HR Related Musings: Layoffs and Competition

by Michael Haberman on September 27, 2011 · 0 comments


This post today is based on some musing I did on two different posts I read. Of course I try to tie everything I read into human resources in some way, so you get the benefit (?) of my thoughts. So here are some HR related musings.

The first piece is based on an NPR Marketplace story called Getting caught in a mass layoff. They have been in the news lately, most prominently with Bank of America…. 30,000 people. The story talked about the challenges of going out into the job market with masses of people looking for the same job. A daunting task where you end up competing for jobs with many of the people you worked with in the past. The story talked about how some people are dealing with this situation. Some of them are forming support groups and helping each other despite the fact they may be competing against each other for the same job. I was caught in a mass layoff in 1991, not on the scale of B of A, but 225 out of 1000 employees was pretty significant. Those of us in HR banded together to help each other out. We met weekly to give support and tips. It is a good tactic which can be overlooked by many job seekers today. It is just too easy to sit in front of your computer and to lose touch with the outside world.

The article did mention that if there is a bright side to being caught in a tsunami layoff it is that there is no need to explain to anyone why you are out having to look for work. In fact Wayne Cascio, a management professor and writer on HR, says that “…  people should emphasize in interviews that they were part of a large group of layoffs.” It eliminates a line of questioning that might be uncomfortable for others.

Thoughts of  competition is the next musing I want to share. Seth Godin, marketing guru and prolific writer, had a post on competition called Run Your Own Race. He talks about the fact that for many “The rear view mirror is one of the most effective motivational tools ever created.” Many of us measure our work and ourselves against how others are doing. I know I have fallen prey to that many times in my lifetime in business, sports and personal relationships. Godin describes a scene in a long distance swim where when the whistle goes off everyone dashed for the water and swam like crazy despite the fact that the race was going to be three hours long. I have had a similar experience in triathlons in which I have participated. He warns however:

If you’re going to count on the competition to bring out your best work, you’ve surrendered control over your most important asset. Real achievement comes from racing ahead when no one else sees a path–and holding back when the rush isn’t going where you want to go.

He points out that racing ahead while watching the rearview mirror is an exhausting way to live. He says self-motivation “… is and always will be the most important form of motivation….  It’s easier than ever to measure your performance against others, but if it’s not helping you with your mission, stop.”

So what does this mean for HR? If we have a system that forces employees to compete against each other perhaps we are doing them a disservice. Perhaps we should offer flexibility in measuring performance other than head-to-head competition. If you have ever watched a 100 meter sprint you may have noticed that the runner that turns his/her head to look at the competitor next to them usually loses. They have taken their eye off the goal.

For you job hunters caught in a mass layoff, there is a lesson for you as well. Plan your own job search to meet your goals. Don’t see your ex-coworkers as competitors just see them as fellow racers.

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