Do you know someone who’s been laid off recently? Rarely does news from our friends connect so directly to the headlines. Everyday there is news of more big layoffs: Starbucks, IBM, Target, CBS . . . the list goes on and on. But these news stories seldom describe the experiences of nonprofit people, laid off from smaller entities in smaller numbers. And nonprofit layoffs not only wreak the same havoc on the individuals losing their jobs, they often spell hardship for the clients, members and constituents of the nonprofit as well.
In this economy it’s no longer shameful toÂ lay people off (or to be laid off), but it’s still seen as a sign of vulnerability. And some funders turn away from vulnerability: one nonprofit executive told me yesterday that two foundations have given him unexpected grants that they each said had been designated for others, but now they have concerns about the financial viability of those others.
Layoffs as a sign of strength?
Within the organization, layoffs trigger complex emotions for remaining staff. Some are likely to feel sad that some friends have left, and perhaps guilty for keeping their own jobs. Others might be delighted that a weak coworker has (finally!) been laid off, but feel they have to hide their agreement with the layoff decision. Some may feel it would have been better for everyone to take a pay cut, or for managers only to take pay cuts, or for layoffs to have been based on which employees are supporting families. A few may envy the people getting laid off. Still others will worry that the organization itself is at risk, and become fearful for their own jobs and for those the organization serves.
Because layoffs are driven by financial need, they usually do reflect financial stress in the organization’s income or balance sheet. But the decision to lay people off may actually reflect strength in the organization’s ability to make decisions proactively, to respond to changing conditions, and to take strong management steps when necessary. As a funder, staff member or board member, remember that thoughtful, well-executed, timely management action is a sign of a strong organization, one that is fully committed to being there for its community and constituents.
This special Layoff Issue of Blue Avocado includes a How-To on layoffs, furloughs, and shutdowns, and a Board Cafe column on a frequently problematic topic: the Board’s Role in HR. We have a group of Layoff Stories from Blue Avocado readers, a First Person Nonprofit narrative about a layoff experience, and some tips on getting health insurance if you’ve lost your job. Be careful out there. –Jan Masaoka