Sunday, July 09, 2017

Do I tell job-seeking friend that my company is in trouble?

A couple of weeks ago, L.A. and her colleagues at work received an email letting them know that a division of their company was going to be shut down and its function would be outsourced to an outside agency. The email informed them that every effort would be made to find those who worked in the division other positions at the company, but that it was likely that some layoffs would result from the move.

The email didn't surprise L.A. For several months, there had been signs that the company was in a bit of trouble. Employees choosing to leave, promotions on hold, projects delayed, and other clear indications all suggested the business was having trouble. The outsourcing in an effort to save money was simply the latest indication that her company's best days were behind it.

In the midst of the most recent news, L.A. has heard from an old friend who had applied for a job at L.A.'s company. Even though the company was laying off employees from some divisions, it continued to try to keep enough of a staff to meet its obligations to customers. L.A.'s old friend was hoping to fill one of the open slots.

Knowing that L.A. worked there, her friend emailed to ask her if they could meet to talk about the company and what it was like to work there. This request, writes L.A., puts her in a bit of a pickle. She likes her job and the work she does, but she also feels like she should be honest with her friend if she asks about the company's health.

"How much loyalty do you owe your employer if you know a friend is looking there for a job and all signs at your place of employment point to it going under?" writes L.A.

L.A. is right to be concerned. The evidence she's witnessed suggests that her company is struggling and long-term job security could be an issue, not just for her friend, but for her as well. On the other hand, L.A. doesn't want to tell her friend anything based on office gossip.

If L.A.'s friend asks her about her job and whether she likes the work she does, the right thing is to tell her she does indeed enjoy both. She should freely describe what the work days are like, what it's like to work with colleagues and customers, and what the positive and negative aspects of her work life have entailed.

But when the friend asks about the company, the right thing is to level with her and tell her what she knows to be true about recent layoffs and any other concrete indications that the company could be going through a bumpy phase. L.A. shouldn't violate any nondisclosure agreements she may have signed, but she shouldn't hesitate to give her friend as full and as accurate a picture of what she might be getting herself into.

It's up to L.A.'s friend to gather as much information about the company as she contemplates working there. Armed with that information, her friend can decide for herself whether to pursue the position.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin


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