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Scared of Layoffs? Take Some Advice From Jesus.

August 17, 2009

Guest Blog posting today by Executive Leadership Coach, Dr. Stephen Payne.

Even with a steady job, this recession is a real test of my faith. Just how will we all get through it? I know that some of the business leaders I coach are very worried about the future of their businesses. It seems that nobody fully understands what’s happening and the financial “experts” flip-flop regularly. I’m sure you see the same stuff as me—stock market, the bail-outs, the US unemployment rate hitting 10%. (Is anybody ever 10% unemployed?).

Case in point is Frank. As I duck into a remote conference room at my client’s place to make a quick call, I surprise a group of middle managers holding an “unofficial” meeting. There’s a slight look of embarrassment at being seen together. “Whoops, sorry friends,” I say. “Everything all right?”

“You’re the coach. You tell us,” says Frank who knows me. (I should add that a sarcastic touch never puts me off. I choose to see it as someone reluctantly stretching for greater understanding.)

“You’re going to have to explain that one, Frank,” I say.

Big sigh….”The new layoffs have been terrible for all of us. They’ve taken managers out but there’s no less work to do. As usual, the extra load lands on us.” I’m nodding sympathetically when Frank gets to the point. “We’re all scared that we’ll be next. That’s why we’re having this meeting. We’re talking about how to protect ourselves.”

“I think it’s good to share your concerns guys,” I say. “What have you all decided?”

One of the other managers, Veronica, chips in. “This is about protecting our families. They say there will be no other layoffs, but I doubt it. We have to play it safe. We’ve decided the best thing we can do is keep our heads down, not get noticed, stretch projects out, and get through without losing our jobs.” Lots of supporting murmurs…..

I can see I’m not the only one who’s feeling unsettled by the recession. And then I recall the part in John’s Gospel where Jesus meets his disciples on the evening of his resurrection. Imagine what it was like to be there. According to John, they were really scared too. It was two days after Christ was crucified and they were meeting together behind locked doors. John (who was actually there) says that they were together due to fear, just like these guys in the conference room. I imagine the disciples were also worried that they might be targeted next. I picture them huddling anxiously and making their plans to avoid being seen by the authorities. Then Jesus appeared. John doesn’t say Jesus knocked or anything, he just stood in their midst. Ask yourself, if you were already scared that you might be crucified next, and your leader, who you recently saw crucified, just appeared, would you be more or less scared? I know it would freak me out.

This next bit is a quiz: According to John, the first thing Jesus said in that room is the same as the second thing he said. What was it? Answer later. For now ask yourself what you would say to your team if they were scared out of their wits.

Back to me in the conference room with the group of managers who had decided to play things safe and slow…

My heart goes out to them. “I understand your thinking, but I’m not so sure keeping your heads down and stretching things out is the best way forward for you all,” I suggest. “If everybody is afraid and stays low, how does something more productive get created?”

“What do you mean?” says Frank.

“By laying low and stretching things out, don’t you just end up making results worse which leads to more people getting laid off in any case? If you hunker down and do the same old stuff as quietly as possible, you’re behaving like victims of the recession. Your fear controls you, not your creative talent. It’s great that you have all come together to discuss the problem but for goodness sake be more part of the solution.”

Then I reach out and sketch on the white board in the conference room.

We are empowered ____________________________ We are discouraged

“Where on the continuum are you choosing to be?” I ask.

Then I hand out copies of one of my workplace spiritual calibration cards. “I want you all to read these phrases and tell me which attitude you would want your people to have in these scary times.” [You can do this exercise yourself. I encourage you to think about a team you are on and read all six phrases before choosing.]

Wounded:    We have to take care of ourselves working for this outfit.
Unaware:     We are OK, but some people are clearly at risk.
Learning:     Some of us are working well together, some are not.
Exhibiting:   Using what each of us has to offer gives us our best chance of winning.
Leading:      Being a really great cooperative team is the first key to our success.
Mastering:   This team finds the most productive cooperative style no matter what the situation.

“We are clearly in the wounded category,” says Frank, “but surely that’s because they don’t tell us whether we are next.”

“They…” I say smiling, “they are just as scared as you. They don’t even know for themselves. This is your choice, not theirs. Use the card and keep talking guys. Remember this: whatever ends up happening you will have far more fun if you try being proactive.”

May I ask you how you are dealing with your fear of the recession? Do you hunker down and hope some unseen decision won’t bring harm. Do you stretch out the work to appear busy? Or do you take a positive leadership role?

What leadership role? This is where the answer to the quiz comes in. What did Jesus say twice to his scared team? [By the way, it’s in John 20:19-21]

He said, “Peace unto you.”

In other words, they were so scared that he had to tell them twice to stop their worrying. And then he did something amazing…he gave them the simplest and greatest leadership directive ever given.

“As the Father has sent me, I also send you.”

The path from scared to sacred is Jesus. Thinking and behaving like him.

If the recession has you scared, try thinking and behaving like Jesus. Try asking yourself:

Am I…

Praying before work, before important moments, and after work?
Speaking clearly and truthfully to people on all subjects?
Avoiding gossip that damages organizational spirit?
Fulfilling my own commitments to deadlines and deliverables?
Quickly admitting and correcting my mistakes?
Respecting diversity of background and opinion?
Being humble and grateful when we succeed?
Listening actively to understand others’ perspectives?
Being sensitive to the impact of my attitude demons?
Staying well inside the ethical boundaries?

9 Comments leave one →
  1. August 17, 2009 9:31 pm

    We are all scared of layoffs. and for good reason. But, it should make us better employees — more focused on doing things right. When the sword swings, maybe it will miss me?

    Great post!


  2. August 17, 2009 9:39 pm

    We start to announce layoffs next week. More than half of our 22,000 people have never experienced this before. So we drove our HR people crazy and began to blog on the intranet what a layoff was like, for you, your family and for the times when others are laid off and you’re not. Reactions have been pretty remarkable. No, it doesn’t answer the big questions, but the blog posts told people it was OK to talk about it.

  3. August 19, 2009 2:54 pm

    i have noticed in myself lately that fear has taken me to some reactions from the past that were never any good for me or for anyone else. though they worked in the short term, they were actually a path leading to death.

    it looks like the natural human reaction to fear is to find easy comfort and self protection, hunker down, and close up shop. to “bury the head in the sand” kind of thing.

    actually, it is time to take a deep breath, take off the old clothes that do not fit, put on the armor of God, and stand strong in Him.

    sometimes we do not choose the way to grow closer to the truth and the life, and thus move farther away from it.

  4. August 19, 2009 3:27 pm

    Thanks for your comments David, Glynn, and Nancy. I really like Glynn’s example of how communication is the antidote to this very real fear. There’s a great temptation to join in the fear mongering rather than staying outside of it.

    Just today I walked into the coffee room at one of my clients on Long Island where there is talk of layoffs. Judging from the body language, several of the tables were engaged in worry-talk. The thought crossed my mind that there must be millions of people doing the same thing throughout the world. If they would just make the SHIFT to Faith, wouldn’t the recessionary forces abate a bit?

    God bless


  5. nancy permalink
    August 22, 2009 12:39 am

    that shift to faith would probably be of epic proportion…like a 10 on the richter scale.

    btw… i have been enjoying your posts here.

  6. Jim permalink
    August 22, 2009 7:15 am

    I was released last year and went through several months of unemployment. However, I used my faith to learn where I was to go next. I prayed and planned, prayed and planned, well, you get the picture. I let God lead me to the path I was to take. He took me completely out of my comfort zone, had me reinvent myself, and create my own job. I did not go back to the same type of work I did before much like many people try to do. I am very happy where I am now, Oh! I forgot to say that the new path led to new work and I am creating many new friends. It is also allowing me to participate in many Christian activities I could not have done on my previous job. I listened and now have peace.

    • August 25, 2009 4:33 pm

      I really enjoyed your post, and like Jim, I am trying to find work or should I say, create work that will not interfere with my commitments at church or the peace I have found.

      Take care & God Bless!

  7. August 28, 2009 7:00 am

    Many thanks to Nancy, Jim, amd Hope Gamble.

    Talking of career transitions, my coaching clients and I have developed ten great spirtual ideas to follow. They really help deal with all the down moments. Here are the first three:
    1. For certain you are going to a far better situation than the one you are leaving.
    2. Whatever your exit reason, your parting message is always one of deep gratitude.
    3. In transition, managing your spirit is more important than managing your network.

    God bless


  8. Kari Ann permalink
    September 9, 2009 1:17 am

    Thank you! This meant a lot to me while reading it. It is so appropriate and timely.

    It’s true…taking everything back to Jesus and how our Master handled one of the scariest layoffs in human history is an example that I will carry with me while I work and express gratitude and humility for the experiences that I have right now.

    The earth is full of riches and our Father knows of our need.

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