When death-squads stalk the cube-halls

Recessions mean layoffs.

The US Standard Model for layoffs, used by risk-managers everywhere, is to minimize the time between a layoff target receiving the news that they are to be terminated and when the termination actually happens. The theory here is that such news turns people into insider threats and that means a swift removal is called for. Therefore you see:

  • No-notice HR meetings show up on your calendar.
  • HR arrives at your desk, with security.
  • You get to work one morning and the doors won't work for you.

This is the death-squad approach to layoffs. People just disappear from the floor without warning, never to be seen again. Happily talking at lunch, and their slack-user suddenly dissapears at 1400. It makes people think they might be next, you know?

Wondering if you're next for the death-squad treatment, especially in a recession where the next job will take a long time to arrange, kinda destroys any sense of psychological safety. You know, that thing that is foundational to any healthy office culture? The thing where the lack of it leaves scars on the survivors for years?

Nothing turns a generative office-culture into pathologic faster than death-squad style layoffs.

A better model

For the most part, US labor law treats employees as disposable worker-widgets to be thrown away at will and replaced by someone new who is eager to have a job at all. Because of this, many countries have better employee-laws than we do. One of the most common of these laws are how layoffs are handled. Specifically, workers are garanteed to be given notice before they're made effective.

It's a simple thing, but for a workplace culture it is profound. Getting two weeks notice that someone will be an ex-employee, or a group of folk will be ex-employees, allows people to process. It allows them to come to grips with it. It allows a going-away party where formal good-byes may be made. A generative office-culture is far more likely to survive that.

You don't need a union for this! Any company can do it! All it takes is the will to do the hard thing and break US Standard Practice.

The time is coming. If your company hasn't seen a mass layoff in its history, a recession is when it'll happen. Start thinking about it now.