Thursday, May 28, 2009

Good Boss, Bad Times

Robert Sutton, Professor of Management Science at Stanford, was interviewed for the McKinsey Quarterly in regards to how to be a good boss during a tough economy. Be it whether you're handling layoffs or paycuts, there are several do's and don'ts he mentions that really caught my attention. Namely, do not make layoffs in multiple rounds. I happen to have quite a few friends who are currently enduring this painful process. Sutton says this is both detrimental to productivity, the staff, and the staff's mental health. Watching the stress build among my friends working in that environment, I completely agree with him. Secondly, he says to give your subordinates an in depth, but understandable explanation of why layoffs need to occur. If possible, promise your employees that there will be no layoffs or paycuts for the next X amount of days. This will give them a small piece of mind, so they are not walking into work daily expecting it to be their last. And finally, treat the survivors well. It builds loyalty to you as a boss and helps keep productivity up during the trauma of letting people go. 

I was laid off back in December, but it actually had little to do with the economy. We were doubling in size as a company and consolidating the finance department. While my company treated me very well during employment and also handed me a generous severance package, I felt many things could have been handled better during the transition of workload from our team to the team in Pittsburgh. Policies changed daily to accommodate the sales department, rules that were in place to protect the company's assets were disregarded, workload was transferred to Pittsburgh then back to us when they weren't prepared for it, the hiring freeze on our team required less people to do triple the work. It was an extremely high stress work environment. By the end, no one on my team had motivation to operate at the same level we once did. Arguments would break out between our bosses and some of our teammates, as no one felt as though they were being heard. By the time Thanksgiving rolled around, we were so ready to be out of there. So, I think my experience fell right in line with what Sutton describes. 

Watch the video in its entirety to get the full scope of what he has to say. It's very interesting and makes you put your boss under review. 

Do you have any good boss or bad boss experiences during this economy or other hard times in your company? Or can you share any experiences as having to be that boss during a difficult economy? It's certainly easier said than done. 

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