At Work in the Land of Layoffs

Keeping Employees Happy When They're Scared

By Published on .

Peter Madden Peter Madden
"If you don't get a call from me by 10 a.m., that means I've been fired along with everybody."

These were the words my wife left me with days ago. "Everybody" referred to hundreds of people being fired from jobs throughout her company.

Fortunately, she called me a little after 10. She said one word: "Safe." I didn't ask her for how long.

It sounds like her company was sensitive, providing support and packages to those they were letting go. My response: big deal. Where the media can encapsulate "layoffs" in a headline, we should all stop to think that each "job" is actually a family, a child/children, possibly a grandparent, all depending on health insurance, all in need of the basics to live.

As Citigroup announces that it will be firing 50,000, with no end in sight, what do you see for your agency? Do you think you will ever be forced into a situation where market forces cause you to deliver the worst news ever: "I have to let you go"?

If you said no, you're lying.

Our collective job is to deliver a creative product, right? I don't know about you, but for me to do my best work, I need a calm, clear mind. I need to be in an almost meditative state, though without the levitation (but that would be nice). What do you do to achieve a state of creativity, and block the bad news playing over in your and your employees' heads? In a previous post, I related how you need to be upfront with them, advise them on the state of the agency's economy and be available to them, then get to work!

But is it really that easy? Below are a few new rules to keep your eye and your agency's eyes on the ball as a result of my family's near-brush:
  1. Do you have a job right now? If so, be grateful for it and shift it into high gear. No, it may not be your dream job of hosting "Cribs" on MTV, but you show up and you get paid. Maybe that's enough for now. As my wife said, "I had no idea how much I was taking this job for granted."

  2. You set the tone. In the spirit of keeping it real, at an agency meeting, I advised everyone of my wife's situation. I needed to impress upon them that though the state of the economy is very real, we should all be thankful that we're working in a business that can be a lot of fun. The result of this is my tone: smiling, laughing, having fun in brainstorming sessions. Set a positive tone because your employees may not be getting it anywhere else. Plus, it's infectious.

  3. Be there for those recently laid off from other agencies who reach out to you for work. Maybe you're not hiring right now, but maybe you could refer a newly laid-off job seeker to another agency in your region. Talk with them, even if it's for a few minutes. Imagine how you would want to be treated.

  4. Turn up the customer service. Is there such a thing as over-servicing your clients? Skip the e-mail and call, keep a finger on their pulse, and be a positive force in their life. They watch the news too and in some cases may be worried about their own future.

  5. Look for new opportunities that result from economic storms. As I see larger agencies trim their fat, I announced to our managers that "now is our time." My heart goes out to anyone, creative or otherwise, who falls victim to market forces, but after all, we are in business. Survival of the fittest has never been more appropriate, and I'll do everything I can to protect my business, my people and my family.
So what are your unofficial agency rules during these times? Do you have any?

These were just some of a million thoughts I had as I looked at the phone and waited for her call before the clock struck 10.
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