A C level staffer leaked that our office of 75 people will have a 25 percent layoff soon.
The conversation was told to me by a peer. As a VP level staff member, how do I handle this news within our office? Should I mention to my Senior Vice President that the rumor has started to leak? Should I prepare my team for potential layoffs? Or, should I keep quiet, continue to make my numbers, and prepare for my own potential layoff?
I don't want to be disloyal to the peer who spread the rumor, the C level management team, or to those I supervise.
Let your Senior Vice President know that you have started to hear rumors about a potential layoff. Explain that you were told in confidence so you don’t wish to reveal the source. If you are pushed to expose the source of the rumor say the source is irrelevant because the news is leaking out in multiple areas. The important point is that word is out and you know he/she would want to know so damage can be minimized and a plan can be launched.
At this point, your SVP will either spill the beans and tell you what is going on, or wear a mask and deny it. If the SVP has been told to keep this confidential you may not get the truth. However, watch facial expressions and you will probably be able to see the answer.
If you suspect you are about to get laid off as well, start networking and update your resume. You can bet that’s what your employees will be doing. A rumor this powerful won’t be contained.
I don’t think trying to prepare your team for potential layoffs is a good idea. You will be acting on a rumor—not a good idea for a Vice President. If indeed no lay offs are announced you will look out of touch, and you will have caused them unnecessary angst. You may even cause the departure of some of your best employees. Even tipping them off to the rumor is inappropriate.
I think your best approach is to step up the focus on results for everyone who reports to you. The fact that you are making your numbers is going to be your best defense. And if you and your team are laid off, you will all have great results to point to on your resumes. In addition, you can act as a positive reference for the members of your team.
If the SVP is smart, he or she will telegraph the news upward and an announcement should quickly follow. The news of a layoff is bad but a wildfire rumor can cause a lot of damage as well, even if it isn’t true. Typically, your good people start blowing up their life raft and start pushing off for new shores. Productivity comes to a standstill as people imagine the worst. The company is much smarter to be transparent and tell people what is going on as soon as they can.
Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist.
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