No laughing matter
A support person can provide much-needed comfort during a layoff
Sep 16, 2019
A support person can provided much-needed support during a layoff meeting. Shutterstock
By Sarah Dobson
Many years ago, I was laid off. There were 11 of us in total, sales were down, we had to go.
While layoffs had happened at the company before, whether at our publication or others, this was a bigger one and came as a complete surprise to me.
I remember I was sitting at my desk eating an apple when I was called into the manager’s office, so I took the apple with me. There was another manager there also. They got to the point pretty quickly — I was being let go along with the others, and the reason I was chosen was because my beats were no longer considered priorities.
I was about three months’ pregnant at the time, and they knew it. My husband was furious and wanted me to pursue a wrongful dismissal claim, but their reasoning behind the layoffs made sense to me. And I just didn’t want to pursue it.
I ended up having the most relaxed pregnancy, soaking up the sun at the cottage or taking long walks down to the boardwalk over the summer, while doing freelance work on the side. And after another couple of years of freelancing, I found another full-time gig.
But the trauma of that layoff lasted a long time. I did not see it coming, and it was delivered by two people I admired and liked. Suddenly, this “family” I had come to know at work over five years was gone.
They gave me the option of packing my personal stuff then, or coming back at a later date. I chose the latter and managed to grab my purse, in tears. I was presented with a taxi chit and waited downstairs for what seemed like forever for the cab to arrive. A very kind coworker waited with me, somewhat awkwardly.
I can’t say the managers did anything wrong. They did what they had to do, and I’m sure it was a horrible day for them too.
But for anyone who’s gone through it, it really can be a traumatic experience.
Which is why I had to laugh — and be impressed — when I heard about a man in New Zealand who hired a clown to be his support person when he was laid off.
Josh Thompson suspected something was up when he got an email from HR requesting a meeting “to discuss some matters in regards to your role.”
"Basically, I sensed that this was going to be a redundancy ... so I thought I might as well try to make the best out of this situation,” said Thompson, who worked at FCB New Zealand
The ad agency encouraged him to bring a support person to help cushion the blow, an option that is legally required in New Zealand, according to the BBC.
So Thompson hired a clown named Joe for about $170. And while there were some issues — Joe made too much noise creating balloon animals — Thompson appreciated his presence when he was actually laid off.
“[Joe] nodded his head along when I received the bad news as if he was also receiving the bad news," said Thompson. "Professionalism at its finest, really."
It’s a funny story about making the best of a situation, but it’s also not the craziest of ideas. How often do we have the option of bringing in a support person in Canada?
Sure, union reps are often encouraged or required to be in attendance for certain types of meetings, but when it comes to a stressful event like a layoff in a non-unionized environment, having someone there to provide support makes a lot of sense.
While outplacement services are definitely a bonus, they don't provide that immediate mental health support a friend or family member can provide just after the blow has been delivered.
Had I known my fate way back when, a friend or family member certainly would have been appreciated.
However, I’m not sure I would have gone the clown route…
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Sarah Dobson is the editor of the Canadian HR Reporter group. email@example.com