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Tough decisions.

AMONG THE TOUGHEST DECISIONS a manager must make are those involving layoffs or firings. How do leaders handle these tough decisions with consistency, integrity, and justice?

* Layoffs. Since wages and benefits are a large part of the annual operating budget of an organization, a layoff is the fastest way to cut expenses in times of economic distress. Such times, however, also are difficult for people to be unemployed.

How many must be laid off? From which departments? What should determine who will go? These are just a few of the difficult decisions that must be made during a downsizing. Although most companies have policies, such as "last one in, first one out," the trauma inflicted on staff may keep you awake many a night. Further, such policies often become muddled. Do you keep a medical technologist hired 2 months ago, because it took 6 months to recruit him, or the phlebotomist who is easily replaced but who has put in 15 years of loyal service?

Layoffs may save money initially, but the long-term impact on staff morale, loyalty, and productivity may be devastating. Employees--even those who avoid the wrath--never forget layoffs. Doubts and fears linger. "They (management) did it once, they'll do it again."

Is it possible for employees to pull together as a team to avoid a layoff? I believe they can if they trust and feel loyal toward the organization and to each other. Alternatives to layoffs include cross-training personnel to work in different areas, encouraging vacation time, asking employees to sacrifice 1 day per week without pay, or asking them to take a short leave of absence.

If a layoff is inevitable, then convey this to employees honestly and sincerely. Offer a 2-week severance pay and assistance in finding another job. Express your deepest regret and gratitude for their loyal service. Layoffs are best done on Friday, so employees have the weekend to recover. On Monday, they can begin the search for new employment.

* Firing. Firing an employee is more devastating emotionally than laying one off. Layoffs often have little to do with performance; they are usually impartial financial decisions affecting many. Firing, however, is a personal matter, and is rarely due to an isolated event. Most organizations have a system of progressive discipline, requiring thorough documentation of each violation of company policy, warnings and suspension prior to firing, a work improvement program, and an impartial review of the employee's records by the personnel director before a decision is made to terminate.

Firing an employee should not come as a surprise to that individual if the manager or supervisor has done his or her job correctly. To avoid surprises and retain potentially good employees, communicate expectations and policies candidly with employees starting during the initial employment interview. Stress that violations of company policy will not be tolerated. Let applicants (and employees) know that you expect the highest standard of professionalism and will accept only their best performance. Make them aware of which policies are frequently violated, and the consequences of those violations.

When an employee violates company policy, document the occurrence completely. Explain to the employee which policy or procedure has been broken, why the violation warrants discipline, what the consequences are if it continues, and what the ultimate outcome will be--suspension and/or firing.

We all make mistakes, but, as health care professionals we cannot tolerate errors that endanger patients' lives or restrict us from giving the best service possible.

It's never easy for me to fire a member of my staff. Working with a small group of employees and having my office located in the middle of the laboratory, I hear most of their daily interactions with children, relatives, and spouses. I've been through chicken pox, physical abuse from roommates, substance abuse and rehabilitation, multiple sclerosis, and divorce with my employees.

Unfortunately, being a wise leader won't always win you popularity contests. It requires a mixture of intelligence, trustworthiness, humaneness, courage, and sternness. It requires discipline of yourself and others with rules and regulations that treat everyone--supervisor to phlebotomist--fairly and equally.

The decision to lay off or fire an employee will always be a tough one, but if we treat people with kindness, faith, trust, and justice, they will grow strong, know what is expected of them, and be eager to work under our leadership--or accept when they no longer can.

The author is laboratory director, Northside Hospital, St. Petersburg, Fla., and adjunct professor, University of South Florida, Tampa.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Viewpoint; laying off and firing employees
Author:Hendrix, Bonnie B.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Article Type:Column
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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