This morning, Brian Mageirski  pointed me to an article in TechCrunch about  a Reduction in Force at Jive Software in Portland, Oregon.  The post highlighted a former employee’s take on the layoffs, and his thoughts on why he felt the company mismanaged the process.  This employee was not laid off – he had already found another job and given his notice, but he was surrounded by the folks who were caught off-guard by the layoff.  Chris’s post and the associated comments didn’t say anything different than what we heard during the dot com bust.  There’s nothing surprising or outrageous here.  Nothing I didn’t hear from (or, for that matter, say to) my friends and family when my husband was laid off.  What’s different this time is the audience.  Chris is no longer sharing this with his closest friends and family – he’s sharing it with the world.  And the world is listening and responding.

And so are the world’s former and future bosses.  Uh-oh.  Are those bridges I smell burning?

This, of course, started some conversations internally.  I was talking to our Social Media Studette, Susan Scrupski, about it, and she mentioned that this was something she was already addressing.  We got into a discussion about how we have a choice as we move forward…  We either change the way we react to other people’s honest postings, or we encourage self-censorship to head off potential future problems. 

Social media advocates (like Susan) will say we need to change the way we react. They believe that this type of transparent, vibrant, open discussion is how we’re changing the world.   We need to “get over ourselves and our big egos” and encourage people to say what they feel, and use that to develop better processes and solutions in the future.   They’re drippy, lovey Liberals that way… 

I, on the other hand, am terribly old-fashioned.  I encourage self-censorship.  Thinking before you post.  I’ve said it before and I will say it again – the internet is pretty much permanent.   If you might be embarrassed by something five years from now, I suggest you refrain from posting it.  I’m a boring, old, humorless Conservative that way…

Back to Chris’s post, though…  There are some important points in this post.  Companies might be able to take away some valuable lessons about how you treat exiting employees.  Keeping their personal items isn’t just harsh – it’s sort of stealing.  And it looks REALLY bad.  Even if we don’t have all the information, it doesn’t matter.  Perception is 9/10ths of reality, and Jive’s going to have a hard time recovering their employment brand after this.  And, what’s worse is that it was a pretty cool brand before they kept people’s wedding pictures.

Employees might be able to take away some valuable lessons, too.  Remember that HR doesn’t generally make the decisions about who stays and who goes during a layoff.  That’s a decision that’s handed down from the business leaders.  And most of the time, HR doesn’t have a lot of input into severance packages and exit details.  So, projecting your anger on the messenger (HR) isn’t fair, and it’s not healthy.  HR people get laid off and find new jobs, too, you know. 

I can understand the anger (my husband was working and laid off during the dot com era, too), but I could appreciate who made the decisions and who had the unenviable task of delivering the news.  Be careful how loudly you cry and gnash your teeth – your potential future employers might not be able to fully empathize with your circumstances, and your on-line behavior may be used against you in your job search.  Google is a hiring manager’s best friend, after all, and in a market where there are more potential employees than there are open jobs, hiring managers will be picky.

I guess Chris got a lot of feedback, because while I was writing this post, I was alerted to another post by Chris, which comes across as much more positive.

The very best reply of the entire year came from someone claiming to be Chris’ mother:

Chris, you are blessed beyond words in so many ways. God protected you and gave you another job before this all happened. Don’t forget that Jive was a blessing for you. You made a lot of new friends and learned a lot. Changes in your life have always been for the better and this won’t be any different. Your new company will be better to have you just like Jive was!! I know you aren’t upset about this, just surprised that stuff in the world happens in the manner in which it did!!

If we’d all just listen to our mothers, our lives would be so much easier.

And, since it’s my birthday, I need to give a hat tip to my mother and father, Bernadette and Bob Carty.  Thanks folks.  I appreciate the gift of a very happy life.  Here’s to another 36+ years!