Open wounds: When a popular co-worker is laid off

The loss of even one employee is felt keenly when they’re a popular team member — especially if they seem like the last person to be targeted for layoff. The decision seems so arbitrary, which ultimately makes the choice more threatening to everyone left behind.

When bosses duck “why him?” questions, the workplace can grow toxic. That’s the theme of a couple comment threads today, including one where Anonymous@2:28 p.m. writes: “If the company is going to get rid of employees like this one guy, we’re all in trouble!!!!”

I bet you can multiply that story by 85 — all the Gannett papers, in other words, hit by the 2,000 job cuts in the big layoff now entering its second week. Thousands of employees return to dramatically reshaped workplaces tomorrow. There are hurt feelings, and anger. Some employees lack even basic information — including those at The Cincinnati Enquirer, where Publisher Margaret Buchanan has not answered the most basic question yet, Gannett Blog readers say: How many of your paper’s approximately 1,000 jobs did you cut?

Spinning conspiracies
“If Buchanan won’t publicly come clean about this with her employees and readers — something that many of her peers did — then what else is she capable of suppressing? Lots,” Anonymous@3:15 p.m. says in this comment today. “Limiting a well-respected business editor to sign off this week in her final column by stating that her last day was this past Tuesday, with no explanation, confirms it.”

Now, it’s entirely possible the Enquirer ran into an 11th-hour hitch, preventing it from completing its layoff by the end of last week, when most other papers were done. Still, in the current silence, conspiracy theories like those expressed above spread by e-mail, or in furtive loading dock conversations. I’ve seen “survivor’s guilt” float past in a few comments. And there’s what’s ahead: more layoffs next year, no end in sight, until revenue stabilizes.

A toxic workplace
Lawyers and H.R. consultants everywhere have shut down candid talk between managers and employees after a layoff. They cite invasion-of-privacy threats. But silence fuels a toxic workplace. You wish it were possible to corral everyone for a wide-open, honest discussion about why Susie Q. in ad services got laid off, when Stan T. dozes at his desk in plain view of the boss.

So, survivors air hurt feelings on Gannett Blog. That’s cathartic in the short run, but I’m not sure it provides real solutions for the long run. How is the mood in your department now? And what can management and employees do to (OK; I’ll say it) heal the wounds?

Please post your replies in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, write gannettblog[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

[Image: today’s Enquirer and Detroit Free Press; some Freep employees say they want more information about possible layoffs. Paper-by-paper layoff list]

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