former employee is throwing a party to vilify my company … which is dealing with layoffs

Remember that letter about a former employee who wanted to throw a company-sponsored party for some — but not all — of her former coworkers? Well, she’s got company. A reader writes:

I’m a manager at a large company. We are on the middle of a reorg, and a lot of people are losing their jobs. It’s unfortunate that good people are losing jobs, but I genuinely feel it is the right move, and the company has truly tried to be fair with people and help everyone land on their feet.

I learned through the grapevine that a former employee, not involved with this reorg, has invited most of my current and several past reports to a party themed around how awful the company is, to coincide with the last day for many people whose jobs are ending. I have also learned the identity of the person throwing the party. It is someone who voluntarily ended employment here for a job elsewhere and was often unhappy while here, in spite of our best efforts. This person has not worked here in some time and can only have heard details about what changes are being made and why second- or third-hand.

I am disappointed in this former employee’s behavior with planning and inviting people to this party, for a number of reasons (some of which tie to morale concerns that went on while this person was still here). It seems like such a misguided and unprofessional thing to do. And I’m worried it will spread bitterness and discontent among the people who are losing their jobs, and the ones who aren’t.

Should I say anything to this former employee? To my current staff who are not losing their jobs but were invited to this party?

Layoffs are hard, and they often do inspire a type of gallows humor at organizations going through them. But you’re right that this is an unprofessional thing to do. Go out for drinks, have a dinner to support them, sure — but a party themed around how awful the company is? No. Thrown by a former employee, no less? No.

But that’s different than the question of whether or not you should say something. My answer to that: Probably not.

For starters, you definitely shouldn’t say anything to the former employee hosting the party. He doesn’t work with you anymore, and he’s free to do whatever he wants. Your contacting him about this would not only be inappropriate, but would also probably provide further fodder for him in trash-talking the company.

But what about your staff members who aren’t being laid off? They too are entitled to socialize however they please in their off-hours … but yes, it would be a poor choice for them to attend. Attending an event designed to vilify their employer sends a pretty troubling signal about how they feel about their jobs, and how capable they’ll be of moving forward in they way you’ll need them to after this reorg. (If indeed that’s really what the party is; keep in mind that the grapevine has a way of distorting things.)

Rather than raising it directly with them, though, my first choice would be for you to talk to them about the layoffs in general. Talk to them about what’s happening and why, and why you think it’s the right choice forward, even though painful. Ask them how they’re doing. Ask if they have suggestions for how the company can navigate this period better.

I say this because the most common way that companies screw up layoffs is by not being communicative enough — not being transparent about the reasons for what’s happening, not being clear about the plans for moving forward and ensuring the company is stable in the future, not being candid enough about the security for those left behind, and not giving people plenty of opportunities to ask honest questions and get real answers. If that’s happened here, then it’s not surprising that a pretty understandable gallows humor has morphed into something more toxic.

By opening up a conversation with your staff about what’s going on, you might address some of this. If nothing else, you might get more insight into what’s going on with them.

And if it comes up organically in that conversation, I don’t think it’s totally off-limits to say, “I was disappointed to hear that Jane is throwing a party with such negative overtones about us. How do you feel about that?” But I would not direct them not to attend, or imply that their standing in the company will suffer if they do. (If for no other reason than that you might run afoul of the National Labor Relations’ Act ban on companies interfering with employees talking about working conditions with each other.)

But overall, I think the thing to do here is to try to figure out / understand why your employes would be interested in attending this type of party in the first place, and see what you can do on your own to address those root causes — rather than the party itself.

{ 152 comments… read them below }

  1. The Manager in Question

    I’m the OP here.

    I’m not so much interested in telling people whether to go or not. It’s not really my business. I’m more concerned that the tone of the party will affect the attitudes and morale of the people who do, especially the ones who still work here. (A couple of people have shown me the text of the original invite, and it definitely comes off as bitter and angry, and as though the people who are not losing their jobs are probably unhappy to still be here and should try to get out).

    We’ve done a lot of what you suggest. We’ve been had a lot of all-hands and one-on-one time to explain what is happening and why. And we have been candid that some things are still being worked out. The big-picture changes have been discussed a lot, and we’ve talked a lot about how it is going to take a while to work out the practical, day-to-day part.

    So, my big worries are that discontent will spread because of people who haven’t worked here in months or years badmouthing the company to people who are in an emotionally precarious place due to layoffs. And I’m also personally and professionally disappointed that someone I hired, trained and always tried to encourage and support has arranged such a thing in the first place. This person left here over a year ago.

    1. Aka

      I think you would increase discontent if you got involved in this situation more than you already are. If you place enough importance on the party that you bring it up to your current staff, it makes it a bigger deal than it is. And it would no doubt delight the person throwing it to learn that his/her doings were a big concern of yours. The only mentioning it would be do is make the story “Company X sucks AND they want to BAN people from coming to the party!” Don’t create more drama.

      One party isn’t going to make or break morale for anyone. It sounds like the company has significant problems on its hands to deal with. In fact, I’d say to stop having people tell you all about it and show the invite and all that – you’re already too involved. This is an activity hosted by a non-employee and happening off company time. It’s not your business.

    2. Friendships don't get laid off

      OP, one thing I would caution you against (not saying you’re doing this, but just as a cautionary tale) is developing suspicion about the employees you retain who remain friends with and continue to socialize with this ex-employee or those who are laid off. I was in that situation once–I remained friends with some rather bitter ex-employees, because I liked them, not because I shared all of their bitterness about my employer. But management seemed to view me as a liability or something, and it was evident on almost a daily basis that they no longer trusted me because I socialized with the disgruntled former employees. I liked my job, both the work and the remaining people I worked with, on the whole (of course no job is perfect). But as time went by, I felt increasingly alienated by the very apparent lack of trust, and the feeling that my employer was subtly trying to exert influence over who I choose to be friends with. I quickly became miserable and quit less than a year later. Several other people who were in my same situation–feeling mistrusted and over-scrutinized by management–also quit in the same timeframe. In the end, management’s paranoia did more to poison us against the organization than any bitching or snarking that may have happened when we went out with the ex-employees.

      Of course it’s reasonable to take precautions, but if you don’t trust your staff, they will be able to tell. It will come across not just in big things, like employees noticing they get reprimanded for more minor things than others, but in a hundred small things that happen every week as well. And feeling like you’ve been judged guilty-by-association is one hell of a morale killer–why bother to shine when management already has it out for you?

      1. Been There

        + 1 million. One of my best friends is a former co-worker who was laid off. We were casual friends when we worked together, but after she was let go she moved to my neighborhood and initiated a closer friendship with me, and we started hanging out. Her old boss found out we were friends and all of the sudden I got death glares from him & I was micro-managed.

        1. ChristineH

          Ooh I didn’t even think about friendships after a layoff. One good friend of mine is a former coworker. After I was laid off, we still kept in touch and even hung out a few times. She ended up leaving the organization a few months after me (for a new job)…she was pretty miserable there too, even when I was still there. Goodness, I really hope that our friendship didn’t make her experience there worse after I left :(

          1. The Manager in Question

            We have a pretty tightly-knit crew, and the industry we work in is also pretty self-contained in this area. I more or less take for granted that people are still friends with people who aren’t here anymore, for whatever reason.

            1. And if

              So, if you recognize that they are still friends with the people who are no longer there, and if the industry this is a standard pattern, then why be surprised, hurt or upset that a former employee thinks your company is a bunch of jerks for firing the former employees friends. Keep your nose out of the party. If it hurts you so bad that the party is going on, ask the employees who are showing you the invite to please stop gossiping in front of you as you were not invited.

      2. LL

        +1. I’ve seen this too many times. Why is maintaining a friendship with an ex-employee seen as company disloyalty?

        1. anon-2

          LL, when there are layoffs, even if times are bad for a company – there are POLITICS.

          I once worked in a company where they had layoffs – and – my best friend in the office was let go. He was angry. He punched out an old cheap cabinet, then brushed by me on his way out the door.

          Later that night, he called me at home to apologize, and of course, I understood, and accepted. He was embarrassed about the cabinet, I said I’d explain that. The next day I talked to the director = “About Tony….” … I said “yes, last night we chatted, he apologized about the cabinet.”

          The reply from the director “Why the hell would he be talking to YOU?” I explained, we had been friends for the two years we worked together, and we will likely be friends after this. What’s the big deal?

          There was an old “Happy Days” episode, where Richie, Ralph, and Potsie pledged a frat, and Richie made it and the other two were cut. Richie still was friendly with his old pals, which concerned his new frat brothers. “But, WE DUMPED THEM.” Richie replied to the jerks, “Well, I’m dumping YOU.”

          Some managers consider an affront – if this happens – employees remaining friends with former employees. I have seen managers attempt (badly – they weren’t good at it) a character assassination before or after a termination, but no one with half a brain buys into that.

          Then again, not all employees have half a brain… so that sleazy tactic might just work at times.

    3. BCW

      Hmm. Well first off I’d agree that you should stay out of it, you are already too involved in something that you shouldn’t concern yourself with.

      As for your hurt feelings about the person, you need to kind of get over it. This person may genuinely still like you as a person and respect you as a boss, but truly think the company sucks. Now I don’t know the details of why they left, but it sounds like this is a very real possibility.

      I had a job a couple years ago that I hated. I actually had a great manager who I still communicate with and would use as a reference to this day. But the company itself, if they went belly up now, I’d only feel sorry for the unfortunate employees there, but I probably would be somewhat happy and think they got what they deserved for treating their employees horribly. So maybe thats the issue here.

      Either way, its not your concern. Also, if people want to go vent, let them vent. As much as you want to try and be open to them, no one is really going to say everything thats on their mind at work. So if its at a party of a former co-worker, why do you care?

    4. Been There

      “(A couple of people have shown me the text of the original invite, and it definitely comes off as bitter and angry, and as though the people who are not losing their jobs are probably unhappy to still be here and should try to get out).”

      I would bet my bottom dollar the people who are not losing their jobs ARE probably unhappy that their friends and co-workers are getting laid-off. And common sense should tell them they SHOULD be looking for something else, because they have no idea if this is the last round of layoffs for awhile. This is true no matter how well your company is handling this.

      Exactly like someone said downthread, the party is not the cause of bad feelings, it’s a symptom. And I think you are taking this too personally.

      1. Kou

        “the party is not the cause of bad feelings, it’s a symptom”

        COMPLETELY agree. If people were all happy they wouldn’t find the party to be a funny idea; it’s not the party that’s going to cause low morale, it’s the layoffs and potentially the conditions at your company.

        OP, you seem to believe there’s not any good reason why any of these people should be unhappy, which makes me believe that they almost definitely do.

        1. The Manager in Question

          I never said people shouldn’t be unhappy. It’s a layoff. People are unhappy. That’s how it works.

          I also never said the company has no issues. Every company does. That’s also how it works. I work, as a manager, to minimize these issues and to clear obstacles from my employees’ way so they can do a better job. That is my job.

          The issue is that this person, who has not worked with the company for more than a year, is throwing a mean-spirited party that, in my opinion, further threatens the morale of people who are already having a hard time due to a large layoff, and the changes accompanying it. I wrote the original letter because I am genuinely concerned about my employees and their welfare.

          1. Kou

            I agree with AAM and what others have said that getting involved will only make any bad impact this could have on morale much, much worse. You’re definitely going to have to just let it go.

            But I’m wondering if maybe this would actually make some people feel better. Getting together and commiserating could potentially work out some people’s bad feelings in that environment, meaning they won’t then bring it in to work with them. For a lot of people, complaining is how they get bad feelings out so they can go on feeling good. I’m guessing most people who’d want to participate in such a thing are going to fall into that category– most anyone who would leave feeling worse is likely to not go because, I mean, why would they?

    5. Hari

      I agree with the comments that say stay out of it. Frankly I think you are taking this a bit personally. I see the party as a “F** the man!” type scenario more than them actually getting together to trash talk you as the manager or any other employees. Regardless if they are staying or the ones laid-off a reasonable employee will know you as a manager and your department are not the board or CEO of the company and cannot control layoffs. I do feel like the party is getting a bit unprofessional if its being blatantly advertised in office and openly discussed by employees (but if its hush-hush through the grapevine I don’t see the problem in it effecting stable employee morale).

      Also, I think there is a difference in badmouthing a company and badmouthing individuals within the company. Although neither is looked upon as professional, its a given during layoffs people are going to have frustrations about the company and probably already be discontented enough to badmouth it to their inner circles even if the outside person was not a factor.

    6. KToo

      Late to this post but OP how many layoffs has your company had? Reading post made me wonder if we worked for the same company. Your mentioning about a “large company” and “tight-knit” industry gave me deja-vu.

      Stay out of it and try not to take it personal. If this former employee still holds a grudge and wants to throw a party for soon to be formers, that’s his/her business. When employees are laid off, it’s just business right?

      I think your concern is more about your relationship with this former employee and if something will be said about you at this gathering.

      I highly doubt the party will further lower morale. Those that will still have a job will no doubt be glad they weren’t cut and business will go on as usual.

      1. The Manager in Question

        The company as a whole has had a number of layoffs in the time that I’ve been here, but it’s been a number of years since one has affected my team.

        I haven’t maintained a relationship with the employee. It’s someone I hadn’t even though about in months, so the still-nursing-a-grudge quality of it was kind of blindsiding.

        1. KToo

          It happens and sometimes it’s hard for people to let go of something negative in their lives.

          The main concern is to not let this party affect how you will continue to manage your department.

          Until you’ve been through a layoff – which can be a dark period in someone’s life – you can’t really understand what one goes through mentally and financially once that nice fat severance runs out and there isn’t a job lead in sight.

        2. Anonymouse

          I would imagine your company would not want you contacting a former employee about affairs concerning the company, under any circumstance. You could start your own internal sh*tstorm.

          It’s also none of your business. Think of that crap relationship your best friend had while you were in college…Yeah, you should have left that alone too, right? (Not that any of us did, but hopefully we are wiser now).

  2. LOLwut

    Perhaps it’s the cynic in me (okay, it’s definitely the cynic in me), but a company gets the employees it deserves. If a number of current employees are willing to attend a “My Company Sucks” party, it’s not a reflection on them, it’s a reflection on the company.

    So the OP feels the layoffs are necessary. Fair enough. But to expect morale not to suffer is completely unreasonable and unrealistic. Morale at the company is already in the toilet, with or without this party. So employees, who might already be demoralized, get to drink and whine and moan with their co-workers and former coworkers, or they’ll stew in silence. One way or the other, the morale problems will persist. This party isn’t a cause, it’s a symptom.

    I think there’s one of two ways to go, 1) File it under “S*** Happens”, see it for what it is, and let it go, or 2) Hold an open, honest (and really open and honest, not management definition of open and honest) discussion with the team about morale issues, layoff-related or otherwise. But to complain about one ex-employee’s lack of professionalism strikes me as petty and counter-productive.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      “a company gets the employees it deserves.”

      That is true overall, but it’s not true when it comes to looking at individual employees. A company could be fantastic, with a great culture and great employees, and still have a couple of bad apples. Happens all the time. A good company will get rid of those people, of course, but that’s usually not instantaneous. The presence of a couple of disgruntled employees (or in this case, one — who left a year ago) isn’t indicative of much.

      (And the fact that this one is still nursing a grudge a year later says he’s not a particularly emotionally stable person.)

      1. The Manager in Question

        OP again.

        I really may be worrying too much over it. The people who have mentioned it to me have been somewhere between baffled and affronted. At the same time, it has certainly been true that bitterness and negativity by one or two people has, in the past, pulled down the rest of the group. It’s upsetting for that to continue to be the case when the person doing the pulling hasn’t worked here in more than a year.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          It IS upsetting. And since you mentioned that the ex-employee is someone you’d helped professionally, you probably feel betrayed too. The best thing you can do, though, is to ignore the party and rely on your staff being smart enough to make their own decisions about your company. If you start seeing evidence of bad attitudes among them, you address that as its own issue — but wait and see how it plays out.

      2. LOLwut

        Absolutely, the ex-employee in question is out of line. But it’s obvious he’s kept in touch with his former co-workers, and I’m willing to bet he wouldn’t even think of hosting this party if a lot of his former colleagues didn’t think the same way he does.

        Questioning employees about this party before it’s even held, especially if it’s to warn them against going, strikes of “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

        It could be a few bad apples, it could be more than that. Either way, the OP needs to take a look at herself and her company first and examine what might have brought her employees to this point.

      3. Anonymous

        No excusing bad apples, but I would say that manager/higher ups tend to be a bit myopic about the situations at their companies.

      4. Kou

        “(And the fact that this one is still nursing a grudge a year later says he’s not a particularly emotionally stable person.)”

        I definitely agree that this is kind of a weird thing for them to do, but I wouldn’t go so far as to make this judgment. It sounds like that person still has a lot of friends at the company, and if my friends were having a bad time at work and/or getting laid off, that would bring up a lot of negative emotions for me even if I had never worked there before. This may not be ex-employee using an excuse to flaunt a long-held grudge and more a rather odd attempt at bringing everyone together to commiserate.

        1. Long Time Admin

          So many people have been laid off from my company in the last year +, that I’m feeling numb about the whole thing (over 35% of the people are gone). Individuals are still being let go, but not en masse. I guess that’s a good thing.

          I would not attend a “trash Good Old Brand X” party, mostly because I feel depressed enough already.

          1. Kou

            That’s actually relevant to what I said to the OP above– the people who would feel worse won’t go, and the people who would feel better will… Making it pretty damn unlikely that the party is going to ruin company morale.

  3. A Bug!

    It continues to amaze me how some people choose to nurse grudges for so long and so attentively. It must be such a miserable way to be.

    1. Jamie

      I was thinking the same thing.

      I would be completely and totally incapable of caring – much less putting this festering resentment into action. Who has that kind of energy…or attention span?

    2. BCW

      Its not really that bad. I will always have a bad opinion of my last company for various reasons. However its not like I sit around and stew about it all the time. I’m quite happy in my daily life. However, as I mentioned above, if the company went belly up, I wouldn’t be sad. I do still have friends who work there, and when they tell me how awful it is, I do chime in to agree about bad things. But again, having a negative opinion doesn’t mean I’m an unhappy person.

      1. A Bug!

        That’s what I meant by “nursing” and “attentively”, though. I’ve also had bad employers and I continue to hold a bad opinion of them, and if it comes up in conversation I’ll certainly say so. But again, like you, I don’t make a hobby out of those feelings and opinions. That’s the kind of thing I was thinking about – maintaining an active hate instead of moving on.

        (Is It Just Like Dating? Everybody, now: Yes, it is! That employee is the ex who, even several partners later, still Googles your name once a week and constantly drills your mutual friends for information about you, hoping desperately that you’re miserable.)

    3. KS

      Agreed! All the energy and time spend nursing a grudge could be better utilized gaining other skills or doing something more enjoyable.

      1. Mike C.

        Is a grudge a full time job or something? What kind of grudges are people holding?

        You can dislike something/someone without it consuming your entire life.

        1. Rana

          I think that’s the point, though. Having a lingering dislike of something isn’t the same thing as holding a grudge, really.

          There are a number of things that I have reason to be angry and/or bitter about, and if you ask me about them, I might start ranting a bit. But I’m also not going to seek out people to rant at, unprovoked, let alone through an elaborate party that seems guaranteed to make the wound fester even more.

          It’s like the difference between someone who responds sarcastically in comments to a blog post on Topic A, and someone who sets up their own blog solely for the purpose of being sarcastic about Topic A.

          (Do I speak from personal experience… well… *slightly sheepish expression*)

  4. Lisa

    The layoffs should be the biggest morale concern, not a former employee’s reaction to them. There is nothing, aside from perhaps the CEO being dragged out of the office in handcuffs by the FBI on child molestation charges, more demoralizing than living in layoff land, even if you’re not someone whose job is in peril.

    1. beware of falling axes

      +100

      I once worked at a place where over a period of about six months, the all-staff list received a surprise “today is Bob’s last day” email, usually sent shortly after the person was escorted out of the building so there was no time to say goodbye. Because the company handbook required a long formal process before firing someone, it wasn’t like we were expected to be hit with the ax unexpectedly ourselves, but we never knew which coworker was going to suddenly fall victim. It was just too many firings in too short of a timeframe. The workplace felt toxic and fragile at the same time, and nearly everyone not in management was on edge.

    2. Long Time Admin

      That happened in my home town! Although I think he was arrested at his home. Nevertheless, it was national news.

  5. AnotherAlison

    I feel like Michael Scott would probably hold a competing party at the same time and try to get everyone to come to his party instead.

    1. A Bug!

      The theme to his competing party would also be “This Company Sucks”, because Michael Scott’s goal would be to show his employees that he hates upper management just as much as they do.

  6. Hmm

    To the OP:

    No offense. But butt out. Seriously. You didn’t lose your job so you really don’t know how it feels for these people. Sure, you may feel bad for them but YOU did not lose your job. Get it?

    If you expect people to be loyal to a company that has treated them badly, even years ago, you are a little bit misguided. If this same company lays you off tomorrow, will you still feel loyal to them? And rush to their defense? I doubt it.

    The reason why there is/was bad moral is because the company was not treating their people right. Not because some “bad apple” was brainwashing them.

    To the person who said: “The layoffs should be the biggest morale concern, not a former employee’s reaction to them.” +1.

    1. Jamie

      I don’t think the OP said anything about expecting loyalty from the former employee.

      She seems to get that it’s a rough time for her company, but wanted some advice on an admittedly weird situation.

      It’s weird that someone who hasn’t worked there in a year would host a fete with the theme of trashing a former employer.

      She seems to be trying to be aware of how the layoffs are impacting her staff and was unsure of her role, if any, in addressing a situation people keep bringing up with her.

      I think the situation is strange enough that it’s perfectly normal to want a reality check.

      1. Mike C.

        I don’t think it’s strange at all. If they’re all friends anyway, and the one person had a particularly bad experience and has the means to throw a party for a bunch of soon to be out of work friends, how is this strange?

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      @Hmm: You have a lot of assumptions in your post that don’t seem to be based on the OP’s letter — that the company treated this ex-employee badly, that the OP herself has never been laid off, that she wouldn’t feel loyalty her her staff if she herself was laid off, and that the company hasn’t treated people right. None of that was in the letter.

      Guess what? Some good companies have the occasional disgruntled employee. Some good companies go through layoffs. Could you cool it with the black and white thinking? Being blindly anti-management without any facts is both naive and unhelpful.

      1. BCW

        I didn’t read it as anti-management, but moreso the fact that she isn’t going through these things that the people losing their jobs are. So while she can sympathize, she can’t empathize with them. Even if she has at some point been laid off, its not happening to her now. So she shouldn’t be so upset that people aren’t taking it as well as she is, since she thinks it will all work out for the best. Yes, for her it will work out, but not for these people with no jobs. And Hmmm never said she wouldn’t be loyal, just asked. Yes it was in a tone where you think you know the answer, but he never accused her of anything.

        You have posted this before how it sucks for a manager to fire people. And I believe that if they are a decent person, its not a pleasant experience. But its not nearly as bad if you are firing the person as if you are the one being fired.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Of course — there’s no comparing the two.

          But I am really put off by comments like Hmm’s that make negative assumptions that were nowhere to be found in the letter (like that the company treated this ex-employee badly and that the company hasn’t treated people right) and clearly just come from their own black and white, unsophisticated, bitter world view. That kind of thing is toxic.

          1. Hmm

            I don’t think having a different opinion than you (or anyone) should necessarily be labeled as “toxic” or immediately invalidated. To me, not understanding that people have different experiences, even at the same company under the same manager, is the epitome of simplistic thinking.

            In my own experience, as neither an HR employee nor a manager, I have more often than not been treated badly by the companies I work for, especially if layoffs are concerned. Your experience is clearly different.

            In my opinion, a large part of being a good manager is realizing and understanding that people DO have very different experiences and opinions when it comes to work. And good managers are understanding of this, even if they do not agree with it.

            On a side note, the reason why I got the impression that there have been problems at that office was because the OP said: “some of which tie to morale concerns that went on while this person was still here”. Perhaps I am wrong, but that, to me, seems like there are issues deeper than this “bad apple”.

            Frankly, I have met very few disgruntled employees who did not have some reason to be upset (barring, of course, those who were actually mentally ill.)

            OP: Why not have a competing party on the same night for people who support and are happy with the company? That should tell you pretty clearly which side they are on.

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              There’s dissent here all the time; that’s not the issue. I truly believe that this particular perspective is a toxic one.

              “Not understanding that people have different experiences, even at the same company under the same manager, is the epitome of simplistic thinking.”

              Well, yeah, that’s exactly my point. Assuming that you know that the employees were mistreated and the employer is in the wrong here, when there’s no evidence to support that, is a prime example of that kind of thinking. You’ve had or heard about that kind of thing, so you’re assuming it’s happening here; that’s baseless.

    3. The Manager in Question

      The person arranging this party was not laid off, but left for another job voluntarily more than a year ago. I am not perfect, but I consistently tried to be fair, supportive and encouraging and to give this person opportunities for enrichment and job satisfaction.

      And, no, I don’t know how it feels for the people who were laid off. Yes, I still have a job. But if the company laid me off tomorrow under the same severance terms that were extended to the people we lost, I would feel that I was treated fairly and that the company tried to do right by me. That probably sounds like spin to you, but it’s a question I asked myself more than once before and during breaking the news to people I hired, trained and worked with for years that their jobs were going away, and in talking about the reorg to the people who are still here.

      1. BCW

        I think at this moment you really believe that if you were laid off today, you would think you were treated fairly etc, but I can almost guarantee that if it actually happened you’d have different emotions.

        And like I said earlier, this isn’t an I hate “jamie” (or whatever your name is) party, its a “this company sucks” party. Again, you need to be able to separate yourself from the company.

        1. Been There

          “but I can almost guarantee that if it actually happened you’d have different emotions.”

          +1

          Your mind is in such a state of denial when you get hit with this that it’s weird the stuff that bothers you about how it happens and what other people say about it. I never would have predicted how I would feel until it happened to me.

          1. Ellie H.

            I can 100% see both sides of this. I can absolutely believe there are people who, having been laid off, would still feel loyal, sad about the situation but not vitriolic, and understanding. I also absolutely believe there are people who *think* they would feel that way and then totally don’t. The gulf between having a job and not having a job is instant and huge. I was laid off this summer (and then rehired) and it was one of the worst feelings ever, even though I love, love, LOVE the place I worked (and now again work). I felt extremely negatively toward the organization and like a pall had been cast over all my past experiences with it. Now I am happy again and so thankful to work here. People are extremely adaptable, in multiple directions.

        2. Ask a Manager Post author

          There actually are plenty of people who felt their companies treated them fairly when they were laid off, you know. It’s perfectly feasible.

          It really lacks maturity to be angry at a company that had to lay you off, unless that company was mismanaged or abusive to people. Many layoffs are very understandable — think of all those organizations that had to lay off swaths of their staffs after Bernie Madoff, for instance. They didn’t deserve a shitty, vitriolic party like this.

          1. The Manager in Question

            I’ve also been working long enough to know that no job is a guarantee, ever, even if the company has never had a layoff before. And having been on this side of it now, I know someone can say “this isn’t about your performance” and have that be an absolutely true sentence.

          2. Anonymous

            Would those be organisations whose leadership lacked the vision to diversify their funding sources enough to ensure that the loss of one income stream didn’t threaten their existence?

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              Fine, then let’s use charities that were decimated by the decline in philanthropic support when the economy went south. Or should no one ever hire anyone because economic conditions might change and they might have to make cutbacks?

              Jobs get cut. It’s part of running a business, sometimes. If you’re going to blame the employer every time, you’d be better off not working for someone else and running your own business instead. (But don’t hire anyone, because you’ll never be allowed to let them go if you need to.)

              1. K.

                Or non-profit that lose govt funding or companies that lose a big contract. It’s unrealistic to say that companies are always at fault for laying people off

              2. Blanziflor

                Well, if job cuts get blamed on the economy being bad, presumably improvements in a couple of years will be credited to the improving economy, and not to the organization itself?

                That’s certainly a view to take, but I don’t believe that every organization has either gone bankrupt or undergone layoffs in the last four years. Some have evidently managed better, and I think it’s fair to ask what were the management failures in those that did do either of those things, as opposed to accepting the mediocrity of “it was the economy.” After all, one would assume that an organization does not pay its staff to be average.

                I would suggest that losing government funding or a single big contract both come under the GP’s contention of a failure to diversify income streams.

                1. Ask a Manager Post author

                  Then do you also want to judge the employees for failing to to realize they were working at a struggling company and getting out earlier? There’s a point at which this becomes a paternalistic belief that companies should treat employees like dependent children rather than like business partners.

                  (Also, you sound like you have no experience with nonprofits, which are often dependent on limited income streams. Should nonprofits never accept government funding because politicians might later cut it? Or never accept large donations from philanthropists who might not continue re-upping that money forever?)

                2. Hmm

                  @Ask a Manager

                  “There’s a point at which this becomes a paternalistic belief that companies should treat employees like dependent children rather than like business partners.”

                  But, in a way, employees ARE the children of companies because it’s a totally unfair power dynamic. I, as a single employee, do not have nearly as much power as my employer. Thus, thru no fault of my own, I am relegated to a child-like subservient role, whether I like it or not. If I was a true business partner, then I should have more equal power, but I don’t.

                  Secondly, if companies and managers would be honest about the state of the company, employees then could make better decisions about their careers and realize they are at a struggling company.

                  But let’s be honest. Most companies don’t do that! They keep most bad news hidden from their employees for fear of hurting the morale, depressing the stock price, or inciting mass resignations. I have never heard a company say: “Well, folks, this ship is sinking. Get out while you can!”

                  So to scold employees for not “managing their career better”, while they are stuck in an unfair power dynamic and being (often) mislead by the company they work for about the true state of things, is just another way to blame the victims.

                3. Jamie

                  @Hmmm

                  “But, in a way, employees ARE the children of companies because it’s a totally unfair power dynamic. ”

                  In no way are we the children of the companies for which we work.

                  I owe my children security (financial and otherwise). That is an obligation I made when I brought them into this world. Their happiness and conversely their suffering matters far more to me than my own ever will.

                  My employer owes it to me to come through on the negotiated terms of my compensation and I owe it to them to provide results to the work they hired me to perform.

                  Sure, they could end this relationship at any time. So could I. But as long as the relationship makes business sense for both parties it will continue.

                  Yes, there is an uneven power dynamic between the employer and employee – but it’s not paternalistic. In a practical sense your employer doesn’t owe you anything except to treat you in a manner which doesn’t violate labor laws, to pay you all accrued income and benefits. That’s it. The truth is most employers go way beyond those paltry measures and provide more than that – but people do themselves a disservice to feel entitled to a lifetime of income from a single employer.

                4. Ask a Manager Post author

                  I’m not advocating scolding employees for not knowing — I’m saying that’s the logical extension of that commenter’s argument (which I disagreed with).

                5. Anonymous

                  Then do you also want to judge the employees for failing to to realize they were working at a struggling company and getting out earlier?

                  There’s certainly that element to be considered too – why stick around a company if you already know it’s in trouble.

                  Should nonprofits never accept government funding because politicians might later cut it? Or never accept large donations from philanthropists who might not continue re-upping that money forever?

                  Of course not – but the leadership should acknowledge that they are taking on a risk, and they might end up on the losing side of it, rather than just “blame the economy.”

              3. Ask a Manager Post author

                Many nonprofits had donation streams that looked perfectly solid but which changed when major donors’ portfolios took a hit in 2008. This was pretty widespread. It’s always a risk to count on donations to fund your work, but without that, there would be no charities.

        3. Jamie

          Hey – I thought only my former co-workers threw “I hate Jamie” parties.

          Seriously, though I’ve re-read the OP’s letter a couple of times because some of you are reading something I’m just not seeing there.

          I don’t see where this is that personal for her. The strongest word she used to describe her feelings was ‘disappointed.’ She understands that the lay-off’s are necessary, but feels concern for those losing their jobs as well as those who remain at the company.

          I’m kind of surprised this post is contentious – since it seems pretty reasonable and dispassionate to me.

          1. The Manager in Question

            I think there are people who think that I care about whether people go to a party, or who they socialize with outside of work. That’s not it. I’ve been working hard to maintain the morale of my staff during a very difficult time, and to make sure the people who are losing their jobs are OK. Who people hang out with or what they do in their free time isn’t my business or my concern.

            My concern is what Monday morning could be like, on the first day with a much smaller department that has lost old and beloved colleagues, if some of the people reporting to work got an earful of “war stories” from a disgruntled person who, based on having thrown this party, is all too happy to try to undermine what we are doing … as well as for the people who may have gone to the same party and don’t have a job to report to on Monday.

            I don’t even assume that anybody who might go to this party is against the company. There are lots of reasons to go, from wanting to connect with old coworkers to wanting to blow off steam to just not wanting to sit at home on a Friday night. Or wanting to see how crazy a “let’s badmouth the company” party might be.

            1. perrik

              Honestly, I wouldn’t worry so much about it. Yes, the former employee is holding some weird grudge (have you kept in touch with this person in any way, or did s/he just leave and cut off ties?). Yes, there will be much steam blown off at this party, and mob mentality may result in many crude jokes about how horrible and awful the company and its management are.

              And then your employees will return to work on Monday and get back to work. Sensible people – and you do hire sensible people, right? – will judge the company by its actions. They will judge you by your actions. You are communicating with them. You are trying to be understanding about their perspective. You sound like a good boss. That counts for a hell of a lot more than one evening of drunken rants.

              You said: ” The people who have mentioned it to me have been somewhere between baffled and affronted.”

              They understand. They’re puzzled as to why this former employee is doing this. They’re probably not alone in this. They’ll probably find something more interesting to do that night. If they can’t, I could use some help with the laundry.

              Actions speak louder than rumors.

            2. anon-2

              If it really, really bothers you — really truly worries you, why not do what one of my employers did? I wasn’t fired, but my manager at the time had a weird sense of curiosity. So he tried to get a woman (mole) to attend a party at my friends’ house. Problem was, she wasn’t invited and didn’t know how to get there, so that plan fizzled otu.

              Find someone in your organization who you think you might trust, and ask them to be a “pipeline to the almighty?” — that is, if they’re invited, have them go to the party, and ask them to file their report with you on Monday morning? What happened – who said what — who drank what — etc. etc. and go forward?

              OH – you don’t wanna do that?

              Then follow plan B. Let it go and move on. This former employee’s party, and his invite list, are none of your business. Don’t make it your business.

            3. Lils

              Managers naturally develop a certain amount of care for their employees and investment in how well they do. So “disappointed” is a normal reaction to this bizarre party and irrational grudge. I don’t think it’s “paternalistic”.

              There is only so much you can personally do to maintain morale. It seems like you’re taking the correct steps to assist everyone involved. Just as in personal relationships, you do what you can, but you can’t change negative people into positive, hopeful ones. You can’t give the laid off workers security and hope for the future. You can only make the best of a bad situation.

          2. BCW

            She did imply that it was personal because of how well, in her opinion, she treated the former employee who is throwing the party

        4. LOLwut

          +1

          I got laid off from a job about three years ago. I’ve just applied for a different job with the company (I am, thankfully, currently employed). And why? Because even with the layoff, the company was a good place to work that treated me fairly.

          If people are getting an obscene severance from the company and they’re still resentful, that points to issues beyond the layoff, and ones the OP either isn’t aware of or hasn’t addressed.

          And I’ll bet anything that if the OP was laid off, she’d be singing a different tune. I’ve seen it happen.

    4. AB

      “The reason why there is/was bad moral is because the company was not treating their people right.”

      Hmmm… I do not agree with that. Layoffs sometimes are crucial to save the business (and save many jobs in the process). My current company is doing layoffs as we speak, and everybody is getting many weeks of salary and 2 weeks notice. I think it’s perfectly fine (a friend who was let go less than a month ago already found her new job). The same way people may decide to leave their jobs, companies may decide that a person’s role is not needed. This may be bad for morale, but doesn’t mean the company “is not treating their people right”.

  7. Mike C.

    I’m really creeped out that the OP cares this much about the party, or the level of professionalism of a person they don’t have to deal with.

    Also, your followup comment –

    So, my big worries are that discontent will spread because of people who haven’t worked here in months or years badmouthing the company to people who are in an emotionally precarious place due to layoffs

    really bothers me. Do you hire people that are so emotionally unstable that a single party is going to completely ruin morale in a way that mass layoffs have not? If these changes are as good for the company as you say they are, the badmouthing of a single individual won’t stand in the way of it.

    Complaining about the professionalism of your current, former and soon to be former employees based on who they spend their time with off the clock really comes across to me as exceedingly paternalistic. They’re getting a little drunk and blowing off some steam in private. It’s not your business nor is it your concern.

    You have enough things to worry about to spend time or energy even thinking about this party.

    1. The Manager in Question

      Of course we don’t go out and hire a mass of unstable people. But as everybody keeps saying, layoffs are hard on everyone, whether they’ve lost a job or not.

      As for why I care: I hired and trained this person. So there is a part of me that, in spite of having witnessed and tried to address an increasing level of bitterness on the employee’s part, is naturally asking myself: What kind of manager must I be, if someone who used to work for me would do this?

      I’m pretty sure this is because I’m human.

      1. AnotherAlison

        I think your former employee is kind of cool to care enough to throw a party for ex-coworkers and friends who are going through a hard time. He’s giving them an outlet to blow off steam after their soon-to-be-crappy day.

        One possibility is that the bitterness of the text is not his real feelings, but more hyperbole to commiserate with those losing their jobs.

        I worked for what I’d call a heartless company, but really liked my last manager. It would never even cross my mind that he would take it personally if I said to other former coworker that Big Company sucked. No reflection on him, just the big heartless corporate machine we all worked for. I don’t think you should take this personally.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          I was actually going to mention big companies vs. small. If this is a small business or a nonprofit, this type of thing has a nastier feel to it than if it’s a big company.

          1. Small Nonprofit Employee

            However I currently work at a small-med nonprofit, and I wouldn’t be surprised if former, or current, employees planned a “I hate that place” party. We haven’t had any so far, but there were definitely going away parties (on personal time, not company sponsored parties) that had an air of that sentiment.

            Nasty? Maybe. Reflective of how management handles the employees? Definitely. I’m not proud of this reality, but it is a reality.

      2. Been There

        It may very well have nothing to do with you personally or how you managed her. I was laid-off from my last job, but still have friends left in what is a toxic workplace environment (not to say that yours is, though). When they tell me stories of stuff mgmt still pulls there, I get upset on their behalf.

      3. Mike C.

        I’m sorry you feel that way, but not all hires work out, even under the best of managers. Unless you acted in a malicious manner (and I presume that was the farthest thing from your mind), it’s not your fault.

        Like I said earlier, you have way more important things to worry about than this party.

  8. Joe

    Nothing like a redundez-vous to help everyone blow off some steam – airing negatives views is a key part of the healing process

  9. ChristineH

    I’ve only skimmed through the responses at this point, but I just want to say that I really appreciate seeing things through the eyes of a manager who seems to show genuine concern about the morale of her employees following a layoff.

    Alison’s advice is on the mark. It is definitely weird that this guy still seems to be holding this strong of a grudge a year later, though.

  10. Brett

    If the OP’s company wants to buck up morale, they need to do it by re-earning the employees trust. I find companies often seem to be oblivious to how they talk about their employees, as if they’re inventory in a warehouse. I got a hint of that from the OP who didn’t say something like “we’re losing money and have no choice but to lower our expenses to stay afloat” but rather a bland “we’re reorganizing” which just suggests they’re just trying to make more money.

    Of course that is a point of a business, but it also doesn’t make employees too happy to know that they’ll be laid off not just out of desperation but also out of convenience. An example: large company, reorg, lots of people losing jobs…Hewlett Packard. Could even be the OPs company. Yes, they truly need to reorganize. They are not losing money though, and their issues are due to years of mismanagement. Employees are not going to be happy knowing that their profitable employer might lay them off despite good performance..

    I’ve always wondered why companies undergoing layoffs don’t put into place some policies or programs to improve things for existing programs. How about better recognizing the achievements of employees? How about reforming a dysfunctional process or eliminating red tape that frustrates employees? Add a more friendly policy for flexible work. Etc. I’ve worked for great companies that still had low hanging fruit that would improve morale without any real cost.

    Give and take works better than just take!

    1. The Manager in Question

      That’s not the right conclusion in this case. It was a bland “we’re reorganizing” because at the core it wasn’t about money. It was about changing the direction of the company and how we do business. An unfortunate consequence of that much-needed change is the loss of people’s jobs. And I was also trying to obfuscate the details, as I imagine most people with sense do when writing here.

          1. The Manager in Question

            Changing direction doesn’t mean that new jobs were created, or that there were open positions within the company to put people into. Retraining people doesn’t do any good if there’s not work to train them to do.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          It’s not always reasonable to retrain people. If you’re laying off all your, say, event planners and focusing more on legal work, you can’t train your laid-off event planners to be lawyers. That’s an extreme example because I’m tired, but the point should come across.

  11. Been There

    Just out of curiosity, the LW found out about the party “through the grapevine” and then a couple employees showed her the invitation? Is it just me or is that *also* rude and unprofessional? If I got an invite like this, I would never show it to someone who wasn’t invited, much less my boss. I can understand having a “Wtheck?” moment but I don’t understand what the LW’s employees hoped to gain by telling the LW? Did they want her to be hurt or mad? Did they expect her to stop it in some way?

    1. BCW

      I was wondering that as well. It seems like they are trying to suck up. Although if there are mass layoffs happening around them, tha may not be the worst idea ever.

      1. Been There

        I think you are probably right, to make the LW knows they are affronted they reaffirm their loyalty.

    2. Bobby Digital

      I agree that it was out of loyalty…a really twisted, misguided form of loyalty.

      If something like this came up, I’d want to protect the people to whom I was loyal, not run to them with it, because they’d probably feel bad about it and confused by it, and neither of those things would be good for them.

      It kind of reminds me of the “friends” in middle school who would really loudly say things like, “He said he doesn’t think you’re pretty.”

  12. Anonymous

    OP, I think you are way to worried about factors that you have absolutely no control of, and any attempt trying to stifle this party or to even have a response to it would cause more harm than good. You would go crazy trying to decipher this former employee’s motives or the reasons that your current employees would want to go to this party. Let your employees choose to attend or not attend, but remain confident that you are doing the best you can to make your impending layoffs occur as smoothly and painlessly as possible.

    I had a rather heartbreaking rejection from a company that I really wanted to work at not long ago. The first thing I did after getting that rejection e-mail was to pack my gym clothes, boxing gloves and a mouthpiece, went to my local boxing gym and punched the bag hard, lifted heavy, and did intense conditioning until I almost puked for about two and a half hours. Does this make me an angry, violent person? No, I just needed an outlet for my frustration. Maybe that is what the employees who are going to be laid off need. No, you’re not doing it out of ill will, nor are you doing it as a means of being cruel, but we are human, and people need outlets lest they bottle everything up and have it explode at an inappropriate time.

    Let it go, and keep doing what you’re doing.

  13. Mimimi

    The party is not the cause of the low morale, it is a result of it.

    If people are attending this party, then morale is already in the toilet. And the reason morale is so low? Oh yes, the mistreatment and layoffs.

    Laying people off is a minor headache for those making the decision and delivering the bad news. They shrug and say “It really couldn’t be helped, it is for the best, so sorry, good luck!” and go on with their lives. It is a life changing, horrible event for those receiving the news – something they will have to recover from, and that may take years. They could face losing their homes, not having medical insurance (for themseleves and their children), bankruptcy and much more. If you’ve never been through it youhave NO IDEA what it is like.

    The OP is “disappointed” in the person throwing the party, and concerned that it is “unprofessional” and will “spread bitterness and discontent” among those still working there? I am sure the experience of being laid off/unemployed is going to be worse than anything the poor OP has to go through because of this party.

    I don’t think there is any way the OP could address this with anyone without it coming off as insincere, patronizing and self-serving.

    1. Hmm

      Thank you for this. As someone who has been laid off several times, I feel like it almost always goes like this afterwards:

      Boss/HR Person who does the laying off:
      “Gosh, that felt bad. Poor Bob, he was crying. Man that sucks. I feel terrible.”

      A day or so later:
      “Hmm… what’s on Facebook? Where should I have dinner tonight?”

      Person who got laid off:
      “Oh my god how will I pay my rent? What about my kids? My house? My car? My mortgage?”

      Except the difference is this…

      A day/month/week/year the person that got laid off is still worried and the person who laid them off has long since forgotten. I find it hard to believe any company or manager of mine lost much sleep over any layoff.

      1. Mimimi

        You’re welcome. I am sorry to hear about your multiple layoffs.

        Real harm is done to people when they are laid off (whatever the official “reason” for it), and this fact is often glossed over by those who are doing the harm.

        1. Jamie

          They are painful and life changing – and they suck. There is no question that in a perfect world good employees would never get laid off.

          But sometimes if you don’t lay off some then everyone is out of work. There are times a business just can no longer support it’s payroll. I don’t know why you put the word ‘reasons’ in quotes – but few employers lay people off unless they have to. There are often real reasons and sometimes the reason is revenue is down and they are upside down on labor costs.

          I’m of the belief that a company should do all it can to avoid this scenario – and if the problem stems from bad management then imo the people who caused the problems should go first…but sometimes it really is just that the economy went south and the customers just aren’t there right now.

          That doesn’t absolve them of the obligation to do as much as possible to help employees transition – but sometimes harm is inevitable. Sometimes you have to sacrifice the leg to save a life…and sometimes you need to lay some people off or an entire company closes it’s doors and everyone is out of work.

          1. I think

            I think the reason the poster put “reason” in quotes is that it is usually some very weak reason. I’ve never seen a company do layoffs as a last resort. None of the companies I have worked at have ever cut my bosses salary or bonus to save one person from getting laid off. Nor have they moved to cheaper office space. Nor have they instituted job sharing. Nor have they asked the other employees to take a 5% pay cut. Nor have they been OK with less profits. etc.

            So, for companies to think a laid off person believes it really was the last resort, is kind of insane.

      2. Ask a Manager Post author

        Wow. Then you have pretty limited experience. There many employers who do layoffs as a last resort and are devastated by it. I’m not comparing it to the impact on those who are laid off, but you’re accusing an awful lot of good people of being pretty horribly callous. If you’ve built something from scratch, possibly devoting a good piece of your life to it, and see it start to fail, yes, many people are indeed devastated by that. You’ve clearly dealt with some callous people, but that’s far from universal.

        1. JT

          Yes, my organization had layoffs and it was very hard. Obviously hardest on the people who lost their jobs, but very hard on the people who made the decisions. In fact, one of our senior managers laid herself off.

          We gave generous severance and recommendations to the laid-off staff. And our CEO took a pay cut while staying on. Times were tight.

  14. nyxalinth

    Are the layoffs due to outsourcing? Some people do react with excessive bitterness when the layoffs are due to the jobs being sent overseas. Even so, this seems a bit excessive to me.

  15. Not So NewReader

    OP, I agree with the overall idea here of “let go of the party.” If it were me, I would question the motives of people who told me about the party. Probably I would not find any true motives except shock value.
    In all likelihood, these employees have been together before now and have done some company bashing. I see people all around me doing this on a regular basis. I suspect there is very little new ground to cover on this topic.
    And I am kind of thinking that either 1) not many will show up for the party and/or 2) they will have other things to talk about and quickly forget the party theme.

    I had a reverse situation. I had a boss throw a party. I got the idea of what it was going to be like and I did not want to go. I dreaded Monday morning like you are saying. The whole thing melted away into a non-issue. What a waste of my energy.
    This is one of those times where it is really tough, OP. Stay focused on the job and the work place. Do your best everyday. Avoid talking about the party as much as you can. Your lack of investment in the topic of the party will help the topic to die a normal death. Probably the Monday after will be a non-issue.

    People will do what they will do. To me, a party like this would be the last place I would want to be. My off-hours are my time out from all that workplace stuff.

  16. Rob Bird

    I was part of a mass layoff in 2008 and several people that were laid off with me did this very thing. They kept trying to get me to go to these, but I thought it was more important that I focus on finding work and not get on my work reference’s bad side.

    I can understand the reasoning to do thing (part of the greiving process I suppose), but after that amount of time, and you’re not even part of the layoffs? Get over it dude.

  17. The Other Dawn

    OP, I agree with others that said you’re taking this party too personally. Just let it go. It’s going to happen whether you worry about it or not. Don’t worry about something you can’t change. And the partygoers are presumably adults who can make their own decisions. If some of them get sucked into the negativity and start bringing others down along with them, are they really people you want working for you anyway?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Agreed. Don’t expect it to cause problems, but if it does, then you can deal with those problems. But it’ll be about those problems, not the party.

  18. Elle

    Maybe people are reacting against the “shocked and disappointed” tone, which is classic passive-aggressive-parent-with-poor-boundaries-talk. The manager may think of herself of “one of the guys” and “we’re all on the same team” but people are allowed to be annoyed and irrational even, when losing their jobs. They don’t owe it to her to live up to her personal standards.

    And I doubt the theme of the party is “I hate company X”. I bet it’s some injoke about some particularly hated aspect of the company culture (jeans fridays or something) which is now being lampooned. My guess is that the people showing OP the invitation are trying to curry favor to protect their own jobs. They’ll probably be there anyway, OP! And, yes, I’m sure they say nasty things about you behind your back. But that’s life. And you can’t control it so I’d let it go. These people are not your friends.

    1. The Manager in Question

      While I can see that interpretation, that wasn’t my intent. The person throwing the party did not lose a job, but left voluntarily for another position, after being unhappy at my company, regardless of what we and I tried to do to make it better, for some time. The shocked/disappointed tone comes from the fact that I hired, trained, and mentored this person and offered opportunities for interesting and self-directed work. So the tone of the invitation feels like a professional betrayal of me and the work I did as a manager, in addition to a jab at the company.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I completely understand why you feel that way, but you’re better off just chalking it up to the fact that some people are asses. They just are. This guy clearly is.

      2. Anon

        I don’t really get this. He clearly did not like working for you. How is his continued negative feeling toward the company shocking in any way? It’s immature to have a party with that tone in the invitation, but it’s also a way to signal camaraderie with his former co-workers (who, it should be noted, he probably feels a little funny about since he had the “privilege” of leaving voluntarily from a job he didn’t like, while they end up getting laid off). The fact that you’re taking this semi-personally (i.e. in a professional way) is what people are responding to, I think. I also got a sense from “shocked and disappointed” that you were more or less this person’s Sad Dad Who Doesn’t Understand Why He Keeps Making These Destructive Life Choices. Who cares? He hasn’t worked for you for a year. His “betrayal” of you, again, by being mean about your company when he clearly did not like working for that company, is deeply and profoundly not your problem. Then the concerns about remaining-employee morale start looking like cover for these other, more personal, less rational issues, and then it starts looking passive-aggressive. And when you start looking passive-aggressive, then your employees may start thinking of you as a manager they can’t trust to be reasonable and rational. (“If OP feels so strongly about X when he hasn’t worked here for a year, is OP going to penalize me under the radar for socializing with him?” etc.) Then you may actually have a problem on your hands.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          I think you’re right that the OP needs to stop thinking about this, but I don’t think her concern is passive-aggressive. If you find out that a group of your employees are off bashing the company on the weekend, of course that’s a concern.

  19. Tim C,

    Seems quite a few are given credit for this quote or something similar. However it seems to fit well.

    “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”

    At one time I had quite a bit of bitterness for a former employer. We did not have lay-offs but one common “glue” which held us together is how horrible the management was. I would never throw it, but I could see such a party happening. I found it almost therapeutic venting after I left but found it was difficult to move on with my new, and much better, job. I had to let it go.

  20. Steve G

    OP – I wouldn’t be so worried. How long can a I-hate-my-company party go? I worked for one of the worst (*erizon), and walked out because all of the corp BS came to a head in one day when I couldn’t get to work because they closed the road right ahead of me to carry a boulder over the highway (yes, just like a bad movie)….and I often commiserate how bad it was, but for like 5 minutes. I give people a few funny stories from it, but no one wants to listen to someone complain about it for more than a few minutes.

    So I don’t even think the party really will be a I-hate-xxx company, even if they want it to be. They will complain about the company for a while, then have a normal party. Just like any group of coworkers will do anytime they go out for dinner or drinks or wherever.

  21. KarenT

    OP, I think the fact that your employees showed this to you shows what kind of manager you are– I don’t think anyone would share this information with a boss they didn’t respect and trust. I also think it’s great you care so much sbout morale.
    I think your employees showing you the invitation could mean they don’t want you to be blindsided if you hear about it later and that they don’t want you to think of them as co-conspirators. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them are just going to support laid-off friends but don’t actually agree with philosophy of the party. I have a friend who was laid off from the company I work for now. She is constantly bashing my boss and employer (I think both are great) but I let her vent because she needs to. I know lay-offs can be bad for morale, but those kept on are probably experiencing gratitude and relief mixed with any of their negative feelings.

  22. EngineerGirl

    To the Manager in Question:
    I hate to say it, but several of the things you said just don’t add up.
    You state that you took great care to help ex-employee, but they were “often unhappy while here, in spite of our best efforts. ” Something is wrong here. People may get unhappy in a job, but bitter? What generated this kind of animosity? You said that you saw this happening, but you don’t know why? Did you never take the time to find out why someone has gone beyond unhappy to bitter? Or did you simply write them off as an unhappy person that was impossible to please? (which still doesn’t account for that kind of animosity)

    Later you state: “So, my big worries are that discontent will spread because of people who haven’t worked here in months or years badmouthing the company to people who are in an emotionally precarious place due to layoffs”
    Wow. It really sounds like you are scapegoating the former employee for the bad morale. Do you honestly believe that an ex-employee has that much power over morale? I mean, really? I’m sorry, but if there is bad morale, it is being generated by the company, not ex-employee. And since the low morale has continued long after ex-employee has left, I think you need to own up that ex-employee was not the source of it. If they were, it would have left with them. It is time for YOU to take ownership of what is going on in your team. Ex isn’t the source of it.

    In short, I think you aren’t being honest with yourself about the situation or the source of the low morale. Stop blaming others for the situation. They are clearly a symptom (not the problem) of something far deeper. I suggest you do some deep soul searching before you lose some of the people you want to keep on the team. Why is ex bitter? Why are people so down? You need to start some open dialouge so you can fix the problem.

    But stop blaming Ex.

    1. The Manager in Question

      I’m not going to discuss the specifics of this employee and have deliberately avoided doing so. Number one, it’s not professional. Number two, I don’t want to add “and then my old boss trash-talked me on a blog” to a list of imagined or real grievances.

      There are plenty of times that companies do their best to make an employee happy and simply can’t. Imagine, as a hypothetical, someone who negotiates a third week of vacation while being hired, but somehow feels entitled to getting a fourth after a year of work. Giving that person a fourth week of vacation would break the company’s policy, affect the rest of the team negatively, and mess up the workflow of the department. A reasonable person would take this in stride after someone explains it reasonably and compassionately. Not everyone does, though, and sometimes people who have this mindset continue to spread resentment because of this and other imagined slights, as well as real issues that for whatever reason have not yet been effectively addressed.

      When one person in a department is finding so many imagined griefs, or focusing so strongly on real ones, it can affect the morale of the rest of the team, even if they are happy in their jobs. So I think it’s normal for a manager who hasn’t thought about that person in more than a year to be upset and shocked when it resurfaces.

      The fact that this invite to a party bashing the company came to the work email addresses of people who still work for me, in my mind, made it my business and a work issue, not just a personal issue to get my nose out of.

      1. Anon

        You really think that having the email come to work email addresses (when, in all likelihood, they didn’t come through those addresses as a further “f*** you” but rather because those are the addresses he had) is what gives this issue enough of a nexus to make it a work issue and not a personal one? Again, I’m seeing boundary issues.

        1. The Manager in Question

          Respectfully, we are not going to agree on this. My concern about 40-some people, most of whom either currently report to me or have reported to me in recent memory, receiving an invitation from a disgruntled former employee to a party vilifying a company during a time as difficult as a large layoff, is not a boundary issue. Nor is genuinely wanting the best for people who used to work for me in their professional lives, regardless of whether they were “perfect” employees while working for me. Nor is feeling stabbed in the back by the petty actions of someone I hired, trained, encouraged, and tried to treat fairly and respectfully for a period of years during a formative part of their career.

          1. Andrew

            That you would even think to use the phrase “stabbed in the back” is an indication that you are taking all of this much, much too personally. For your own mental health, (if for no other reason) just LET IT GO!!

          2. BCW

            See you keep saying you aren’t taking it person, but saying stabbed in the back is the epitome is taking something personally. I use that term if there is a friend who betrays me. If its just some random person who screws me over, thats not stabbing me in the back.

            Not trying to personally attack you, but I really do think you are in denial about how personally you are taking something that really isn’t personal.

            Why is it so hard for you to separate someone’s feelings about you to someone’s feelings about the company?

  23. I think

    “I’m not going to discuss the specifics of this employee and have deliberately avoided doing so. Number one, it’s not professional. Number two, I don’t want to add “and then my old boss trash-talked me on a blog” to a list of imagined or real grievances.”

    OK, but isn’t that sort of misleading towards the readers of this blog? You are trying to get our opinion on a situation, but giving us only 50% of the information. Probably the information that puts you in the best light (as most people would). So there will be people that will defend you to the end, only to realize that you might not be 100% truthful. Had they know the full story, they might not leap to your defense so eagerly. That’s not fair.

    “When one person in a department is finding so many imagined griefs, or focusing so strongly on real ones, it can affect the morale of the rest of the team, even if they are happy in their jobs. So I think it’s normal for a manager who hasn’t thought about that person in more than a year to be upset and shocked when it resurfaces.”

    If a person at my job had imagined issues, or demanded unreasonable special treatment, I would think that person is nuts. I have worked with people like that, and have just written them off as crazy. They have not impacted my morale at all. If they had real issues, and these were actually addressed, it would also be something that did not impact my morale.

    So I am just wondering, either this person must be 1) amazingly charismatic to potentially sway so many people, or 2) there is something missing from this story.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Eh, the OP is perfectly reasonable in holding back identifying details, which a lot of people here do for understandable reasons. Details on the nature of this guy doesn’t really change the upshot (or my stance, or I imagine most people’s stances). What he’s doing is obnoxious, regardless. And it’s nothing she can/should do anything about, regardless.

      Could we, by the way, stop attacking the OP and accusing her of things that aren’t in the letter? I understand that a lot of people have visceral reactions to the layoffs piece of this, but the OP has sounded nothing but compassionate and reasonable, even if you differ with her on some specifics. She wrote in asking for opinions. She got them — but she doesn’t need them to be given in the tones some people have been using with her.

      1. EngineerGirl

        I’m having a problem with the OP claiming it isn’t personal and then using personal terms such as “backstabbing”. The OP has clearly made this personal with Ex, which means there are boundary issues. Also blaming Ex for all the morale problems when they aren’t really in a position to influence. I do think the OP isn’t being honest with herself and therefore the problem will be impossible to fix. The OPs inability to just let this go is turning a minor perso ell issue into a major one.

        1. The Manager in Question

          At this point, it’s feeling like I need to defend myself on the Internet from nit-picking about word choice, vitriol, and negative assumptions about me and my company that are the problem. So that’s what I’m letting go.

          Thank you, Alison, for printing my question, and thanks to people who have offered thoughtful advice without reading layers of intent, judgment and presumption into what I asked.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Sorry you had a bad experience here, OP! This is one of the few cases where I feel like commenters here were unfair to someone. I’m sure it’s because layoffs are such as loaded topic for people (clearly), and it’s also something that’s really hard to see from more than perspective if you’ve never managed a large team or an organization.

          2. BCW

            Not to pile on, but honestly word choice does give a bit of insight into your true feelings.

            Respectfully, I don’t think anyone at any point said you were a bad person or even a bad manager. People said you maybe aren’t being compassionate or are taking things too personally.

            But, again, not trying to attack, based on how you are taking these comments to heart, it makes sense that you are taking this party personally.

            Good luck

        2. Anonyme

          It doesn’t matter whether the OP is taking the situation personally or not. What matters is how she handles it at her job, and that is what she asked about. If she follows AAM’s excellent advice, she will be fine.

  24. Bobby Digital

    I know I’m late to the party (har, har), but I feel compelled to comment because it seems like emotions ran high in some of these reactions.

    My mom, who is a school principal, just dealt with a somewhat-similar situation (no layoffs, but a new program that left some employees disgruntled and wanting to vent at a get-together led by a really negative former employee). I know I’m biased, but she is, at the very least, a competent, concerned, compassionate leader. At work, she has on her professional face, but, in private, she does occasionally take these things personally.

    Most of these readers seem to agree that it’s very, very difficult for an employee to not take a layoff personally. Possible? Yes, definitely. Likely? No.

    I don’t understand, then, why there seems to be so much criticism towards a manager who takes a work issue personally. Just because she comes home and dwells on it does not mean that she doesn’t sublimate it while at work. (Note: it really is best to try not to take this stuff personally, but it happens to really great, really professional people all of the time. They just don’t let it affect their work decisions; from the sound of it, that’s something you already know very well.)

    Also, though I agree that the OP absolutely shouldn’t and can’t do anything in response to this issue, I disagree that it’s none of her business. Her employees made it her business by bringing it to her. (I’m actually surprised that there weren’t more comments critical of those employees; why would you do that to a respected manager? And, yes, I’m assuming that they respect her because, in all likelihood, the ones who are/were disgruntled wouldn’t broadcast their slamfest, out of the same paranoia and frustration with authority that caused them to be disgruntled.)

    In my mom’s case, the employee who informed her about the slamfest was someone who had a history of immaturity and drama; that employee’s goal was most likely to stir the pot.

    I think all of this bickering over semantics is really misplaced. It is very possible (and common) for people to be upset by something but not allow it to affect their work or their professional decisions. To me, the ambivalence in the OP’s responses reflects this very thing: she has unfortunately been hurt by this, but is most interested in dealing with it in a professional, logical way.

    My mom didn’t do anything in response to her situation, save for grinning and bearing it while at work and beating herself up about it once she got home. The “party” happened, there were a couple days of snark from the likely suspects, and then it blew over. That’s what most likely will happen here, OP.

    One more thing: I’m sorry that so many of you have had unfortunate experiences with layoffs; layoffs suck for everybody. As I said, it’s best to not take it personally, but very difficult to do so. Still, I’d imagine that most of you handled it professionally at the time and would continue to handle it professionally now, if asked about it at a new job or in a new interview. Try to keep in mind that there’s nothing hypocritical about that – it’s actually the best answer in a difficult situation.

    1. The Manager in Question

      I said I was going to let this whole discussion go, but this comment is really too good not to reply to.

      It’s fantastic to hear from somebody who has seen a similar situation and to hear how that person handled it, and refreshing not to have a normal emotional response criticized as “taking it personally.” When you hire people very early in their careers and work with them for a period of years, doing your best to be a manager who is assertive and direct but also compassionate and fair, giving them creative, self-directed work to do and positioning them for new opportunities either at your company or elsewhere, having them later on do something that seems intended to damage you and your company is upsetting. Doubly so if it also seems from its wording as though it will be damaging to your team as well (whether that was the intention of this party or not, and whether those who choose to attend the party caught that particular tone from the invite). It’s absurd to think it wouldn’t be upsetting, even if you already knew the person in question had been unhappy working for you in spite of your best efforts.

      I haven’t commented on the people who talked to me about the party because I can’t really do it without someone familiar with the situation being able to pick out who was who. But I don’t think anyone at work who has discussed it with me had anything brown-nosey, malicious or underhanded in mind. One definitely brought it to my attention out of concern for the health of the department.

      I have no idea who is or isn’t going to the party. I’m not going to think about it until the day of the party has passed and my remaining team is back at work, and then only if there seems to be snark, bitterness or worry that wasn’t there before.

  25. anon-2

    One thing is certain.

    The guy/gal holding the party did accomplish the mission as intended.

    It irritated The Manager in Question enough to rattle his/her cage and elicit bad vibes, and disturb The Manager enough.

    “Mission Accomplished.” Not that the mission was a good thing, but think about it. The former employee got The Manager in Question’s goat and set him/her off.

  26. party on...

    Social events related to work can be tricky. It makes me feel better someone else has had this type of situation. I sometimes wonder if I should have handled it differently when an employee hosted an event the night before our official event and many folks just chose to go to the unofficial one. I thought it was a very devisive action on her part, and at times I wonder if I should have tried to merge the two. Since I wasn’t even invited, it didn’t seem like a feasable thing to do.

  27. Juni

    Can you go into a little bit more depth about this?

    “(If for no other reason than that you might run afoul of the National Labor Relations’ Act ban on companies interfering with employees talking about working conditions with each other.)”

    I’m super interested in how this particular thing applies to the workforce in general. What does this mean for non-union companies and employees? What does it mean for professional employees versus laborers?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      People generally think of the NLRA as being all about unions, but in fact it protects non-unionized workers’ rights to organize too. It gives workers the right to discuss pay and working conditions with each other, which means that employers can’t restrict employees from sharing their salaries with each other (even though they often do, and get away with it since so few people realize this about the law). There are some exceptions, but they’re pretty limited.

      More here:
      https://www.askamanager.org/2012/02/can-my-company-prohibit-me-from-socializing-with-coworkers.html
      and
      https://www.askamanager.org/2012/01/can-an-employer-require-you-to-keep-your-salary-confidential.html

  28. Juni

    Maybe this merits its’ own question…

    What does “discussing working conditions” mean? Does it mean that among ourselves, we can discuss candidly our challenges as a workplace, onsite but not on the clock? Offsite? On the clock? What is protected and what isn’t? Where does the law draw the line between protecting our right to discuss our working conditions and a big ol’ bitchfest? (I’m not saying I’m looking to be protected when I have a big ol’ bitchfest with coworkers, but I feel like good managers should know where to draw the line, and I’d like to be that good manager one day!)

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      They can prohibit you from discussing it during times that you’re supposed to be working (just as they could prohibit you from talking sports while you’re supposed to be working), but they can’t prohibit it aside from that.

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