A reader writes:
Yesterday my manager sent a message to the members of my team (teapot makers) and another team (teapot designers), whose manager just went on maternity leave, and for whom he is covering. This message announced that a position on the design team, Tipping Tester, was being eliminated, and gave the effective date. The message specifically said that the person in the to-be-eliminated position is being invited to interview for other positions and that he hoped she would be remaining with the company. The current Tipping Tester was included on the email, as was our HR manager.
Today I sent a response to my manager, the on-leave manager, the HR manager, and (this is important) the current Tipping Tester, saying that I was worried about this change. Prior to creating this position and hiring the Tipping Tester several months ago, we were routinely producing teapots that didn’t, in fact, pour out when tipped over. Obviously this meant that buyers of our teapots were unhappy that they didn’t perform their intended function well. I said that since hiring the Teapot Tester, this happens far less frequently, which makes my work of making teapots much better because I don’t have to spend as much time as I used to explaining the faulty tipping to customers and fixing it. I said that I was worried that we would return to the former state of too many tip-less teapots, and asked for information about how we could ensure that that wouldn’t happen with this position being eliminated.
While I made it clear that I questioned the decision, and any reader would understand that I hoped the decision to eliminate the position would be reversed, my only specific request was for specifics on how they planned to avoid the return of our pre-Teapot Tester problems.
The HR manager wrote back quickly, saying that it was completely inappropriate for me to have included the current Teapot Tester. I had a conversation about it with my manager, and apparently people above him are considering taking some kind of punitive action. My manager said that this is only about the recipient list and not the content of my message. I explained my rationale for including her, which was that since I was writing the email, and I wanted the Teapot Tester to know that I appreciated her work and was asking these questions, I was going to either forward the email to her or bcc her anyway. By including her as a cc, I was merely making my decision to share the message with the Teapot Tester transparent.
If the announcement had not specifically stated that this was a decision to eliminate a position, and that the incumbent was not only welcome to stay, but that it was hoped that a way could be found for her to do so, I would not have done the same thing. I have no HR responsibility here, but did in a previous job, and reading AAM has certainly further convinced me of the value of transparency and honesty. Obviously many HR situations require confidentiality and care around the audience and timing of sharing information. Did I miss something here? Do you agree that including the affected individual on this message was way out of line? If some material punishment is announced, should I resist? I think that termination is very unlikely, but one never knows, I guess.
Yeah, I think you were in the wrong. I understand where you were coming from and I don’t think it was an outrageous thing to do, but it did demonstrate a lack of sensitivity to politics around layoffs.
The reason that people above you are pissed off is that by including the tipping tester, you basically said that you think the layoff decision is a bad one and encouraged the tipping tester to think the same. That’s bad for your employer because when people think they’re being wrongly laid off, they’re much more likely to be bitter, do things like sue the company (if they start thinking that there might be discrimination or other illegal behavior involved), and generally spread discord.
The messaging around layoffs is usually very carefully managed, both for morale reasons and legal reasons, and you threw a big old “I don’t care about that” right in the middle of a delicate situation. Depending on how well they know you and what the larger context is, it’s possible that it even came across as “I’m trying to start some shit here.”
From your perspective, I get that you felt that you were raising important issues and being transparent, but … well, it was tone-deaf to the above. Plus, this is a conversation that would have been better to have in person rather than via email. Layoff decisions are just super sensitive.
That said, this shouldn’t get anywhere near firing level. In a reasonable company (and assuming there’s no history that would make this more problematic), you’d get a serious talking-to about why this was inappropriate, and that would be that.
But to ensure that that’s the case, I’d tell your manager and others involved — quickly — that you misjudged the appropriateness of including your coworker on your email, that you understand now why it could have ended up being problematic, and that you’ll be more discreet with sensitive issues in the future.