Unexpected Employee Reactions During A Layoff.


Layoffs are a serious issue for the individuals involved. Losing a job through no fault of the employee’s, and in most cases, having to leave the office premises immediately in front of colleagues, can do a number on their ego. For those living paycheck to paycheck, the consequences are much more serious than just saving face.

As a HR practitioner, I’ve sat through sessions with sobbing employees, those who threaten legal action, and others who are so shocked they clam up immediately and refuse to utter a word. But sometimes, we get really unexpected reactions. Here are some of the more “interesting” cases I’ve encountered.

The One Who Cannot Wait To Be Laid Off

This is the employee who can’t stop smiling (or even laughing) because he WANTS to be let go. I once had an employee in his sixties exclaim that the retrenchment package was “the best retirement present ever!” when we communicated the “bad” news to him. There was also one employee who kept pulling tissues from the box to wipe his tears of joy because he could finally escape from his boss whom he hated.

The One Who Is Clueless After Communication

To be fair to this employee, his manager, based in another location and not fluent in English, did a terrible job of communicating. Reading from a prepared script, when he got to the section where he was supposed to state, “Unfortunately, your job has been impacted”, he instead hemmed and hawed about how difficult it was for HIM to say the next line. By the time he hung up and turned it over to HR to discuss the exit procedures with the employee, the employee was still left in the dark as to what the whole conversation had been about, looking at me, utterly confused.

The One Who Seeks Legal “Advice”

An employee who wants to seek legal advice for unfair dismissal or an unreasonable retrenchment package is not uncommon. This employee had his “lawyer friend who is well-versed in labour regulations” look at the retrenchment documents, and returned with seriously questionable legal advice. Apparently his “lawyer” felt that it was within his rights to ask the company to bear all his gym membership and vacation expenses for 6 months after his last day to keep him in a “mentally healthy state” so he can find a new job. Cue eye-rolling.

The One Who Does Not Understand Gardening Leave

Oftentimes, employers want the retrenched employee to leave the office premises as soon as possible, but still continue to keep them on the payroll for a time after that. This could be due to many reasons – maybe they want to ensure the employee maintains confidentiality and doesn’t join a competitor immediately, or it might be a goodwill gesture to cover them with medical insurance for a extended time. The term for this period is called “gardening” or “garden leave”. While commonly used in Asia, gardening leave is a foreign concept in some parts of the world, resulting in one American employee asking whether he was expected to plant a garden and send photos of it to us as proof. You cannot imagine how tempted I was to say yes.

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