogger had reported the bad news and Musk wanted to set the record straight. "Companies feel pressure to break bad news on their own blogs so they can better control the message," according to the Times.
Recently, a partner in a Washington law firm walked into his office after attending a meeting and found a note on his chair saying that he was being forced out of the company by the other partners. "Pretty cold," he told Bloomberg News.
"I'm not sure why companies are moving in that coldblooded direction," says Ruth Luban, an employment counselor in Santa Monica, Calif., and author of Are You a Corporate Refugee? A Survival Guide for Downsized, Disillusioned and Displaced Workers. Most often, she says, "it's not about the people who are being fired. It's about the economy. The people who are doing the layoffs have already had time to digest the reasons why. The employee has not had any of that ramping up and understanding. It just falls like a hatchet."
The chopping-block practice gathered steam a few years ago when some RadioShack employees received an e-mail that read: "The workforce reduction notification is currently in progress. Unfortunately, your position is one that has been eliminated." And when more than 150 employees at a Korean credit card company were fired by instant message.
Alan Lescht, a Washington lawyer who has been representing employees for years, says he often sees companies send certified letters to people at home telling them simply: Do not come back to work. "When people get fired," Lescht says, "what upsets them more than anything is that they're not given a reason."
A CNN Money story a couple of years ago reported on a company that left revised organizational charts — excluding some workers and shifting others to new positions — lying around on photocopy machines. One man told Today's Workplace of going out to lunch with a colleague. When the colleague tried to re-enter the building, his security pass no longer worked — because he had been fired.
No surprise, really. Much social intercourse is mediated through machinery. Via Gmail and BlackBerry, we boast of conquests, back out of social engagements, break up with lovers. It only makes sense that busy bosses would use the most convenient — and dispassionate — technology to deliver the dreaded news.
"E-mail and blogging have become such a part of our DNA that people take for granted that it's an OK way to communicate," says employment counselor Luban. "But actually it's depersonalizing. It chops us off from who we thought we were."
"I think being fired by e-mail is one of the worst ways to be fired, because it's so impersonal," adds Wendy Leibowitz, a Washington lawyer who focuses on technology. "And it's increasingly common, since it's the easiest way for the employer to avoid looking you in the eye to say 'sayonara.' That said, at least you get the e-mail."
Leibowitz tells the story of a high-tech company that, in the days of the dot-com crash, called its employees into a conference room and read out a list of names of people who were being fired. They were told to leave immediately and, accompanied by security guards, they went back to their desks, where they collected personal items and were escorted off the premises.
Workers are now fighting firing with fire, using the same technology that was used to sack them. When Ryan Kuder was booted from his job as a marketer at Yahoo earlier this year, he tweeted his reactions via Twitter, and the Silicon Alley Insider posted them on its Web site. Here are a few of the tweets:
Waiting for the call from HR so I can go pick up my paperwork....C'mon, c'mon! I'm busy here! Let's get this over with.
This is a serious downer. Trying to drown it in free lattes. Which I will miss.
I'm going dark in a few minutes. The HR guy is on his way over to confiscate my laptop.
Celebrating unemployment with a giant margarita at Chevy's.