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I help companies do layoffs, and I hate it, too. Here’s how to make yourself indispensable.

David LewisDavid Lewis.

Courtesy of David Lewis

  • David Lewis is the CEO of OperationsInc, a human-resources-consulting company.
  • He’s seen layoffs in almost every industry, but said there are ways to avoid being cut.
  • Make yourself indispensable by going the extra mile and being a versatile employee.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with David Lewis, the CEO of HR-consulting company OperationsInc. It has been edited for length and clarity.

I’m the CEO of OperationsInc, an HR-advisory-consulting firm. We assist with layoffs, but also provide training, payroll services, and recruitment. There’s really no industry that we’re not involved in in some way, shape, or form.

I can’t remember a time in the 36 years I’ve been in HR where we’ve seen unemployment under 4%, job openings over 11 million, and yet we’re talking about a recession. I mean your classic economist would look at this and say, “Why are we talking about a recession right now?” With that said, there are different companies and sectors that are struggling with the current economic condition. 

We’re on the other side of the table during layoffs, and we hate it, too

It’s the least favorite job we get asked to do. 

I hate this work. I despise it. But we’re very good at it. We don’t want this work. We don’t want to have to see this stuff because obviously it’s indicative of problems in the economy and results in people losing their jobs. But that being said, we’re masters at understanding exactly how to choreograph this process.

Usually, companies have already decided to do layoffs when they approach us

Most of the time, companies come to us knowing they have to do a reduction in force and have a sense of who they might lay off or where they’re going to do the reductions. Our conversation with management starts to pivot to understanding how they arrived at that list, because there are legal risks as well as the risk of laying off someone with a skill set you’ll end up needing down the line. We make sure they won’t regret the cuts they make.

We start by asking a few questions: How did you arrive at who you’re letting go? Are you being consistent with how you choose whom to let go?

You always hear things like, “Last in, first out.” That approach is one of many considerations, but by no means the only one. So I’ll ask, is that your methodology? If it’s not, have you disproportionally chosen individuals of a certain age, gender, or ethnic background? That could open you up to legal issues.

You need to be really thoughtful about this because you’re communicating a decision, and someone’s worst-case scenario could be sitting there and realizing letting someone go is giving them remorse. You might be thinking, Oh no, they’re right. I don’t have someone to cover that account or I don’t have someone to handle that particular skill set. This rarely happens for us given we run our clients through a rigorous assessment process. With that said, we make it clear that “calling a time out” and immediately rethinking plans is an option, all be it a difficult one. It’s never too late to change a decision.

Word of layoffs spreads like wildfire. Companies need to speak with employees quickly and efficiently.

The moment you start communicating your decision to reduce your workforce is the moment that a giant blimp has shown up over your office. The news of those events will rip through your organization.

Having a clear-cut, well-choreographed, and well-timed communication is super important. You need to be quick about relaying the news to those who are being let go and you need to communicate to those who are remaining what it means for them.

The next thing is, don’t make promises you can’t keep. As an employer, don’t sit with people who haven’t been let go and say, “This is the last layoff we’re going to be doing.” People eat those words all too often. You just never know.

No industry is safe from layoffs, really

Reductions in force cut across every single industry. You can see over the 20-plus years we’ve been in business that there are industries that have been more affected — we’ve had a spate of events involving companies that were in shale-oil drilling around the US when that industry started to tank in 2015 because of the low price of oil on a global level. That wasn’t tied to a worldwide issue but an industry issue. 

Then we had 2009 and, even to some extent, COVID-19 in 2020, where you had something more universal that was impacting industries of all types and sizes.

There are things employees can do if they see layoffs coming

If you happen to be in a business where you’re seeing more of your competitors announcing a reduction in their workforces, it means that the broader job market for you may be shrinking. 

My advice is to not rock the boat. Where it’s in your control, which it’s not always, demonstrate your worth. Go the extra mile, stay the extra hour, and work collaboratively with others. 

To use a baseball analogy, a company is looking for utility players. Somebody who just plays first base may be great at playing first base. But finding someone who plays first, third, and a little bit of outfield now gives the team the flexibility to throw them at different things. 

If you have the ability, demonstrate that you’re one of those utility players — someone who’s not just capable of the one area they’re responsible for but is also smart, has good communication skills, is ambitious, and demonstrates a willingness to learn. People who have those diversified skill sets are those who are far less likely to be let go.

If you’re let go, leave quietly and professionally

For the people who are leaving, especially in this day and age, don’t let the emotion of the moment send you to a place where you burn bridges. The less said in the moment, the better. Emotion is your enemy and ends up, in many cases, compromising good judgment.

It’s more likely than not that your paths are going to cross with people whom you recently reported to or worked for. It’s amazing how incredibly long people’s memories are when somebody leaving does so in a loud and negative way. 

More importantly, you won’t know exactly how much damage you’ve done directly. But behind the scenes, you may not realize how your potential future boss is connected with someone you used to work with. Next thing you know, you’re still out there looking for work and you can’t figure out why. 

This story was originally published on Insider on August 31, 2022.

Read the original article on Business Insider