Saturday, March 25, 2006


My readers saw both sides of the question of whether or not to tell an employee seeking advice on buying a house that he's on a list of employees to be laid off, assuming that the list is confidential.

"I find it unconscionable that a manager would add to the employee's stress levels by not advising the employee to forget about the down payment," writes Darren Morby of London, Ontario.

"I would definitely tell about the upcoming secret news," opines Sula Goldenberg of Garden Grove, Calif., "and ask him to keep it confidential."

Dan Steinhaur of London, Ontario, wouldn't tell the employee directly, but would still get the message across.

"Recommend that he seriously reconsider his decision to purchase a house just now," Steinhaur suggests, "in that the company in general is facing difficulties due to external circumstances and influences."

A. Jacques of Santa Ana, Calif., goes a step further.

"If they ask if they are on the list, tell them that all of the affected employees will be notified at the same time," Jacques writes. "Layoffs are like a death sentence. Treat it with compassion."

Brent Waechter of Cypress, Calif., feels that the answer is clear.

"The answer is `NO' -- you don't tell the person about to make a down payment about the list," he writes. "My response to the employee would be,`Whatever I may know or not know is not a relevant part of your decision. Purchasing a home is a big decision and it needs to be made by you and your family, not based on whatever you think about whatever it is I might say or not say".

Post your own opinion by clicking COMMENTS below.


Anonymous said...

We all talk too much! We tell everything. Sometimes it's best to chill!

Anonymous said...

I was at a meeting where the list of impending layoffs was revealed. When a woman in my dept told me that she was thinking about a job at another co. and asked if I thought she should take it, I said, "I would think about it seriously if I were you." No confidence broken.

Anonymous said...

As a human resources manager for over 25 years, I have experienced many buy-outs, acquisitions, downsizing, plant closures, etc. I watched employees be assured by upper management that an employee's job is safe and not scheduled for job elimination. The employee was devastated to find out that they were included on a list of job eliminations. I also watched management tell employees, in confidence, that they were included in the list of job eliminations. In many cases, the employee immediately retaliates against the company by claiming a work-related injury, goes out on disability, shares the information with others, causes major work interruptions, becomes a whistle blower, etc. Also, some employees will hear rumors of job eliminations. In order to assure their future with the company, employees will often tell management they are making a major purchase, planning to have a baby, sending a child to college, etc., in order to see if management will breakdown and tell them in confidence if their job is secure or not. I agree with Brett Waechter's response; "No." Although it is never easy to tell anyone that their job is being eliminated; nor is anytime a good time. But it is best to stick to a confidential announcement plan and ensure that the few others who are aware of the elimination plan, understand the meaning of confidentiality.

Anonymous said...

A confidential list is just that--confidential. It is unethical to divulge this information before the intended time. The confidence should not be broken as there are potential consequences that no one can take responsibility for.

People are bright enough to see that managers having personal conversations with certain individuals divulge who's on the list and who isn't. People are highly tuned to what's going on and talk a lot. This isn't much different than posting the names.

Even if the person was not on the layoff list, one must realize that s/he may be on the next list, or something else may happen. I went through a series of layoffs and one eventually caught me. I know what it's like staying and then going. Anyone who's making big financial decisions in that environment must consider the possiblity of loosing their job before proceeding. This is the employee's responsibility. Always has been. We all need a Plan B, no matter how safe we may feel.

It isn't the manager's responsibility to act as financial advisor to the employee. Company-wide meetings only serve to decrease productivity. Large companies have financial advisors available for employees to consult with. Failing that, trusted family, friends, and independent consultants are available.

Is it ethical to assume that people can't take care of themselves, can't get help when they need it, to meddle in people's lives by having a private conversation? No, it's not. If the employee asks for a conversation the manager should talk about there always being the possibility of a layoff and the importance of having a Plan B. No more.

I don't like layoffs; they stink and make me angry. But then I look at the alternative in Germany and France where there are stricter laws and see that people don't get hired very easily. At the end of the day we need to take care of ourselves, consider that life is a risk no matter what, have a Plan B and C, and enjoy the journey.


"Everyone is doing it" is no basis for doing it yourself

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