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'Sorry, John, we have to let you go'; encouragement and placement assistance help laid-off employees and make remaining employees feel better about their organization.

"Sorry, John, we have to let you go." This message was delivered to tens of thousands of hospital employees last year. The full-time and part-time personnel ranks were thinned by 140,000 as of last November, compared with the same month a year earlier, according to the American Hospital Association. The 1984 trend marked a turning point: the first decline in hospital employment since the AHA began collecting such data 20 years ago.

The effects of DRGs and other cost containment measures are reflected in other statistics. The average hospital occupancy rate fell by nearly 6 percentage points in the first 11 months of 1984, compared with the same period in 1983. Admissions were down 4 per cent; length of stay dropped 5.2 per cent. Personnel reductions just had to follow.

Informing employees that they are out of jobs is about as pleasant as telling patients they have cancer. In both instances, how the message is delivered is very important.

Laboratory managers and supervisors may have little to say about the extent of a staff reduction, but they usually must notify the affected employees. If layoffs are occurring or likely in your organization, this is a good time to review your techniques for bearing the bads news. When the reduction is not based o n seniority, and you are involved in choosing who goes and who stays, your task is more difficult.

Each employee to be let go should get the word from you in a one-to-one meeting, rather than by letter, memo, bulletin board announcement, or the grapevine. This rule is violated all the time in professional sports. Coach Jones hears about his firing from a reporter. He is justifiably bitter, yet he has done the same thing to some of his players.

Objectives of the interview are to soften the blow by helping the employee preserve by helping the employee preserve self-esteem; to show that you care, which can prevent ill will toward you and the organization; and to offer hope for the future, including assistance during the transition between jobs. Meet these objectives, and you will fulfill another as well, which is to reassure remaining employees that you try not to treat anyone shabbily.

Actually, group sessions with all employees precede the one-to-one meetings. Forced departures are frequently suspected long before they take place. Information about the size of the cuts, how the unfortunate ones will be tapped, and when the axe is due to fall with reach employees through either formal channels or the grapevine. It's your responsibility to outpace rumors and get the correct information to your staff as soon as possible.

Do this at special meetings--with each shift and with part-timers, for example. At this stage, the organization hasn't determined who will be let go. You not only have to brace the staff for layoffs but also for reassignments, a possible reduction in the in-house test menu, and other work changes. Encourage discussion and open expressions of concern, hopes, and expectations. This has a therapeutic effect on personnel.

From a free exchange, you also derive information that will help you in the planning process and in the one-to-one encounters that follow. For example, several employees may indicate they are willing to switch from full-time to part-time status, take early retirement (with or without incentives), or go on extended leave without pay. This input can be the basis for individual arrangements with employees, if departments have some leeway in how they may carry out staff reductions.

Preparation for these one-to-one meetings is at least as important as it is for performance appraisals, counseling, or disciplinary sessions. Carefully study the hospital policy on staff reductions, especially the furloughed employee's rights and benefits. Determine whether an employee must indeed be let go. You could be embarrassed to find after the interview that a part-time position was available to the full-timer you cut off completely.

Write out an agenda for the interview. Memorize some statements of reassurance and support. The meeting will be emotionally charged, so your ability to think on your feet may be short-circuited.

Resist the temptation to get the interview over quickly. While you can't change the facts, you present them empathetically and insure that the employee knows his or her rights and benefits. Your approach should provide encouragement and get the employee of think more optimistically.

Don't beat around the bush. Come right out with the bad news, prefaced or followed by a sympathetic statement such as: "I wish I didn't have to make this cut." If necessary, state the policy that led to the separation, but don't go into a long spiel about it. The employee isn't listening well at this point.

Be ready for an emotional outburst. Don't try to stifle it--on the contrary, try to draw it out. The employee will feet better afterward and be better prepared for a rational discussion.

The response may range over a spectrum of reactions including shock, rage, bitterness, resentment, and fear. Appropriate comments by you are: "I know how you must feel. I would feel exactly the same." Or: "Your bitterness is understandable. You have been a loyal and dependable employee, and you feel we are letting you down."

After the emotional charge has dissipated, answer questions about the actions taken. Support the employee's self-esteem with remarks about how well he or she has performed and how pleased you would be to have the employee back.

If the separation policy is based on performance ratings or other non-seniority factors, you must be prepared to explain how you made your choice. Incidentally, such selections are hazardous. They may have legal repercussions, especially if charges of discrimination against women, persons over 40 years of age, or minority members could be raised.

Next, talk about short- and long-range plans for the employee. Do your best to be both optimistic and realistic. As a lead-in, try: "I think this discussion has been very helpful. Now let's talk about your future."

Start with the employee's benefits, even though this topic may have been covered by the personnel department. There is much that your organization may offer:

* Placement service. This may include trying to find the employee a new job, preparing resumes, grooming the individual for pre-employment interviews, and establishing displacement rights ("bumping" more junior employees in other departments, particularly feasible for clerical workers, and even letting MTs replace MLTs). There may also be part-time opportunities.

Explain the recall policy, but don't be overly optimistic. The outlook right now is not bright.

* Financial benefits. Severance pay and unemployment insurance are key items. Some hospitals also offer financial support for continuing education. This may open new opportunities for departing employees. For example, an MLT may now have a shot at becoming an MT, or an LPN could work toward becoming an RN. Another dividend from such a policy is that it shows the hospital does care.

Invite continued participation in the continuing education programs of your department. This keeps the employee up to date and in constant touc with the lab. If you need more staff in the future, you won't have to look far.

* Enhancing qualifications. Ask what kind of job the employee will look for. Offer to teach the employee what is needed for that job. For example, a technologist who has been working exclusively in microbiology may want a short refresher course in procedures of the type done in a physician's office lab.

You may also have suggestions about job opportunities that the employee has not thought of.

* Social, recreational, and health activities. The hospital probably has a wide range of activities that could be made available at relatively little cost. Free aerobic dance classes and wellness clinics are examples.

* Volunteer service. Employees who are not financially dependent on a job will miss it because of social deprivation and a lack of anything better to do with their time. Why not ask if they are interested in one of the volunteer positions at the hospital? Overall staff reductions are going to increase the need for volunteers in hospitals.

If handled humanely and comprehensively, the interview with a laid-off employee should achieve all your objectives. The employee will leave feeling better about the separation and with more hope for the future. The organization gains goodwill or less ill will. There is a diminished danger of legal action or sabotage.

Remaining employees, who watch this process with great interest and apprehension, will be relieved to see how the departures are handled. You will sleep much better.
COPYRIGHT 1985 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Umiker, William O.; Heckert, Richard E.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Apr 1, 1985
Words:1417
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