Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board




Who to let go?

I'm in a tough spot.  I manage a group of programmers for a company, currently the company is going through a money crunch.  I need to lay off one of the programmers.

How do I pick which one?    Obviously I won't let go if my superstars, that leaves a handfull of juniors to look at.  Each of them are working on important projects, each of them are at about the same level of ability.

Any work that one is doing must be transferred to the others.  How do I judge that impact, how do I measure that impact.

And finally, how in the hell do I manage the moral issues that will come from my decision?

Damn, sometimes this is a hard job
Tuesday, December 02, 2003

If all things are equal, I would let go of the last one hired.  This would at least give you a clear rationale when discussing the lay off with the remaining employees. 

Billy Boy
Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Welcome to management....bastard isn't it. 

On a more helpful note, last in first out tends to be the least painful, since at least it's not personal.  Alternatively check if your company has a policy written down -  again this means it's not personal.  This also means that you stay on the right side of employment law.

Finally, give the poor sod the best reference you can honestly give.  You'll still feel like shit but at least you've tried.

A cynic writes
Tuesday, December 02, 2003

You could try telling them the situation and asking if anyone is prepared to accept a voluntary redundancy.
Give the single guy with no mortgage or kids a chance to fall on his sword. Still shit though :(

SteveM
Tuesday, December 02, 2003

The best answer I can give you is to get the informal group leader on your side, when you have decided.

In my experience the only one that can rebuild morale is the informal leader , as opposed to the designated boss.

If the guy doing the firing is the informal leader of the group, the group usually still follows; but if you are the boss without being the leader, and you burn your bridges with the informal leader of the group, you can apply for a new job.

This is why there are "professional firing CEOs" that walk in, do the dirty work and walk back out. After these reorganizations, most of the time the management also changes. Simply because they have burned their chances with the informal leaders within the company.

Let me go
Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Definitely ask if anyone has wanted to move on.
It's failrly common, especially if you are giving them
a package where they have some time to find
a new job.

Otherwise, sucks to be you. I can't imagine they
are all completely equal. Someone has to be
worst.

I don't like the idea of firing first people with no
children. In the group i would resent that.

son of parnas
Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Someone I know begins the interview process by randomly picking out a bunch of the CVs and chucking them in the bin.

His rationale is that he does not want to employ someone who is unlucky.

Given a lack of definable skills or attributes (please do not discriminate against single guys/gals) that differentiates the candidates, it really is just luck of the draw.

Get them to draw straws :)

Tapiwa
Tuesday, December 02, 2003

In Germany it is quite common to take personal situation into account. For example, if they are married then it is hardship for more people than for a single, more so if there are kids. Also how old they are can be taken into account - a young person generally finds it easier to find a new job and so they are let go first.

Actually since staff are relatively cheap now you really should be recruiting, but I digress...


Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Seconded on the offer voluntary position. A word of warning though: you may find one of your 'superstars' wants to jump ship.

Be prepared for your other staff to hand in their notices soon after as well. Nothing gets CVs moving like a round of redundancies.

In the event no-one wants voluntary, seek legal advice before making any decision.

Mr Jack
Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Whatever you do, don't do the "he's single/no kids, it'll be less of a burden on him.". Besides the discrimination angle, there's no way to know if it's true.

I'm married with kids and of the people laid off at my last job I had it the easiest. My wife's income closely matched mine and, by slimming our expenses, we made out very well while I was out of work. OTOH, the single guys lost *all* of their income and even with savings it was hard for some of them.

Everyone's situation is different and I wouldn't even try to figure in whether they 'need' the job in your decision. There are too many things you don't know about people's life outside of work.

RocketJeff
Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Having been on the receiving end of this problem a couple times in the last three years, I have some thoughts on the subject:

While working for BroadVision, we endured several rounds of belt-tightening. Although I was the newest member of the Seattle team, I didn't get included until the third round. However, had our boss discussed the issue with us, I would have volunteered to be cut before my buddy with a wife, two kids and a mortgage.

When my number came up, my boss was kind enough to tell me (unofficially) long before the announcement. This gave me a considerable head start looking for a job. Unfortunately, I squandered the head start by falling down a waterfall and shattering my kneecap. But that wasn't his fault.

I can't imagine that your crew doesn't suspect that cuts are coming. Let them know that you've been asked to cut one member of the team. As someone else mentioned, one of your team might be ready to move on or might have read "Tale of Two Cities" recently and want to be noble.

You really don't have anything to lose by letting the crew know. They probably already suspect; and it won't hurt their morale any more than the cuts will.

Jeff
Tuesday, December 02, 2003

I agree it's good to let everyone know, even before you make a decision.  At my company, they have already announced there will be layoffs at some point next year, but they haven't decided who or where yet.  I appreciated the candor.

In your case, it may inspire someone to "volunteer", without even specifically asking for it.

Jim Rankin
Tuesday, December 02, 2003

If you're in the UK, talk to the HR department BEFORE you do anything. Redundancy is a legitimate way of dismissing someone, but your company needs to be very sure that the process of selection is transparent, fair and not subject to discrimination of any kind. Just being told 'pick someone to layoff' would not be seen by an Employment Tribunal as a good start.

David Roper
Tuesday, December 02, 2003

IANAL  -- disclaimer applies
- I believe in the US you cannot layoff using criteria that is forbidden fro hiring.(sex, age, race, marital situation, etc.)  If it is illegal to use to hire (and married is), it is illegal to fire.
- Offer a letter of recommendation to the person.  Give them a good reference and a willingness to support a call from a future employer. (Your lawyers will hate this idea, they think it opens you to be sued, but hell anyone can sue these days)
- Look for other savings first.  Nothing demoralizes the troops like a layoff while the owners are flying first class to a "seminar" in Hawaii.  (Google "Tyco Birthday" for an example)
- Make everyone hurt.  From senior execs to the mailboy.  If it is bad enough to layoff, everyone should be feeling the pain. I was a consultant at a company that froze salaries below VP and bonused VP and above. 
- Dump consultants first.  Being one, I expect the call at any time.  It amazes me that I stay while employees get dumped.  (I am thankful, but I am also 2x what an employee costs).  There are obvious exceptions, but they should be obvious to everyone.
- You are about to send the signal "We are in trouble."
Unless you can show progress in turing this around, watch for your superstars to leave.  Contrary to going down with the ship, most exceptional developers leave before the water gets very deep.  For a developer there is never any glory for turning a company around, but plenty of penalties for staying to the end.

Good luck...

MSHack
Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Have you considered letting people take voluntary unpaid time off?

What are people's experience with that?

(I've thought for a long time that, if the money crunch is temporary, that perhaps having everyone take a few weeks of unpaid time off might be an alternative, assuming that you want to KEEP EVERYONE on.).

BUT.. I've never tried this or experienced it. I'm sure there are pitfalls.  (all your programmers start lookign for other jobs when they are on thier unaid leave ;-)

Entrepreneur
Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Let go of the one who could easily do your job...this based on the principle that if two people can do the same job one is redundant...not only can you take over his work in a pinch...but because such a person will be a "superstar" it would be easier for him/her to land a new job.

The fact that it will eliminate your immediate competition is an unintended side effect :-)

Code Monkey
Tuesday, December 02, 2003

MS Hack, if you think what you have to say is worthless, please don't post it. Otherwise get rid of this IANAL crap.

IAAL
Tuesday, December 02, 2003

"In Germany it is quite common to take personal situation into account. For example, if they are married then it is hardship for more people than for a single, more so if there are kids."

So, I am moving to Germany, get married, have two or
three kids and am basically insured against unemployment.
What a country!

Ignore my ignorance
Wednesday, December 03, 2003

I know it never happens, but why can't a manager explain the situation and see if everyone will take a small pay cut to let the other guy stay? Maybe make the pay cut temporary too i.e 1 or 2 years?

swwr
Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Damn, you shouldn't be discussing this type of decision here and you shouldn't need to. It is an insult to the people you are responsible for.

Must be a Manager
Wednesday, December 03, 2003

"I am moving to Germany, get married, have two or three kids and am basically insured against unemployment"

No, it all gets weighted. So if you've only been there two minutes you'd probably still lose out to someone who had been withthe co for years. It is also entirely optional, there is not a law that says they have to use system "X".

"What a country!"

It is ok except for the natives :-)


Wednesday, December 03, 2003

I thought in Germany they can’t fire you, period, this being one of the reasons for their sluggish economy. What is wrong with the natives?

coresi
Wednesday, December 03, 2003

IAAL - the point is that I do not know the details of employment law well enough to offer a legal opinion.  While any 15 year old can offer legal advice, I try to be candid about it. 

As a lawyer, I would expect that your legal experience, wouild have more weight than my personal experience as an employer.  However, as an employer, I pay lawyers to advise me.  Sharing that advice and offering a legal opinion are not the same. 

With a number of lawyers on this board, I like to balance what I know from experience and what the law states.

Cheers.

MSHack
Wednesday, December 03, 2003

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home