Usability and Layoffs

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Managing yourself and usability during a layoff

I manage usability projects for my company, I also as of January 8th am a layoff survivor. Our company, Touchcommerce, like many other companies, is restructuring itself to drive maximum profit out of each and every penny of revenue. We all know that’s a smart thing to do during difficult economic times, but it’s very hard for the humans that comprise a company. Layoffs, like a bad divorce or health-related amputations, are sometimes a necessary evil.

Maybe your company has done or will be doing the same.

So on the 8th my boss and several other people sprinkled around the company were “terminated.” Brief 1 minute discussions were held behind closed doors, boxes were handed out, crying and hugs were shared, personal items were gathered and then one by one the terminated employees left the building, handing over their security cards and any other company equipment in the process. As a “survivor,” we had go through this ordeal with them.

Sometimes you get advance warning of the layoff, sometimes not. For me it was a “not.” I (and my boss) had no idea that Thursday was to be the last day of working together.

Have you been on the survivor or terminated side of a layoff? Perhaps you’ve had to do the layoff, being the person that has to have the brief 1 minute conversation with your employee. I’ve been on all three of those sides, having been laid off from several firms over the past 20 years, I’ve also been a “survivor” of numerous layoffs and I’ve been the guy who had the brief “the company is restructuring and so your position has been eliminated” conversations.

I sometimes think being the terminated person is sometimes easier to deal with, although devastatingly scary at first. As a survivor, the shock may linger, after all, you have to walk by that person’s desk or office many times a day. Then there’s the fear of the unknown, the questions of,
“Who will I be reporting to now? What projects will or won’t be supported, what am I going to be doing? Will there be more layoffs, am I next?”

For those of you with a mean boss, or someone you didn’t see eye-to-eye with, you may be silently singing “The wicked witch is dead!” For those of you with a boss you love, you may be silently singing a funeral march. Either way, as a survivor your emotions are probably very high, and it’s probably hard to even concentrate, or know what you’re supposed to be doing.

Having just gone through a layoff and being a survivor, again, I thought I’d share with you a few tips I’m using to cope with this situation. No, I’m not a psychology expert and I don’t know all the answers with how to cope with being a survivor, but having been in this position more times than I care to remember I’ve come up with a few coping techniques that I’m hoping might help you.

I’m hoping you’ll share your techniques too, so that anybody who reads this and needs the help will find many different techniques to try for how to cope with a layoff, and keep usability flowing.

Five Layoff Survivor Techniques – I’ve Got A New Boss:

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1. It’s OK to be emotional.
Bottling things up during a very stressful layoff is not a good idea. I usually go through the whole gamut of emotions, from fear and resentment and denial, through depression and ultimately to acceptance. Just realize it’s ok to have emotions, powerful ones, and that they are normal.

2. Talk to someone.
The best way to deal with a stressful situation is to tell someone about what you’re going through. Call your spouse, or your friends or relatives, talk to them about what happened and share with them your feelings. It’s amazing what support from relatives and friends can mean during a difficult time.

3. Identify what you need to do, today, and in the next hour, day, week.
More than likely there is a transition period in which you may not be very clear about your responsibilities. If you’re lucky, this transition period is very brief, and your company already has ideas about what they want you to be working on after the layoffs. Your new boss may or may not know what you now should be doing. Try to get more information about your duties and responsibilities. More than likely however, it won’t be very clear about what you’re now responsible for and what you should be doing. Seek out those with information and ask questions, but don’t panic.

4. Be productive, do work.
Unless told differently, just keep working on what you were working on. It’s rather therapeutic to get lost in work, it might help your mind from racing and you becoming distracted. DON’T resort to gossip or lunch-room discussions. Try to concentrate on important projects you’re already signed-up for, and work on them.

5. Document what you are responsible for.
As a layoff survivor, you may be reporting to someone else in your department, or you may be reporting to a different department. It’s usually helpful at this point to document what your duties, responsibilities and current on-going projects are. Don’t get into details, keep it high level, bullet points only at this point. If you need to, share this with your new boss. Be prepared to add to your list, or modify it based on your new boss’ needs.

Just remember that as a layoff survivor you can fear change, or consider it a transition to potentially something new and different. By focusing on what you can do to make this layoff a positive one, you’ll be in a better position to deal with the emotional impact of a sudden change.

Please feel free to share your techniques for coping with a layoff too!