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Wed 17 Dec 2008 09:34 AM

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A better way to let go

Regional organisations need to handle layoffs with delicacy, sensitivity and utmost respect for employees.

“Thank you, [first name here], for coming in. I have some information regarding our organisation I'd like to tell you in person.”

So starts a detailed script on how a manager needs to inform an employee that he is going to be losing his job. The script, supposedly in use by one of the biggest internet players of our time, goes on to instruct the manager who is giving the hapless employee the bad news, on the things he can mention, and the things he should not, and how to handover the employee to the HR process manager once the initial information has been delivered. In fact, the script gives the firing authority exactly 15 minutes to convey the news, and escort the employee to the next person to take the process further.

Scripts like these are doubtless being handed out by major firms all over the world, especially in the more developed markets, as more employees are being laid off by firms following the financial recession. These prepared documents, which are discreetly circulated to managers, are disturbing not only for their almost clinical appraisal of a sensitive situation, but also for the fact that they provide almost no avenue for flexibility or on-the-ground interaction between the manager and the employee.

The good news though is that these instruction documents remain a feature of more developed markets. The bad news is that the former does not always mean good news.

Consider the Middle East, where layoffs and mass firing by companies is a relatively new phenomenon. Over the last two months, as the credit crunch increases its global stranglehold, companies in certain verticals have been forced to ask some of their employees to leave. In the UAE, this news has been steadily coming through from the construction, real estate and banking sectors.

However, while their counterparts in mature markets are apparently following scripts, the word on the street is that managers in the UAE and the Middle East are being asked to take the matter into their own hands and get rid of groups of employees as fast as possible. In fact, we hear that some rather big firms in the construction industry told fired employees that they had an hour to clear their desks and leave the building, after which their access cards and network credentials will be cancelled.

In all the jobs that a line manager ever has to perform, telling an employee that he is no longer required by the firm is definitely one of the toughest. This is especially true in firms where hierarchy is not always enforced, and the line blurs between seniors and juniors. Informing a co-worker that due to no fault of his, he has been made redundant, can be an emotionally harrowing time for, not only the employee, but also the manager.

All considered, it is a time that demands discretion, respect, understanding and patience from the manager’s part. It requires an amount of identification with the victim of the sudden change of circumstances – a sense of identification that both the script, and the other extreme adopted by firms in the region, deprives the situation of. This could leave the employee feeling sore and bitter at the end of the firing process.

Like cost cutting, price sensitivity and cancellation of projects, employee layoffs are a sign of the times. When boom times come around again, these same companies will be hiring, and they might often find themselves eager to hire back some of the people they had to let go. This is especially true in emerging markets like the region, where there is only a limited pool of skilled personnel. Under these circumstances, it is essential that companies let go of employees in the most amicable manner possible.

And the best way to do that might be to give the manager a set of instructions, but allow him flexibility enough to change his approach depending on the personality of the employee he is addressing. Companies should also be ready to negotiate final settlement packages with employees, and if they are being asked to leave immediately (which is sometimes felt necessary for security reasons) should be willing to compensate them likewise.

Layoffs are never easy, but if companies handle it with delicacy, they can make life easier for themselves and the employees concerned, and even manage to keep morale at a consistent level, all of which could come in handy for now and the future.

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Disgruntled 11 years ago

I agree in theory with the whole letter. Thank you very much for posting it. One thing I would like to add however is that multinational firms in the 'more developed' economies and countries tend to have not just instructions for the managers on how to handle the situation, but they also have the benefit in many cases of having gone through a previous recession. Experience in the current environment is a valuable thing. What the Dubai economy and climate also doesn't allow for is for the manager or HR to give clear answers to employees that have been laid off. Where does one go from here? How long does the company have before they legally have to cancel the visa? Why does the company have to inform the bank, who then apparently - without consultation with the customer - freeze all assets making life very difficult. And finally, why should the ex-employee end up going to prison if they are stopped at the airport going on holidays because their name is flagged up because the bank froze their accounts and they couldn't access the money to pay part of a loan, because their employer told the bank they didn't have a job anymore because of the economic recession? Yes, a long question... but does anyone really have any 'correct' answers for this? Dubai needs to get it's rules and regulations straight, and perhaps needs to be a little more relaxed in the current climate. Expats are leaving en-masse because they are worried about what happens when they get made redundant. They are sending all their money home before their accounts get frozen. Dubai is built on Expats (apologies to the local population, but you know it's true) - so why not treat them with a little more respect and allow them a bit more freedom?

shilu 11 years ago

I would like to share with readers some of the legal tips to handle a layoff: 1. Never let the employer leverage the emotional state of shock you experience when someone tell you are fired. Specifically in the UAE they bring in the line manager and the HR to the same meeting and to get the process finished within the 15 minutes and ask you to sign on anything. Basically what you need to do is to sign the layoff notice and add the following text (I acknowledge that I have received this document and I reserve the right to reject the content of this document and taking further any step within UAE legislative/ or other countries to ensure that such rights are protected). Simply this will allow to your case in front of court of law if the employer start playing smart games (which 99.99% will do) with end of service indemnity, unpaid salaries,...etc 2. In such hard times ensure that to take a backup of what would represent an acceptable evidence to court of law to prove your financial rights. Backup your mail box on daily basis, take copy of internal communication memos circulated on papers, copy of internal HR manual and procedures...etc. As long as you keep it confidential and don't distributed all over the place then you are fine as far as the breach of employer confidentiality. 3. Always have your employment contract and pay slips outside the office... don't keep them in. Even if you don't have a contract make sure that you put your hand on documents that prove an employment relationship (pay slip, copy of pay checks...etc) 4. Ensure that any over time you work is documented in order to prove it later on if needed. Examples internal communications, call logs, meeting invitations, emails showing that you constantly worked beyond the legal working hours. No need to worry if your contract stated that you work for 12 hours every day instead of 8 or 9... the court takes into consideration the text in law and not the text in employment contracts. 5. Finally make sure that you take a backup of communications that points directly or indirectly to why the company has selected you and kept a peer of you who works in the same department. Many cases today may represent a discrimination and unfair layoff which was made on none pure business/economic justification. Please don't panic or believe in rumors about how bias against employees is the legal system in UAE. In the contrary the initial and appeal courts in UAE are really tough with employers. Also police department/general attorney will not tolerate any delays in executing the court ruling when it is final. May Allah save you all

abdulnabi alekry 11 years ago

The difference between laying off in democratic states and GCC is not only in the style and form of layyoff bur in substance.