‘Bring us 10 people that we end up hiring, and you’ll win a Ferrari 355TB,’ was the enticing offer made by a software company in San Francisco in the year 2000, when the continual drain of staff to the competition was everyone’s big headache. Employee commitment to companies had deteriorated to such an extent that people were changing jobs for a better salary in a way that had never been seen before. Researchers took to studying the reasons for this lack of commitment, and they established a connection with the mass lay-offs which affected 39 million people in the United States from 1980 to 1995. At the beginning of the 21st century the economic cycle had changed, but the emotional memory of the recent past was still fresh. In the not-too-distant future, companies in Spain may find themselves grappling with a similar problem. 

No one denies the need to reduce levels of staffing at times like the present. However, the way that this is done is going to have a profound effect on the collective memory of those involved, and of the companies where this happens. We simply cannot talk of the need to nurture talent and at the same time fire people by email, as if we were bots sending automatic messages; neither can we needlessly instil a climate of fear, or lay people off without explaining why the decision is being taken. When we are forced to let employees go, we must treat them with respect and not hide behind a wall of impersonal communication. This may place us in some very uncomfortable situations, but we cannot try to skirt around the moment of truth, as Jan Carlzon put it in his well-known book. The prestige of both companies and individual managers is at stake in moments such as these; and not handling these situations in the proper way affects both those who are let go and those who stay, and leaves an indelible stain on the emotional memory of the companies involved.

The economic cycle will change one day; even if it’s just for that reason, let us all deal with the current situation intelligently.

First published in Spanish in RRHH Digital, 15 November 2012

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