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Lessons in letting go -- from a looming layoff

By Lily Garcia
Special to the Washington Post
Thursday, April 29, 2010; 2:04 PM

Hi Lily, I am going to be laid off at the end of this month, and currently we are helping the consultants who recommended the dissolution of our department (which I have spent the last four years building) to create material for the Web portal that will replace us. I have come to terms with the fact that the company would rather save money than retain a valuable (according to our colleagues) resource for the employees. The part that is really difficult for me now is that the consultants pretend to want our input, but it has become clear that they just want us to do what they tell us. These are the same people who lied to our faces and said we weren't going to be laid off when it was quite obvious that is where things were heading. I know I have to be cordial and businesslike, so I am, and today I realized I should just say, "no problem, we'll do that." It's just very upsetting because for the last eight years at this company, I have worked with people who respected our work and treated us professionally. I guess I've been lucky. I hope I can find the same kind of working environment in my next position.

As if the stress of an impending layoff is not enough, you must also deal with the indignity of creating the technical resource that will replace you. It is a bit like being sentenced to death and then forced to dig your own grave. Of course it is upsetting, on top of it all, to take direction from the very same people who so underestimated the value of your work that they thought you could be replaced by a website.

By the time this article is published, this difficult period of your employment will be nearly over. Although my advice regarding how to deal with your current situation may not be timely, I will affirm that you have done the right thing by letting go of your attachment to the work, swallowing your pride, and doing as the consultants ask. It would be foolish for you to potentially squander all of the good will that you have accumulated in your job over the past eight years by making a dramatic last stand against this inevitable transition. Keeping your composure until the end will enhance your reputation and pay off in the form of positive employment references and a stronger professional network.

As you begin the search for your next job, carefully dissect what you most enjoyed about the employer you are leaving behind and also what cautionary lessons you might take with you. Think about what previously made you feel so valued and respected and ask careful interview questions that test whether a prospective employer fosters this type of environment. But you should also reflect upon what signs you might have missed that could have alerted you to the layoff that you are now experiencing. Was it a change in corporate leadership, a downturn in profitability, an inevitable evolution in technology, or a combination of circumstances?

All institutions experience major cycles driven by internal and external factors that employees cannot control. No matter who you work for next, I can guarantee little else. Although you cannot stop these changes, and you certainly cannot predict the future, you can develop a keen intuition regarding the trajectory your organization is following and what this could mean for you. As a wise man once said, you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for more than 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail HRadvice@washingtonpost.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.

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