Airline’s miserly advice doesn’t fly

Employees facing pink slips told to borrow clothes, shop at pawn shops to stretch their dollars

About to lose your job and worried about running short on cash? Why not try rummaging through the neighbour’s trash for valuables or saving money by buying second-hand jewelry from a pawn shop?

That’s hardly the advice employees want to hear when facing the possibility they’ll be out of a job. But those were among 101 money-saving tips Eagan, Minn.-based Northwest Airlines sent out to some of its ground workers facing layoffs as the airline goes through bankruptcy restructuring.

About 60 employee handbooks were given to employees before complaints compelled the airline to stop the distribution. The 101 money-saving tips were found on two pages of the 165-page handbooks, in a section entitled “Coping with Job Loss.”

Getting auto parts at junkyards, taking shorter showers, borrowing a dress for “a big night out” and asking doctors for prescription drug samples were some of the other money-saving tips.

One item suggested, “Don’t be shy about pulling something you like out of the trash.”

The rest of the booklet provided workers with information on benefits, pension, job transitions and transfer opportunities.

The two-page advice list was removed from the remaining copies of the handbooks. The company has issued an apology to the offended employees, saying “regrettably, this list, which included some insensitive material, was inadvertently published in this resource guide without being reviewed by Northwest management.”

Company spokesman Roman Blahoski said the section on dealing with job loss was issued by NEAS, an employee assistance provider based in Waukesha, Wis.

“It was an outdated document. We’re not sure how it had ended up in our package of information,” said Blahoski.

NEAS has also publicly apologized.

“In an effort to assist its employees, Northwest Airlines contacted NEAS requesting information that would be helpful for employees and their families,” wrote NEAS president and CEO Philip Chard in the apology. “They relied upon NEAS to provide accurate and sensitive guidance for addressing financial challenges associated with job changes. Our failure to properly address their request is in no way a reflection of Northwest Airlines’ organization or their efforts to be of assistance during these difficult times.”

Monika Morrow, vice-president national practice leader transition services at consulting firm Right Management in Toronto, said this incident reinforces the importance of going over the company’s message very carefully with lawyers, public relations experts and a career transition company.

“There’s a crossing of the line here” between what information the company provides and what information would be better coming from elsewhere, she said.

“An employer that is going through a layoff situation obviously has to provide information about pension, benefits, health and dental plans, vacation pay and that kind of thing,” said Morrow. “But normally, they leave the kind of information about how to deal with your financial package to a career transition firm.”

She also said that it’s inappropriate to be raising financial insecurity to a wide audience.

“It puts people in a panic mode. And they focus on the fact that they don’t have enough money, and they’re not thinking about putting together a resumé or thinking about networking and doing their research on a job search,” said Morrow.

The preferred approach would be to have people address their financial fears with a financial planner, who’ll be able to help craft specific strategies for their particular situations.

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