Laying Off Is Hard To Do - The Importance of Preserving Dignity

Remember that old Neil Sedaka song, "Breaking up is hard to do?" Well here in New Zealand, "Laying Off Is Hard To Do". The laws surrounding hiring/firing/laying off workers are such that in order to comply, companies must go through a number of steps that are similar to union requirements in the United States. I won't get into boring specifics, but in my own particular situation - the entire New Zealand office of a particular company was being closed. In order to be in proper legal compliance, the unfortunate closure was handled in a way that I would deem to be less than ideal but hit all of the legal boxes. It was a very enlightening experience that I would not like to be part of again; and it was a lesson on how NOT to perform the unpleasant duties of laying off/closing down an entire company location.

The first step in New Zealand for a layoff/closure is that your boss sits you down and speaks to you about why they feel that your job is no longer required. They then give you the opportunity to rebut what they've stated in an effort to save your job. This in and of itself doesn't sound too unreasonable but let's face it - once you're in that room having that type of unpleasant conversation, things are pretty much over. The blush is off the rose, the writing is on the wall - you get the picture. The end is nigh.

I have been told that it is at this stage that some employers/employees actually do come up with solutions, i.e. being transferred to another department, etc. So maybe in a few cases it works.

But when you're laying off an entire country location, you haven't come in to the conversation without considerable thought, research, and resolve. You are not going to change your mind - but the law requires you to state that if employees can demonstrate how their "careful and extensive research is wrong", they will reconsider the closure.

This is the crux of my complaint with this process. In an already difficult situation, you are taking individuals who are now extremely vulnerable and asking them to put time and effort into having to scramble around for solutions and broach them to bosses who already have their minds made up. If there were truly a possibility that input would change the end result - it'd be a different story. It may be a legal requirement, but the end result is a bit of a sham that makes the employer look dishonest and puts the soon-to-be-unemployed in the very undignified position of having to beg for their jobs.

In New Zealand they have a saying: "She'll be right mate." In my experience, this was mostly true. The majority of the employees had been with the company for a long while, had good contracts that were being honored by the company which included severance pay, etc., and the bulk of the employees had secured new jobs before the end dates delivered by the company had arrived.

Preserving the dignity of others should always be a priority; when approaching firing actions, it should be even moreso. This New Zealand example demonstrates that a well-intentioned law can be less than ideal when it has real-world application. But looking beyond location and legalities, it demonstrates the importance of conducting your corporate business with transparency, honesty, and respect.

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