Unanswered questions: The manager in the firing line

Pink slip or P-45. Redundancy. Job loss. Head-count reduction. Downsizing. Right-sizing. Many words, the same meaning. 

While much attention is paid to the laid-off, not much sympathy or attention is reserved for the manager, the person, who hands out these pink slips or P-45 to his or her team-members, subordinates, employees. This person’s experience is different from survivor guilt. Yet it remains deeply upsetting and painful, and it is hard not to feel emotionally drained. Sooner than later, work is bound to suffer.

I was 24, when I first made several people redundant. The business logic was quite simple. There was a central business plan, in which no regional input had been taken. So regions hired according to the central projections.  However market realities required that plans be reconsidered and we had to let people go. Not all were undeserving, mind you. We were selling a new product category and brand, in a new retail format. So there was rather a lot of selling to do. Some weren’t really doing that well. Some were doing well and resented having to carry any deadweight with them. So the business case was clear and several had to go. However there was an interesting side-show. Whilst handing out the redundancies, I lost so much weight that at one point, I weighed a mere 32 kilos. I found it hard to eat and I worked longer and longer hours. Since my business unit was intrapreneurial and a new venture, I worked quite independently and with little direct supervision. 

Back to the present time in London. Several friends in senior corporate roles, mainly in the City, are firing people at work. During the week, they spend long hours at work. Then on weekends, they spend inordinate amounts of time playing golf or cycling – basically doing anything to stay away from more emotional engagement at home. For some, this is affecting their relationships, their family, where “head-count reduction”, “redundancy” , “right-sizing” etc are not available options.

Remembering what happened to me then and seeing the emotional trauma these friends are experiencing now makes me ask this question.

Who is looking after the welfare of the manager, who makes his/ her team-members redundant for a business case, but is retained to keep the business going, even to lead the business on its growth trajectory in the future? 

4 thoughts on “Unanswered questions: The manager in the firing line

  1. A related consideration that’s come up in discussions on this – why is the company in that situation in the first place? And is the management team that’s doing the firing and going on to drive the business responsible for getting the company to that point in the first place or were there other reasons? And what is the management team going to do differently thereon? How are things going to change?

    @Romit: Thanks for adding more questions to my unanswered question. At the moment, I notice many companies are using the ‘recession’ to do general house-keeping i.e. firing people who should have been fired years ago but sometimes companies can afford to carry some slack. In the UK – and I imagine the US – banks with rescue packages are being told to do things, which are not always in the best business interests, but are politically expedient. I believe we will pay the price for it but politicians only look at a 5-year horizon. There is a point when the firing can start cutting into the flesh i.e. when the cost savings are false because firing some people also hurts revenue and profitability. At such times, bold leadership – and not management skills – is needed for saying ‘no’ to such moves. That leadership being in short supply is one of the many contributory factors that has landed us in the R-pit we are in.

  2. It is interesting that you raise these questions and more so that nothing much has changed as the corporates went from one round of recessionary change to another.

    There has been a lot of research on post-trauma techno-structural or people interventions in organisations. Are you saying that even the employers who make it to the ‘best places to work’ survey do not invest in those?

    Ra’s simplistic answer is probably a reality but the spouse is not a therapist or a mentor. And lack of emotional investment at home is leading to larger social issues.

    @Shreyasi: Thanks for your comment, which I appreciate much more because you have special expertise and experience in people management.

    About the question you ask about ‘best places to work’, I have not seen any evidence. If you (or someone else) know otherwise, do tell.

    I do agree with you that it isn’t the spouse (not “wife”) who should be required to play this role as the default option. There is, as far as I can see, little done to support the managers who hand out the dismissal letters to, discuss options with, provide counselling to, and in some cases, face the threat of physical violence from the employees being made redundant.

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