should I lay off myself instead of my team?

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I’m writing because for the first time in my managerial experience, I’m facing a crossroads that I’m really just not sure I can rely on myself to be objective about. I work for a large, private enterprise in a legacy industry. We don’t make goods, but rather we’re a service business. As happens in legacy businesses, we are often managing a great deal of decline. I get that, and it’s nothing new. Our industry is wracked with news of layoffs, consolidations, closures and churn as the pie shrinks and people scramble to rebuild for the digital world of 2020.

For several years, going on over a decade now, I’ve been a people manager. And I haven’t always been good at it but I worked really hard to get myself to be good at it. Although my undergrad degree and my role are both rooted in the creative industries, three years ago I entered business school and got my MBA, my managerial crowning achievement. Although I always have had a nose for institutional politics, B-school gave me tools that really formalized this for me and I learned to recognize distinction and dysfunction much more plainly. I grew my “informed intuition” into a series of clear, tangible criteria to measure the work I do and the work of my team.

I strive to be fair, objective, transparent, accountable and a high-performer. I expect the same of my team and they are one of the highest performing teams I’ve ever had the pleasure of managing, and spin circles around most of our division or similar ones in the company. And while I’ve tried to set the stage for my team to succeed, I’ve done this fully aware (as are they, for the most part) that the organization I do this within falls much further down the ‘dysfunction’ end of the spectrum. As the primary insulator, my people appreciate what I do for them to keep the barbarians at the gate, and I take personal pride in creating the conditions for them to succeed and to contribute to our business’s success on a daily basis.

And we are successful. In 2020, our division is on track to be a big net contributor to the corporate business’s bottom line. I don’t know the details but expect that most divisions have not been so fortunate, and I recognize our business and our industry is under siege, like so many right now.

So it didn’t come as a surprise that my boss told me our division was facing the prospect of headcount elimination. In fact, every time the economy teeters, our parent company lays people off. It’s not uncommon for our industry to react this way but our leadership is always particularly aggressive. I’ve been there 6 years and had twice as many bosses in that time. It’s a roller coaster. The company also tends to keep folks for decades or just a couple years. People like me who have been there more than 3 and less than 20 are highly exceptional to the norm.

What’s different this year about the layoff prospect is that I’m being asked to lose a head. And even though I basically run a cost center that doesn’t have a direct revenue-generating function, we contribute a great deal to the bottom line, all of us working long hours because we enjoy the work and the people we make it with. So I’m devastated by the idea of cutting someone in the midst of a pandemic where they will likely struggle to find work. Moreover, I am really at a loss to begin thinking about how I absorb all of the work back Into what will be left of us.

So now I’m beginning to think quite seriously about extricating myself as the solution. Firstly, I make the most, and by a decent margin, over anyone else in the group. I would definitely save the team from taking further losses. Secondly, my job is largely strategic and managerial these days, rather than in the weeds of making and execution (though I pull my fair share of that too). I tend to be the bridge between our front line revenue team and the doers, but that bridge could be reestablished with more senior leaders taking some of the lift and dealing with my folks directly. They’ll lose out on my beautiful mind but they’d totally be fine.

The other option involves losing one of my high performing contributors who are all busting their butts to deliver in the midst of this crazy crisis. No matter how I slice it, without at least a doubling of my budget (to hire permanent freelance support), we‘ll be inundated with work and I expect much will fall by the wayside. I’m morally opposed to rewarding this hard work with a pandemic layoff but beyond that I’m also just so certain if we lose one of the team, I’ll be back to doing their job for them and my job will Fall by the wayside. But if I go, sure, there will be some impact but nothing like the tsunami of stuff we‘ll inherit to do.

Is my personal view and care for these people stopping me from making the right business call to layoff someone on my team? Or do you think I’m at least partially right, in assessing my own position as one that should be on the table (leadership already flatly turned down any entertaining of it, but I’m tempted to push again.).

Would you lay you off before sacrificing your team if you thought the sacrifice so detrimental that it will ruin your high performing team and turn it into a place where service goes to die?

Readers, have at it in the comments.

Read an update to this letter here

{ 209 comments… read them below }

  1. Boof*

    Yeah op, tell them you can’t lay anyone on your team off, it will make the bottom line worse, not better, and if they insist you’ll volunteer for it! Do lay out your case for a layoff being bad for revenue with as much data/ figures /etc as you can, and keep going up the chain as high as you can if someone says no at first

    1. Beth Jacobs*

      It’s a nice sentiment and maybe worth a shot, but OP is asking whether to do A or B. I’m not sure your option is realistically on the table.

      1. Daffy Duck*

        My first thought was LW should fight back also. Point out how your employees are going above and beyond already, and removing a person is going to impact productivity and long-term goals. It may also start turnover as overworked experienced employees leave for better conditions. Please point out how expensive it is to hire and train new staff and it may take several to find the right fit.
        The less than 3 and more than 20-year tenures sound like it is already highly dysfunctional and most leave as soon as they have some experience under their belts.
        If the business insists on downsizing, it does sound like your position would have the least immediate impact. When you find a new place I would suggest reaching out to your old colleges whenever you have an opening – sounds like they may be looking soon also.

      2. EventPlannerGal*

        True, but OP does also say that their management has already refused to consider laying them off. It seems to me that since that option is going to involve pushing back against a leadership decision anyway, they may as well try pushing back in a way that doesn’t involve them losing their job first?

      3. Boof*

        I am mostly bringing it up because it sounds like OP is considering it anyway. It’s worth clearly showing the company why it’s a bad idea (given OP’s description of a high performing, revenue generating team that seems to be on the chopping block due to an ill thought out reactionary move at the whole organization level). If the company is persisting in such bad moves and is the sinking ship OP describes, perhaps best to jump off now and then OP can devote themselves to full time jobsearching for a better place

    2. It is a big deal.*

      I think this is a good solution. It is effectively laying off themself if they’re not able to succeed at pushing back. Realistically, sounds like either option is terrible because either way they lose strategic management, so pushing back as hard as possible, and if that doesn’t work, bow out, feels like the best way to not be complicit with something that’s bad. And be transparent with the team if you leave so they know what you were thinking.

    3. Beth*

      It sounds like OP has already made this case and their higher-ups have continued to choose to lay someone off in spite of their efforts. If they haven’t, or they think it hasn’t been heard in full, of course they should give it a shot! But realistically, there are times where a manager simply can’t shield their team from upper management’s choices; the decision to lay someone off may well be final.

      OP’s only choices from that point are 1) what’s best for their team, and 2) what can they personally live with carrying out? What’s best for their team (which, from the sound of it, is going to have a layoff no matter what OP does) is arguably to keep this dedicated and caring manager on their side. But if OP wouldn’t be able to live with themselves if they laid someone off mid-pandemic, and if their situation is one that has some financial leeway, it’s possible that this is an issue they’re willing to quit over. That’s okay if it’s the choice they make, but they should make it knowing it’s for their own needs, not because it will somehow magically protect their team.

      1. Boof*

        By what OP describes I was thinking it’s as much for OPs sake as their team. If the company is slowly failing and forcing OP into bad management decisions, perhaps best to jump ship and search for a better company. That is, of course, predicated on OP being able to afford it etc etc (I am not sure of the logistics of severence packages, unemploment, etc that might be negotiated depending on how this actually plays out ie quitting vs “laying themselves off” or whatever though).

      2. Artemesia*

        But putting their job on the line raises the issue again –it may be that they would understand the damage laying him off would do and reconsider. Of course only do this if ready to accept the consequence and if he thinks he has a reasonable chance to find employment. And if they do reconsider, he would be well advised to ramp up the job search since they. might postpone but bad things are coming.

    4. Boof*

      OP, if you do want to stay in this company and you have to pick someone, I guess have a transparent talk with your team and see if anyone is already out the door; maybe they can negotiate a nice severance package. Make it clear to the powers that be you are going to drop whatever things you need to drop to ensure the remaining members don’t take on even more work. If no one seems the best choice for a layoff, then I guess it has to be whoever is the least vital, if that’s something that can be discerned.
      But seriously OP start job hunting.

      1. Code Monkey the SQL*

        That’s absolutely what I would do.

        OP, you sound like a caring, dedicated individual. Your standing at the gate has enabled your team to be successful, and I bet your employees know that. Let them have some input as well – it may be that they do not want to work there without the security of a manager like you, or maybe they’ve got things going on that make a layoff less painful than you’re imagining. If nothing else, transparency is going to hurt a lot less for them if you choose to leave.

        And do start looking as well. You sound like a manager I’d love to have.

      2. Sloan Kittering*

        I’m also not sure: if OP chooses themselves to be laid off, does that mean they would be essentially resigning, meaning not getting severance and the shot at unemployment? If a laid-off employee is going to get unemployment and you’re not, I think it’s too much to sacrifice yourself.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          if OP chooses themselves to be laid off, does that mean they would be essentially resigning, meaning not getting severance and the shot at unemployment?

          It could. There’s also nothing stopping the company from laying off one of OP’s employees anyway after she left. I get what the OP is thinking and believe it’s a nice gesture; however, logistically, this may not play out the way OP thinks it will, which could end up hurting the team even more.

    5. Lauren*

      Also, negotiate them skipping your team for the next head count drop since your salary would equate to 2 salaries of the team.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        Sure OP can negotiate for that, but realistically they will have no leverage. The company can promise to skip their team, but once OP is gone it won’t matter. The company might intend to keep their promise, but if this is a declining industry by the time the next round rolls around things might be different. It seems right now all they can do is delay the inevitable to avoid it.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          Yup – this. Once OP is gone, that company can and will do whatever they want, promises be damned.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        yeah, like they’re going to stick to that, OP won’t even be around to hold them to it.

  2. Colette*

    Some questions to consider:
    – have you pointed out that your team won’t be able to handle its current amount of work with one less person, and that everyone on your team is high-performing? Maybe you have and the decision stands, but maybe they just haven’t thought it through.
    – if your job includes insulating your team from the dysfunction around them, they may leave anyway. (That’s not your problem, really, and they’d be doing it on their terms, but it’s something to consider.)
    can you lay yourself off, or are you in a different bucket?
    – you’ve mentioned that your team would struggle to find a new job; are you prepared for a long period of unemployment (both financially and from a mental health perspective)?
    – how marketable are your skills?

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      To me, the second one is the critical one. OP, if you leave, will your team become exposed to all the dysfunction and leave anyway?

      In the end, it sounds like this is not a company / industry that you (or they!) should stay in. The skills and accomplishments you’ve listed should transfer to other industries, and the MBA gives you an easy, positive talking point for switching. I’d see how long I could hold off a layoff for my team and start job hunting.

      Best of all: If you get out, you can start poaching your old team…

    2. Public Sector Manager*

      I’d add to this that the company may not save the OP’s salary, benefits, etc.. If they promote one of the team to OP’s job and salary, the company is only saving the team member’s salary and not the OP’s salary. To the extent that the OP is motivated to leave because of their salary savings, it probably won’t happen that way.

      1. Cj*

        Yep. If the team needs a manager, it needs a manager, whether it is the OP or somebody else. It’s hard to tell from letter how long the OP has been with her current company, other than somewhere between 3 and 20 years. If she’s only been there a few years, it could very well be that they person they promote into her position would be paid as much as her. And if they need an external hire to get the same skills, they may have to pay more.

      2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        Yes — reducing the OP doesn’t necessarily mean reducing the OP’s POSITION.

      3. Not A Girl Boss*

        Yes. I think LW is vastly underestimating the importance of their job. Sure, managers contributions don’t feel as tangible, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t essential. What happens if you take a week off? How does the team get on? Who steps in? What would happen if that ballooned to a month? Who would manage interpersonal conflict? Approve time off? Coach performance? Advocate for the team?

        There are definitely occasions where a team is incredibly strong/senior, and a manager who is 50% tactical and 50% strategic works out well. But no team can be 100% without any kind of strategic management long term.
        I once worked on a really high performing team with a very average manager, where the manager was promoted and a new one wasn’t assigned for 9 months. In the meantime a senior member of the team stepped in to do the bare minimum – payroll and the like. It was a complete disaster. The team went from one of the most productive in the company to the least and many people abandoned ship.

        1. snoopythedog*

          Yes, I feel like the OP thinks if they leave, someone will just take over their role, maybe as an f-you to upper management who has to step in. But in my experience in dysfunctional organizations, upper management doesn’t step in and just assumes the team doesn’t need a manager or doesn’t need that much attention. This leaves the team to flounder with no one to protect them from the shit-storm raining down from above and no way to advocate for themselves as a team.

          1. Virs*

            “Floundering” definitely describes my experience last year of being on a team without a manager for 6 months, though my workplace is of the “everything by committee” dysfunction rather than terrible management so there wasn’t a shit-storm thank goodness.

            We’re the only technical team of (at the time) three people with almost zero overlap between roles. We each had a different interim reporting line, and we kept the company going without anything breaking, but any and all development/improvement came to a complete halt once we’d taken on everything our former manager had been doing. Since my new (fantastic) manager has been in his post we’ve made leaping advances in technology and processes that definitely wouldn’t have been possible with no one running the team. Though I got stuck absorbing most of one teammate’s job when he left the week before my new manager started, so my “actual” role has been even more stripped back for the last year and a half. I don’t even know what that “actual” role is any more!

        2. NYWeasel*

          I manage a team of high performers and while I like to say that they do “all the hard work”, in reality, their competence allows me to really focus on strategic and procedural stuff which in turn frees them up to produce more. So it’s not a one sided arrangement. They need the support I provide and the interference I regularly run to enable them to be high performers.

      4. TooCold*

        Exactly what I was about to post. My friend was in this position several months ago — being told that someone on his team about have to be laid off. He was thinking of early retirement at the time the lay off potential was expressed. He chose early retirement in large part thinking that his team would be spared. Guess what? They were all laid off and they are actively recruiting for his position. No one was saved by his decision.

        (Note that he would not want the job now because the clear expectation is that his former position will do the work of an entire team, but that’s a different story.)

    3. SeluciaMD*

      I came here to basically pose these very questions! I think there are some pieces of this puzzle that either the OP has and we don’t, or that they haven’t sought out yet. I think perhaps the most important ones the OP needs to ask of their company are:

      – What is the company’s plan to manage or address the workload issue that losing a person will create? Make sure they understand what your actual workload looks like and what it will look like – i.e. what will not be doable, and what those impacts will be – if you lose a team member. Sometimes companies realize they need to cut people to cut costs but rather than evaluating WHERE those cuts should be made, they think the “fair” thing to do is to ask each department or group to make the same cut. But oftentimes that is a serious mistake! If your department is very busy and your workload has increased with the pandemic, there are possibly other groups or departments who are in the opposite place – and which might make them a smarter place to take two cuts because that’s a place where a reduction in business more directly shows up. Layoffs suck no matter what but flat reductions vs. strategic reductions tend to hurt the company in the long term and undermine their ability to weather this kind of challenge. They may not agree, but I think it’s worth elevating to your decision makers.
      – As @Collette said, is reducing your position even an option? It may not be something that is even on the table so despite your willingness, it might not be the solution you think it would be.

      I do not envy you this decision OP. I wish you all the best during this difficult time! You sound like an awesome person and manager so I hope you can find a good solution to this problem.

  3. Library Lady*

    I think an important thing in this situation is to consider what work life will be like for the members of the team who remain after someone is laid off. Will they be better off with having one more person available to do the daily work, or will they be better off with a manager who insulates them from the dysfunction of the company, who supports them and celebrates their success, who seems to genuinely care about them, and who is astute and aware enough to consider eliminating their own position for the greater good? Personally, I would rather take on more work to compensate for a lost colleague than to lose a manager like that. Good managers are hard to find, and you sound like you are one, and I don’t think you should lose sight of how incredibly important that is to the people on your team and the team’s success.

    1. Andrea Joy*

      I was thinking the same thing – if OP is one of the main reasons their department is so successful, it’s logical to believe the department will struggle without them in the lead. I would rather have to lose one high performer than essentially set up the downfall of a strong department. My other suggestion (I’m keeping in mind there seem to be no winners in this scenario) is for OP to possibly volunteer to take a pay cut? If OP is willing to get laid off and have NO JOB, then maybe they are willing to at least make less $ in order to save the department?

      1. cbh*

        I was thinking the same thing about OP being one of the main reasons for success. I feel like the higher ups would be shocked (and maybe not even considered) if OP left. If and only if it is your choice to leave, do you have a second in command on your team that you could train / give ideas for success to? If it is necessary to cut someone I’d definitely float the idea of a paycut for yourself/ department? I feel like this is a case of upper management not realizing what OP does and the damage it would cause if the team was to be cut.

    2. AthenaC*

      That’s a good point. OP – is it possibly a good idea to sit your team down and consider collaboratively how to handle this? Who knows, maybe the team agrees they don’t want to lose you and one person was already thinking of leaving.

      Just thinking out loud- not sure what the total dynamic is with your team.

      1. Weekend Please*

        I don’t think they should approach it as collaboratively making the decision. This is the OP’s job and it isn’t fair to put that pressure on others, especially if it is essentially pressuring them to quit. Maybe it could work to let them know that someone on the team is going to be laid off to give them a chance to start job hunting. The only time they should really be asking for potential volunteers is if there is a generous severance package to make it more of a win-win possibility.

      2. Anonym*

        I think you could do this if you have a firm plan of what to do if no one volunteers, especially if that plan is for you to move on. Of course, pressuring anyone to take it to stave off the alternative wouldn’t be great. The goal would be to see if there’s anyone who genuinely would like to take the layoff (assuming a good severance), which is best case scenario. My partner recently did this – they knew layoffs were coming and so were already job searching and interviewing. The severance wasn’t huge (3 months salary), but enough that we celebrated, and when an offer came shortly after, it was pretty exciting. Definite YMMV situation, though.

    3. it's me*

      This is an excellent frame to view things from. Re the comment about a pay cut below, would the company be willing to reduce people’s hours (with the understanding it will take longer to get things done)? And would any employees want to reduce their hours? I’ve seen everyone go down to 4 days / week when an organization needed to tighten budget, which seemed like a very humane and egalitarian approach.

      1. TardyTardis*

        Only if the workload goes down to 4 days a week, too–we’ve seen from other letters that sometimes people get paid for 20 hours and are forced to work 55.

    4. Lady Meyneth*

      Exactly this.

      OP, let me share a story with you. About 5 years ago, I was in a smallish (under 100) consulting company when the economy turned sour. We were a team of 12, and my manager was incredible; I honestly don’t think I’ll ever have a better manager in my carreer, he was that rare unicorn. He was also our insulator, and protected us from much of the company’s dysfunction.

      When he was asked to cut someone, he had your exact thought process. Our team was all high performers, we were basically carrying the company’s revenue, it wasn’t fair for one of us to be unemployed. OTOH he had mad skills and reputation, great savings, his spouse has a high paying job too, he was making more than the rest of us, etc. He figured he could weather unemployment (and he could, he got a new job inside a month).

      I was still laid the same week he left, because the C-suite wanted at least one cut on each team “to be fair” (!), and managers are their own level and not fully part of the team. And, since he wasn’t there to protect the rest of the team, they scrambled like ants and all but one left the company as soon as they could find jobs. Being great performers, they all found jobs inside that same year even with the crisis. So had I when they called a couple months later to beg me to take my job back. It was a stampede, and the company itself went under in the next year.

      So consider this: if you want to leave, because you’re tired of your company’s processes, feel put on the spot, want something new, whatever, then go for it. That’s your right and everyone will manage. But if you’re simply trying to protect your team, honestly this isn’t the way, your team will just be that much more miserable while they try to get out.

      I’d sugest you show the upper levels that your team is bringing in more money than others, and try to reverse the layoff orders. Also, talk as openly as possible with your team about what you’re seeing. But if the layoff stands, I don’t think just picking yourself is the way to help.

      1. Chinook*

        This is the perfect example of Collette’s point #3 – your salary/position may not be considered within the same bucker, so your sacrifice may not only be redundant but may also cause more damage even in the long run.

        It is very possible that the C-suite has decided that they need to layoff X number of employees and want to spread the pain across the company so no one department is devastated. We can debate whether this is good or bad but it is irrelevant to your current position. If they are not open to the idea of hour reduction which leads to a X% of salary increase or to your argument that includes “if I layoff one person, we will no longer be able to complete both X or Y, so which project would you like dropped,” then you have to make a choice about who to layoff ,which is, unfortunately, one of the reason you make the big bucks.

        In that case, you need to look at this from a business perspective and look at the positions, not the humans. I believe this is the most fair thing to do because it does not allow for relationships and personalities to colour your choice. On paper, which position could you lose and successfully have their work absorbed by the other positions? Look at the written job positions and see which makes sense. If they are all the same, then it it is time to look at individual performance. Who is the least efficient or has the most errors – you want tangible measurements based on past performance. You may not feel better about it, but at least you will be able to have a concrete reason for your choice if someone asks you for one.

        But it still sucks.

      2. serenity*

        I tend to agree with this. There’s no guarantee that management won’t lay off another member(s) of OP’s team if they leave.

      3. Sue*

        They’ll probably just hire a replacement who has to come in an lay someone off without your experience and insights to do it optimally.

    5. Seeking Second Childhood*

      My dirty lens is that ‘take on more work’ option is not always practical — OP will know whether the department is already doing overtime, for example. Or worse, just hitting the high priority deliversbles and skimping on project closeout because of a no-OT order.
      There’s a point where the contributors start job hunting, and i fear that whichever choice OP makes they may be there.

    6. Meg*

      This is what I came here to day. OP, do not for one moment underestimate the impact you’re having on your team. My boss/VP of my department left (on her own terms) early in 2019. Despite a 2 month notice period, the leadership of the organization did nothing to facilitate any transition, and then essentially left us adrift for the rest of 2019. They didn’t even start to hire until late in the year, and the new VP started March 2020. 2019 was a miserable, demoralizing, unproductive year. We were able to keep the department afloat, but it was incredibly hard without leadership and without anyone having our backs. In the day to day, there’s only so much I can do when my work is overlapping with other departments, and I don’t have the authority to make them do things differently. I can’t express enough how much better it has been this year when something comes up, and I can say my piece and then my boss can back me up. I can voice my opinion to, say, the director of IT, but as a VP she can tell him how to proceed (or at least put her foot down when it matters).

      And that’s not even touching the whole insulate us from a dysfunctional organization piece. I knew my org was fairly dysfunctional, but I didn’t realize or appreciate how much insulating my old boss was doing until she was gone.

      1. Meg*

        meant to also add: my department was technically being supervised by other execs. It wasn’t great. They didn’t have an understanding of what we did, and obviously were more concerned with their actual departments needs and work. They were also more hands off, which would have been ok in the short term but was pretty shitty in the long term.

        1. Someone*

          Yeah this is what I was thinking as well. Who is going to lead this team? I have years and years (too many years lol) of building dysfunctional back up, and I will 100% all the time GOOD managers make the team. YOU, OP, are making this team thrive. What will happen when you leave? It sounds like your boss or another boss will have to take on that burden (because someone has to manage them) and will know little to nothing about what they do.

          Layoffs suck. People will start jumping ship. Your team is probably already casually looking. This will likely push them harder – but you leaving cannot save them.

    7. Janon*

      Agree whole heartedly with this. Good managers are huge. I have never really left a job, I’ve left the people I report to. My current role has become busier and I had to take on more work after a shuffle. That part I was fine with, but it was who I now report to that I have an issue with. Seriously consider if that would be a bigger loss to them that it would be to take on more work. I keep saying I will take on the more if it keeps me in a job right now and they may have the same thought process. Extracting yourself may expose them more and if there are further cuts that need to be made, they lose their advocate.

    8. Always Late to the Party*

      This is what I was thinking too. OP staying and laying off a time member may be a better option for the folks who are left.

      Only bad choices here – isn’t that 2020 in a nutshell…

  4. triplehiccup*

    I think you’re making the right call. Maybe if you threaten to resign if they force you to lay someone off, they’ll take your offer seriously? If they need your beautiful mind so much, maybe they can use you occasionally as a consultant?

      1. Perfectly Particular*

        I don’t think laying yourself off is a viable option. Your management will likely see this as a resignation rather than a layoff, and will still layoff someone from your team, while bringing in a new manager. So now those that remain will be doubly screwed.

        I think you should operate on the assumption that you will be forced to lay someone off, make your selection based on whatever objective criteria you have available to you (newest to the team, lowest performance rating, most transferable skills, etc), and then make the case to your management that this is the person you would let go if forced, but clearly and objectively outline the expected impact to your team and the org as a whole.

        1. Malarkey01*

          This. Most likely a manager from outside the group will be slotted over and now your team will still lose someone plus no longer have you insulating the team. Once you throw yourself out there all bets are off.

  5. Ariadne Oliver*

    No, you should not lay off yourself. You would be replaced and your staff would be cut anyway. And they would no longer have the buffer between themselves and the horrible leadership.

    1. juliebulie*

      This is where I fall. Laying yourself off “solves” the problem of having to pick someone else to lay off, but in a practical sense it isn’t a solution at all, not for the team, not for the business, and not for you.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      Yeah, I think Ariadne here is right. Sacrificing yourself probably won’t actually save anyone else.

    3. Jules the 3rd*

      I think the assumption is that OP would not be replaced, that their role would be spread across execs in the next tier up.

      1. Max*

        Though I’d still be concerned by what would happen to her reports in that case since it sounds like OP has been running a lot of interference between her team and the execs. It’s possible that OP leaving and not being replaced will be as bad for her employees if not worse.

      2. Lana Kane*

        Upper tier execs won’t be likely to accept absorbing more, lower-tier work. The most likely outcome is that OP will be replaced, and nothing got accomplished.

      3. TechWorker*

        But that’s OPs plan and there’s no indication the next level up is happy with it as an option – maybe they’re all overstretched as is.

        1. Weekend Please*

          Considering they already rejected the idea of laying off the OP once, I think we can say that they are defiantly not happy with that plan.

        2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

          Their hands may be tied though in that if the OP were to resign (rather than be laid off), it’s likely that there’s a hiring freeze so that OPs position wouldn’t get approval to be replaced. I don’t think they are “upper tier execs” (as per a previous comment) but more like e.g. Head of Department where OP is Manager of Sub-Department X. Everyone has a boss…

          I was once in a related (but not really ‘similar to OP’) position in that I was manager of a team & layoffs were announced (across the whole company), I found another role to move on to so resigned, and the people who had reported to me were, rightly, concerned about what would happen next. I am not sure if they thought one of them would be ‘saved’ accordingly (as it had been made clear that we were all to be laid off) but I told them that I wouldn’t be replaced (and thus it was), that they would have to work with my (Senior Manager, difficult) boss, which he confirmed when they went to him, I felt bad about it but had to do what I needed to for myself at that time, and I’m sure “strategic” things went by the wayside but that’s the nature of a global recession (this was in the 2008 banking crisis). They didn’t recruit a replacement manager, nor promote anyone else to a management role.

          I think my reports felt ‘abandoned’ rather than ‘saved’, (and I still feel bad about that).

          1. Me*

            Hiring freezes almost always have exemptions to them. This would most certainly be made an exemption to fill the managers position.

      4. Malarkey01*

        I just don’t see upper tier managers taking on the day to day management of a team. They will either replace the manager and still lose a department position or the team and their duties will be broken up and spread through other teams in the division/company. That’s way more disruptive and potentially bad for team members.

        1. GothicBee*

          And even if upper management wants to make it work, it’s still more helpful to have a good direct manager. I worked on a team where they couldn’t immediately replace my manager when she left, so grand-boss managed for a while. The grand-boss was great, but she just couldn’t devote time and energy to our team. There were a whole lot of things that went wrong and everyone on the team, including myself, ended up leaving before they were able to hire a new manger.

      5. Mr. Shark*

        I think that’s a risky assumption. The next higher tier probably doesn’t want to manage more people, and it would just seem odd to offer himself up as a sacrifice. I tend to think that higher up management would want to replace him (he’s serving his purpose, and they need someone to manage that group) and then still cut one of his direct reports.

        I just don’t see this going the way he thinks it will go if he sacrifices himself.

    4. TooTiredToThink*

      If LW hadn’t indicated that they are a buffer and the org was functional, I would have entertained that idea more seriously; but if they are a buffer in a bad situation then I feel like them laying themselves off would make work even more miserable for their employees than if their employees lost a peer.

      1. GothicBee*

        Especially since it’s unlikely that this one round of layoffs will suddenly make everything great. The team is going to need someone continuing to fight for them more than they need to avoid a temporary increase in workload.

        It also sounds like OP is positioned to actually help with the increase in workload more than leadership is equipped to spend the time and energy doing the work that OP has been doing for their team.

    5. Former Retail Manager*

      I’m not sure OP would be replaced, at least not in the short-term, but regardless of being replaced or not, I agree with Ariadne Oliver entirely.

  6. Rey*

    You’ve already asked if they would cut you and the answer is no. You’re being asked to lose a head, so at this point I would choose criteria to base that on and then spend any remaining capital on advocating for severance package, etc. From there, it sounds like you’re aware that your department won’t be able to complete everything that you previously did, so work with your management to explain what will be changing (deadlines for a specific task extended, another task transferred to a different department).

    If you’re unsure if this is where you want to be long-term, and this discussion of firing someone made you realize that you don’t want to be at this organization, then start getting your resume in order and evaluate what you want to do instead. (But I still wouldn’t think of this as connected to cutting a member of your team, because at least my organization would replace a manager who quit, not move their team to a different manager who already worked there).

    1. Weekend Please*

      Exactly this. They have already decided that a team member is the most expendable, not the manager. Trying to get around that will just result in someone else being hired to fill OP’s job and someone else picking who to lay off. They only way it could possibly work would be if there was someone well qualified on the team who could be promoted to OP’s position.

      If you are concerned about doing the best for your team, stay and advocate for them. If you want to leave, do it for yourself and not because you think you will save anyone else’s job.

    2. Zulema*

      Agreed. I was in this unfortunate position this year as well- due to the financial impact of COVID-19 in my industry, I needed to lay off a third of my team, trimming the budget by a certain percentage. It was awful. I seriously considered offering myself as a senior manager to save my team. The truth was, it was horrible letting amazing employees go for no reasons other than financially needing to operate in a significantly reduced capacity. We struggle without them. There wasn’t another choice.

      Ultimately, I decided against this path, because the truth was, there were other managers whose roles were cut. Mine was not chosen by leadership to be eliminated. There had to be a reason for that. I don’t think it would have saved anyone in the end.

      I’m sorry you’re going through this. It is so hard to let great people go. Be gentle with yourself.

    3. lapgiraffe*

      I was coming to say something similar, it’s time to get as much for your laid off employee as possible. If there’s any way to figure out what they need – for instance extending their health insurance for however long, OR getting them more money if they’re on a spouse’s health plan and thus that aspect of severance pkg would be moot – just making sure that you advocate for them til the bitter end will be very much appreciated by the laid off employee.

      Also know that even if you’re keeping the dysfunction at bay, your reports still know that it’s there and some may even welcome the opportunity to move on. Yes, this is an exceptionally challenging economy to find yourself unemployed in, but sometimes a layoff is a blessing in disguise, I considered mine a mercy killing that I am ultimately grateful for. But having been through layoffs before, having a severance package makes an ENORMOUS difference than just being cut off and floated out to sea, so back to original point – get them all the money and/or health insurance!

      1. lapgiraffe*

        Forgot to mention that in my first layoff, the primary HR fought for, and got, several additional weeks pay for my package because I had come to her with some pay discrepancy issues that she wasn’t able to resolve for me (partially because she knew they were about to dissolve our team), Though incredibly professional you could tell she was struggling with laying off our team and had struggled with not being able to help me out when I had come to her a few months prior, and she felt like she wasn’t offering much/wish she could offer more, but that extra money helped me a ton and I have a forever warm spot in my heart for her because she was willing to spend her political capital on me. People greatly appreciate when someone will go out on a limb for them.

  7. Marie*

    I would like to answer the question with another question:

    “As the primary insulator, my people appreciate what I do for them to keep the barbarians at the gate, and I take personal pride in creating the conditions for them to succeed and to contribute to our business’s success on a daily basis.”
    If you leave, the barbarians will storm the gate, and then what happens to your excellent, high performing, well crafted, functional team? Remember the quote that people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers- so who’s going to replace you, and would they insulate your team so well?

    1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

      I’m glad someone else has mentioned this as it was my first thought.

      I know what happened when our (excellent) manager left: his excellent, high performing, well crafted, very functional team? We all left, to a one of us. Corporate HQ could not comprehend why.

    2. Filosofickle*

      Yes, it seems optimistic to believe “that bridge could be reestablished with more senior leaders taking some of the lift and dealing with my folks directly”. Based on the described dysfunction and work dynamics in general, is that a reasonable assumption?

  8. CatCat*

    I think if you try and cut yourself, the team is going to have all that workload AND no longer have the person advocating for them and insulating them from as much dysfunction as possible.

    That is a worse outcome than cutting one of the staff, imo.

    It all around sucks. You sound like a really caring and conscientious person. Sometimes the only options we have are bad options.

    Can you get the company to offer severance packages to encourage volunteers for layoff? There may be someone on the team who would be willing to accept such a package and that would be the best option, if it is possible. That’s what I’d push for with leadership rather than pushing for them to lay you off.

    1. azvlr*

      I came here to say this. I’ve seen this work. My SO came home and announced that they had the option for everyone to take a small pay cut or some folks (my SO was not one of them) would get laid off. There was no question for me at the time that it was the right choice. We didn’t miss the cut, and folks got to keep their jobs.

  9. Foreign Octopus*

    Hoo boy, this is difficult.

    I think you need to ask yourself some questions.

    1. If you lay yourself off, who will keep the barbarians from the gate then? Can you guarantee they will get a manager who’ll fight for them like you do? If not, you’re leaving the rest of your team untethered.

    2. Can you push back on the layoff by pointing out what you’ve listed above? High-performing team, middle of the pandemic, etc.

    3. Is laying yourself off even an option? If you don’t have money in the budget to replace someone beneath you, what will removing your job do? Will it just add more work to your overworked staff?

    It’s great that you want to do right by your team but you need to think long term as well. Once you’re gone, you’re gone and you can’t help them any more. You can certainly use your departure as the starting gun to indicate that they need to be looking for other jobs but that’s something that needs to be told to them so they don’t stay in an ever worsening situation.

  10. AVP*

    I agree with you that your job should at least be on the table – because it sounds like everyone’s are – but tend to agree with your bosses that if you need to lay one person off, it shouldn’t be you, and that might not be helpful to your team in the long run. What I think you should look at is – will your team remain a net-profit team without leadership? Even with capable folks above, will they have the tools to stay intact without a day to day manager and if it’s just someone adding to their plate who might not be interested in what you do?

    It sounds like you’re doing a lot, and taking that seriously, and that needs to be counted in – you’d hate to leave and then see the rest of your people founder in six months, or the whole project get cut because it doesn’t have an advocate.

    This absolutely sucks all the way around, though.

  11. SomehowIManage*

    I don’t know that laying yourself off will be an acceptable solution (to leadership) because then your manager will have to directly manage the team.
    That is, unless you can replace yourself with someone who makes significantly less than you that it’s roughly equivalent to a headcount.

    In any group, there is always a bottom performer. Push yourself to figure that out. But even your bottom performer might be better than others in different departments. Perhaps getting rid of worse performers elsewhere and transferring someone from your team could address the human side of your concern and still cut a headcount.

    However, you have to work with your manager to prioritize the work done by your team, and perhaps let some work go by the wayside for now. Even if your manager doesn’t agree to that, you may have to allow that to happen. If leadership sees no impact from the layoffs, they will continue to do them, and I am taking your word that there is no fat to cut. Now they have to feel the pain.

  12. bluephone*

    I wouldn’t rely on your senior managers to be the buffer that you’ve been. So then your team will eventually be driven off anyway. Like others suggested, I’d focus on making the layoff as easy as possible for the person you choose–bumping up the severance package (if any), extending benefits, giving stellar references, offering to assist with a job search, etc. Offering to lay yourself off is very much a “light yourself on fire to keep others warm” only in this case, it won’t keep your staff warm anyway.

  13. Bob*

    I get the feeling its time for everyone, you and your reports to look for other jobs and jump ship as you get them. Starting today, or better yet yesterday.
    If one position is downsized due to attrition that solves your immediate problem but it seems likely there is more hurt coming so you all need to get out of there and on to greener pastures.

    1. PT*

      Yes, this. Start applying, do what you’ve got to do to keep things rolling at this job, and try to be out of there within the next year.

    2. Mimi*

      Yeah. You *may* be able to successfully advocate to lay yourself off instead of one of your teammembers (or not; plenty of discussion up-thread), but you aren’t “saving the team,” you’re giving the rest of the team time to hopefully get out under their own terms. Which might be worthwhile! But unless you can somehow miraculously negotiate to keep everyone together, the team as you know it is probably doomed one way or another (and even successful negotiation isn’t a guarantee).

  14. President Porpoise*

    Personally, OP, I might do it, if I had a significant savings cushion and a reasonably good chance at being hired to a similar position in this – or a tangentially related – industry. Good people managers are always useful and needed.
    Your company is unstable and somewhat dysfunctional, and they’d be missing out on the work you’re doing anyway if you let one of your reports go (since you’d have to step in and do their work).

    But it would really hinge on how much cushion I had and how soon I thought I could get into a similar position.

    1. AVP*

      This is an interesting point – how much of this is the OP just reacting to the disfunction and feeling burnt out? A different job somewhere else might not solve the exact problem posed above, but it might solve OP’s larger overall problem…

  15. Weekend Please*

    So I see where you are coming from but I don’t think it would work. They already turned down your suggestion that they cut your job. You envision it as saving your team because someone from outside of your department will have to step in to manage. So essentially you are cutting a head without really doing so. The company sees this too and it isn’t what they are asking for. If you do quit (they aren’t going to let you lay yourself off), they may temporarily step in to manage your team, but most likely they will then pick someone to lay off and then hire someone else to fill your position.

    If laying someone off basically means you then have to fill their job yourself (in effect a demotion and change of job you aren’t looking for) then quitting may still be the right choice. But it won’t save your team.

  16. Observer*

    If you cut yourself, you will be doing more harm. Because they WILL replace you whether with a new person who will take a while to figure out how to help the team, best case. Or with someone who is already managing at least one other division, so their priority is not going to be to do their best by your team. And then they WILL cut someone from your team – and they won’t make the best decision there.

    I’m going to say that you should cut someone. But then do two things. Start working on your own transition out of this company, and preferably out of this industry. And, do what you can to help your team make the same transition.

  17. Eeyore's Missing Tail*

    Everyone above has made great points, but do you know if anyone on your team is in the process of leaving? If you can, find out what kind (if any) severance your company is looking to pay out. Maybe there’s someone who wants to make a change and if they get a good severance package, maybe they’d choose to go.

    I’d like to note I’m not talking about pushing anyone out, especially someone who’s casually looking. That’s cruel, IMO. What I mean is if someone has decided they want to leave, they may be willing to take the severance.

  18. Jimming*

    As a manager, this might not be the first time you need to lay off high performers. Unfortunately layoffs are a part of business. It’s great that you care about your staff, but realistically you can’t always martyr yourself. Fight for strong severance, offer to be a great reference.

    Not sure if this is possible in your case since it’s only 1 person, but when layoffs happened at one of my workplaces, they asked for volunteers. That way people who were already considering leaving could choose to leave with severance and a reference. Maybe someone on your team is already part-way out the door?

    1. londonedit*

      This is what happens with redundancies in the UK. Most of the time, the first step will be to notify the staff that the company is consulting on redundancies, and to ask whether anyone is willing to take voluntary redundancy. Often people are, if they’ve worked there long enough to be in line for a decent payout. Then, if there aren’t enough volunteers, the process moves on to a consultation on mandatory redundancies.

  19. Ashley*

    There seems to be logic for your own mental health of laying yourself off. As others have noted can you take that financial hit? It is harsh but the upside of being higher on the food chain is sometimes you get more job protection.

    Is there anyone on your team that goes on vacation and you realize how much easier things are in the office? Is there someone who maybe isn’t a highly missed as the rest when they are out?

    When you give the recommendation I would start with an explanation of what this means your division won’t be able to do and if you translate into lost profit for the company all the better. In any case I would probably be job searching if this is how your company operates.

  20. MK*

    I am not sure why you think this is your choice to make? I mean, you can quit if you want, but you can’t really make the company lay you off instead of one of your staff. Layoffs aren’t always about saving the most on salaries, otherwise they would start by firing the VPs and having the CEO and the rest of management absorb their duties. Also, as you say, laying you off and not replacing you will mean more work for those higher than you; would they be willing to do that?

    I think that if you propose this, the company most likely will just say no and insist that you let someone on your team go, or even go over your head and do it if you refuse. What will you do then, resign in protest? And, of course, even if they agree and you leave, your team will likely be saddled with dysfunctional management and their jobs won’t be guaranteed anyway.

  21. a thought*

    Just wanted to note that you present here as a given that when you lose a head you will still be forced to absorb all that work and do it yourself. What you are essentially doing here is demonstrating to the company that they can reduce your team with no trade-off on their part!

    I think of Alison’s advice for individuals about setting boundaries around what is and is not possible. I think this will be essential to do after any potential lay-off — sorry, we can do 20% less work now, or now we have a X day turnaround, or whatever. Do not increase your hours or your teams’ (who you say is already working long hours… makes me wonder if they really are as insulated as you hope!) This is the natural effect of a layoff and the company – not your employees – should accept that consequence.

    P.S. It sounds like the money just isn’t there (so perhaps the company cannot be swayed), but I would lay out the above tradeoff in advance to (1) advocate for a different cut and (2) make it easier to enforce the boundary later for the rest of the team. (We told you this was coming!)
    P.P.S. My comment doesn’t directly answer your question… but I’m with the commenters who are in the “don’t lay yourself off” category.

    1. Littorally*

      Great point. Sometimes layoffs really do have to happen, and in a declining industry they are pretty inevitable, but don’t set yourself, your team, or your bosses the expectation that laying off a worker will not change your department’s output. It is okay for it to happen! If things are declining and you are seeing a YOY retreat in work and clients, then layoffs should happen in accord with that decline. If they really need your team’s output to be 100% of what it currently is, then maybe they need to look elsewhere for headcount to reduce.

      1. PT*

        The reality is a lot of companies don’t look at it this way. They’ll say:

        Company: We expect you to run five llama training classes per hour with 10 students per class.
        Llama Manager: We only have three employees, we will need to hire more employees.
        Company: You will be the fourth employee but you will not be earning enough revenue to hire a fifth employee, until you are running six llama training classes per hour with 10 students per class.
        Llama manager: That is physically impossible.
        Company Three Months Later: You missed your revenue targets, you only ran four llama training classes per hour. Have a poor performance review and no raise.

  22. Pidgeot*

    You’re looking at this from a business perspective, but you should also look at it from a personal perspective. Do you want to leave this company? If so, negotiate severance. But once you do, you have no control over what is going to happen to your employees, and the company. This is important to keep in mind, because it sounds like you’re taking on responsibility that would no longer be yours. Do right by the company, but don’t kill yourself trying to solve a Kobayashi Maru.

  23. Cafe au Lait*

    Could you advocate for furloughs over layoffs? I know there’s different rules for furloughs, but sometimes admins need to hear the idea and how it could be done. It may be cheaper in the long run to have furloughs over layoffs. Who knows, one of your employees may really want a furlough to help with childcare issues, and they’ll volunteer for it.

  24. Beth*

    My gut feel is that putting yourself on the line rather than agreeing to lay off one of your team wouldn’t actually be an effective save. It would be a grand dramatic gesture. That’s not to say it won’t work! If you have enough pull with higher-ups, and if they hadn’t previously understood how serious you are about this being untenable for your team, then there’s a chance that a grand gesture like that could work. It would make a point, if nothing else, and if that point communicates something new then it’s possible that it might give you more leeway.

    But if you have communicated how big a deal this is, and you think they heard and understood what you were saying, and they’re continuing to insist on laying someone off, then no gesture is going to meaningfully change that reality. Things may well have reached a point where you can’t insulate your team from the company’s dysfunction anymore. They might tell you they mean a non-managerial position and insist you choose one of your teammates, or they might accept your resignation, replace you with a different manager, and still eliminate a non-manager position. It’s ultimately your choice whether it’s worth it anyways–but I suspect that for your team, while all the options are arguably bad, it’ll be better to face a layoff and keep you than lose you and also face a layoff.

  25. TechWorker*

    Clearly I am a much less good person than most commenters here because if I mooted the idea of laying myself off to my boss and they said ‘absolutely not’ (which is kinda what this sounds like?) I can promise you I would not be pushing it. Yes, it’s totally crap to lose your job in a pandemic. Presumably it would be totally crap for you too? I’m all for managers making the right business decisions and for being as empathetic as possible… but your boss has already said losing you wouldn’t be the right business decision. I don’t think being a manager means you morally have to lose *all* sense of self-preservation.

  26. Mid*

    I’m not sure how helpful my advice is, because I’m far from a senior level position, but when I have to deal with tough decisions, I like to pretend I’m observing the situation from an outsider’s perspective, or frame it as “what advice would I give my friend if they were in the same situation.”

    The first thing that strikes me is that you seem really emotionally invested in your job and your team. That’s not a bad thing! But I wonder if it’s healthy in the long term. You act as a buffer between your team and the dysfunctional company as a whole. Would losing you end up demoralizing your team even more than an increased workload would? Would it be a relief for you to no longer have to be that buffer?

    Can you survive a layoff, financially? Even if you’re a high performer with a great work history, a lot of people are also excellent and still unemployed.

    Have you talked to your team about this? Maybe someone would volunteer for a layoff, or has been planning on leaving anyway and would happily take a severance instead of giving notice in a few weeks. Would they be open to taking a slight pay cut across the board instead of a layoff?

    1. Jennifer*

      Really good points. I also don’t know if it’s the best idea for the OP to shield the team so much from how dysfunctional the company is as a whole. I know all good managers should do that to some degree, but people also really need to know how the company is being run so they can make decisions about their future. Everyone moves on from a job in one way or another eventually and this team is in a rude awakening when that happens, whether it’s due to a layoff or some other reason.

      It’s great that the OP cares so much about the team, but it may be bordering on being too emotionally invested.

    2. Nonie*

      Would losing you end up demoralizing your team even more than an increased workload would?

      I have been a team member in a similar situation, and from my own experience I would absolutely say yes. Old Company had one very (predictably) busy quarter, and for two of the three years I was there, we lost staff early in the quarter and I in particular had a very increased workload above my pay grade.

      The first time, I had a manager in place who similarly acted as a buffer to dysfunction. “Overworked” doesn’t begin to describe my experience that quarter, but I did put in the time knowing that it was necessary and temporary and I had a cheerleader.

      Later that year, said great boss left due to said dysfunction, and the coworker they promoted did NOT make the same team-building or buffering effort. In the next Busy Quarter, I was Less Busy then I had been the year before, but FAR more demoralized as I felt reverberations from executive drama and lack of appreciation from my direct boss. I was leaving for school anyway in a few months but seriously considered quitting early on multiple occasions (and only didn’t due to finances).

      Not to say that you shouldn’t consider your own mental health, but sacrificing yourself could certainly have a negative impact on your team afterward.

      1. Nonie*

        Another thing: At least part of New Boss’s negative attitude came from her (unreasonable) resentment toward Old Boss for leaving, which she was verrrry open about with us, which further poisoned the well since all of us had enjoyed working for Old Boss. OTOH, there was no sacrifice on the part of Old Boss so it may be different here.

    3. Washi*

      Yes, in addition to the other considerations people have raised, I think you’re right to point out how emotionally invested OP is in this. The language they use to describe the situation is intense…barbarians at the gate, under seige, lose a head, sacrifice. OP, you are a manager of a team, not a soldier throwing yourself on a bomb or something, and I don’t think it’s helping you to frame this as life or death. Getting laid off would absolutely be horrible, but as long as your company treats that person fairly and gives them a decent severance package, they will recover! The absolute most likely outcome is they will eventually find another job, and it might not be as great, but they will survive because if they really are all as high performing as you say, they don’t need you to guarantee their success, they can draw on their strengths and make it through this tough time.

      OP, I think you know the right answer but find it comforting to think of laying yourself off rather than having to lay off a team member. And I don’t blame you! But part of being a leader is making these tough decisions.

      1. Washi*

        (Not to be cavalier about being laid off, speaking from experience it really sucks and should not be taken lightly. It just seems like the OP is going pretty far in the other direction.)

      2. ThatOnePlease*

        Agreed. I really sympathize with OP, as I’m also a person who tends to get emotionally invested in work. But at the end of the day, this is just a job, and volunteering for a layoff to save your reports is pretty over the top. It won’t serve you well to care more about your department’s success than your own career and financial best interests. What if you took this layoff and then people in your department found other jobs, or quit to backpack through the Gobi desert? Ultimately this is a business and you have to make a business decision. If the work suffers as a result, that is hard to take, but it’s not a tragedy.

  27. Jennifer*

    I think you have to be a little selfish here. Are there people you support with your income? Can you afford to live for several months or maybe longer without a regular paycheck? I don’t recall seeing those details in the letter, my apologies if they were overlooked. If losing your job would cause a real hardship for yourself or someone else in your life, then don’t volunteer for a layoff. I’d maybe offer to take a pay cut.

    If you can afford to be without a job for a while, then I’d say go ahead and volunteer. It’s a kind thing to do for your team.

    1. EventPlannerGal*

      Yeah, those things aren’t in the letter and I think it’s hard to responsibly advise on something like this without that information, I presume from the fact that OP is asking this question in the first place that they have thought about whether they can personally cope with unemployment, but then again there are a lot of people out there with martyr/hero complexes who might well do something like this without thinking it through.

  28. Salad Daisy*

    Are you kidding? You could altruistically lay yourself off and then the next day management could lay off one or more members of your team anyway! Pushing back against the layoff is definitely the way to go, but in my experience may not ultimately be successful.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      In fact, they probably *would.* They’d hire a new manager, they’d lay off one of your people, and then no one would be barring the barbarians from the gate.

    2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      This is what I came here to say. LW’s assertion that “I would definitely save the team from taking further losses” sounds hopelessly naive, given that management use any wider economic excuse to cut headcount.

  29. Executive, Miscellaneous*

    It’s very likely that they’ve already considered cutting you and have decided that you’re a good enough manager to keep on. And, the way you describe it, this makes sense — you are leading a high-functioning team of engaged employees who are intrinsically motivated to put their best into their work every day. I would cut several people before I cut a manager like you, because you’re the strategic lever I need to recover from losses once things start to pick up again. I can also rely on you to figure out how to make the best of a tough situation and to effectively lead your team through hard times. This is not work that I would want to pick up, nor would I be as effective as you in doing it.

    So: you can make a business case for what the loss of one person will mean to the bottom line. If you’ve been regularly sharing your team’s business impact, I suspect this won’t move the needle. If you have new information to share — like you’ve discovered that your team’s engagement moves some metric from X to Y in a strikingly novel way — this could change their calculus, but it will also force them to deal with another round of politics (“You said I was only going to lose one person, and now I’m losing two and OP gets to keep everyone?”).

    Should you end up exactly where you are now, where someone on your team needs to go, this is when you look at impact over effort. Everyone is busting ass equally hard but it’s unlikely that everyone is equally effective. You might have someone who’s a little slower or whose quality is a little worse. You might have someone whose work output is good but who causes strife and drama in your team. You’re judging on the margins here, and that is a sucky place to be.

    This is hard. I’m sorry. I hope you can take a step back and see yourself through your management team’s eyes — you are valuable and needed. They trust you to do a very difficult thing and to see your team through it. You are a good manager.

  30. Mr. Jingles*

    If you want to fight you can…. with numbers! You need an absolute exact report on cost with a proven total of numbers. You need to be able to show in money why they should keep your team intact. You need to be able to proof, on no more than half a page, that loosing an employee would cost more by loss than they will gain by saving their wages. And in a highly dysfunctional company you need an alternative solution. Often the only thing they’ll accept is a different head on a platter.
    What you shouldn’t do under any circumstances is leaving. Don’t underestimate your role and don’t expect anybody to step up and keep your team going. As soon as you’ll leave they will pick them apart, believing if they put people from your teams in less funktional teams it will raise their performance. Dysfunctional companies have one thing in common:they all believe in a religious group think that high performance comes from high performers or high pressure and if a strategy doesn’t work the involved people must’ve been either bad or lazy somehow. They all easily discard the idea that maybe one team is better than the other because the team lead did something different. In their eyes you where either lucky to have good people or you’re a good drill sergeant. They won’t care for them. And as soon as their numbers drop under another lead they will loose their jobs anyway.

    1. Aepyornis*

      I concur with this option. Present a few scenarios: If X is laid off, then Y is not done or with freelancers at Z cost / If A is laid off, then B is not done or with freelancers at C cost / until it becomes clear that the best (and most cost-effective) solution is to keep your team intact, especially if you can demonstrate how much it contributes to the organisation overall.
      I also fully agree that you should not volunteer as tribute and put your own head on the chopping board. It will not help your team in the short or long run as your team will be picked apart, and it will certainly not help you either.

    2. Religious nut, I guess*

      “they all believe in a religious group think that high performance comes from high performers”

      Quelle horreur. What fad will they come up next?

      1. Mill Miker*

        There’s the normal observation that “high performers have high performance”, and then there’s the bizarre extrapolation of that, which I think Mr. Jingles may have been going for that “High performers always result in high performance, even if we tie their hands and micromanage every decision and action they take” or “The only possible reason for a high-performer to be less productive under a new manager is ego-driven protest of then change”

        It’s the same logic you see with things like “I know you say this can’t be done, but you are the undisputed expert on this topic, so I’m sure you’ll figure out a way” or “Your job is to ensure corporate compliance with the law, not question management’s actions.”

  31. Waiting to be Future Endeavored*

    I think you can present your position as an option and lay out the reasons, but the higher ups might not listen to you. I volunteered for a furlough in the spring after my org asked for volunteers, but then they didn’t furlough me.

    I can’t imagine this decision ever being easy — this is where I would try to be all about the data and do a comparison of everyone, even though it sucks. But maybe try to advocate in other ways — severance package, different cuts, etc.

  32. foolofgrace*

    If you lay yourself off, won’t the company then have to bring someone on to manage your former team? And then they’d still have to lay one of your team members off. Whichever way you jump, I’d brush up the old resume and start hitting the bricks.

  33. Former call centre worker*

    I don’t know how lay offs work in the US, but in the UK if you want to cut the size of a team you make one of the roles redundant, which means the person in that role is laid off or redeployed and it’s illegal to appoint anyone into that post for a certain length of time.

    So the question isn’t who should lose their job, but whose role is least necessary. If your role is under contention to be cut, it’s a conflict of interest for you to make that decision.

    Therefore you should ask your bosses whether they see your role as one that could be cut and not replaced, and if they say yes, tell them that they will need to decide whether your role or one of your team’s goes.

    1. londonedit*

      I was going to say this…if OP is the only one doing their particular role, you’d have a hard time making a case for that role to be made redundant. Whereas if there are several people doing the same role, it’s easier to make a case for cutting one or more of the positions at that level. That’s how redundancy rounds have always worked when I’ve been involved with them (only twice, but still! Once I was made redundant because they had to cut five to three, the second time I wasn’t because I could demonstrate that I was the only person doing my specific role).

  34. Ben Marcus Consulting*

    Are you sure you’re aware of the full picture on this? What’s to say that they won’t also immediately layoff your team anyway? I the early 90s, NCR was bought up by AT&T, in Jackson, they went through many similar transitions as business in the area was transitioned to other offices. AT&T combed through two they thought was a good keep, and then went through several rounds of layoffs to clean house. Those good keeps weren’t offered a new role until after layoffs with their team was started.

    You might be facing the same thing here. You org may have already decided that they need to go and your self-sacrifice isn’t going to avoid that.

  35. Shortstuff*

    It doesn’t sound like it’s at all within your gift to make the decision to lay yourself off. Its more of a structural change than one for a line manager, because your team isn’t going to be existing leaderless, they then need to be absorbed into someone else’s team or the functions your teams does need to be broken up and redistributed. It also doesn’t sound like the right decision from the point of view of the business, if your team makes a net contribution.

    Arguably, you just don’t want to lay someone off, and you’re worried about having to manage through the effect that this will have on the team’s morale. Both of those would be justifiable objections on a personal level, but from the organisation’s point of view, they’re part of what you’re paid to do.

    It’s perhaps worth making the case that savings could be made in other ways. And maybe you do want to look for a new job anyway – I imagine there will be more rounds of layoffs in 2021 since the economy will probably be sluggish, and next time it might be you anyway.

  36. employment lawyah*

    This is ridiculous.

    Is my personal view and care for these people stopping me from making the right business call to layoff someone on my team?
    Yes, absolutely.

    Or do you think I’m at least partially right, in assessing my own position as one that should be on the table (leadership already flatly turned down any entertaining of it, but I’m tempted to push again.)
    No, not at all.

    Look, there are already people who are in charge of wondering if you should be laid off, and they have already considered it and made a decision–apparently with your input! The decision is made. All you will do by pushing for your own layoff is look foolish and strange, and increase the likelihood that you will be fired (or not-promoted) down the road. That is a stupid move.

    You have a job to do, which is to lay off someone in your team. You can push back but ultimately you don’t run the company. Lay someone off and move on.

    I think you are internalizing the guilt, but you personally are not responsible for your employees’ lives. All work comes with the risk of layoffs, just like all hires come with the risk of an employee quitting just after you finished training them. It’s just part of the package.

    So spend your capital elsewhere. Fight for no layoffs at all. Fight for excellent severance and references for people who ARE laid off. Fight to get promoted, so you have more control over more people. But treat a layoff like the normal thing that it is, and stop trying to (literally!) throw yourself in front of the bus.

    1. peasblossom*

      Yes to all of this! The most helpful thing–the only helpful thing–you can do OP is to use your capital to think big picture.

      This much internalized guilt is not only not the right business move, but invites a particular form of self-centeredness. What I mean here is that it pushes you to focus so much on your own guilt that you lose sight of the big picture.

    2. Former Retail Manager*

      Agreed…all valid points and whether or not OP agrees with the decision to keep her, it’s been made. So do what you can to make things better while you’re still there. But in light of the state of your industry, I would be looking elsewhere anyway.

    3. Abogado Avocado*

      Agreed. And might I also recommend that you spend the coming year on efforts to be employed elsewhere.

      If the digital world is eating up your legacy employer’s business, this will not be the only round of layoffs you’ll be asked to execute and this will not be the only employee’s work you’ll be asked to absorb. The circumstances are telling you it’s time to transition with your MBA into a position with an employer who is not looking to execute constant downsizing due to dwindling revenue.

  37. KelseyP*

    I’d recommend you think VERY carefully before you suggest yourself. My immediate concern is they might interpret your personal layoff as an indication that you and your entire team are no longer required. Perfect opportunity to shut down your entire team, since you aren’t there to defend them.

    I say this as someone having worked 30+ years in tough environments. I am also someone who would have been the first to “sacrifice” my own position, earlier in my career.

    I now think this could completely backfire and put your entire team at even more risk. Just my view (jaded view?) from the other side. Good luck!

    1. Former Retail Manager*

      I hadn’t though of it from your perspective, but my goodness, you’re right! And I believe OP referenced call center….something that could easily (in theory at least) be outsourced to a foreign country with much lower labor costs.

      1. Lyudie*

        Cost center, not call center…cost center just means that OP’s team charges other organizations in the company for work (often with creative work, like writing) versus making money for the company. They could still be outsourced, possibly, depending on what they do, and without OP that might be on the table too.

  38. gbca*

    At first, I was sort of on board with the idea that you might be the best candidate. But I think you might be underestimating the impact of eliminating your position and yourself. As many others have noted, you might save one person from a layoff and make the rest of the team miserable in exchange. I know it will increase everyone’s workload, but I’d rather have an overburdened workload and an awesome boss than deal with crazy dysfunction. Also, I think the fact that your management won’t even entertain you putting yourself up might indicate the value of your position as well.

  39. AKchic*

    As much as you feel like sacrificing yourself for the greater good, that noble sacrifice won’t work out the way you think it will.
    Your team’s productivity and numbers and all-over great work? That’s partially because of how you’ve brought that team together and how you manage it. Could someone else create that alchemy? Yeah, probably, but it’s going to take time. And a new manager doesn’t get the same trust and confidence of a team that you’ve built up overnight. It will take work. And frankly, there’s no guarantee that the company won’t start laying off more people on your team, or that the new manager won’t get replaced, or other cost-cutting measures won’t be implemented. Once you’re gone, that magic is gone and the team will no longer be as insulated from the rest of the chaos.
    In fact, they have been largely insulated from the chaos because they haven’t had to actually face a loss yet. Losing the biggest earner? That isn’t going to seem like a noble sacrifice to them. That is going to panic them and make them all start looking elsewhere because “if the biggest salary is already gone, who else will go the next time they need to pinch a penny?” will be the thought process.

    Take some of the advice already given and push back hard on laying anyone off. Try to trim your team’s budget as much as possible if that’s a factor. But do not sacrifice yourself in order to avoid doing a hard and unwanted task that may ultimately be assigned to you.

  40. Me for Now*

    I think you want to quit, and I think you are using this situation as a smoke screen to dilute yourself into thinking you quitting is the best option. You actually need to separate the two issues in order to think through this clearly. Do you want to stay in this job? Y/N. With that clearly in your head. Then what is the best way forward with this layoff situation. Maybe you hand in your resignation, and then ask how management wants to handle the layoff situation. But I think you are letting the fact that you want to leave cloud your judgement about what is actually best for the team here.

    1. AKchic*

      Oooh. A very deep insight. Thinking about it, I actually agree with you. Especially with the way the c-suite runs to lay-offs as a seemingly first-line of defense for any budgetary woes, the team is already clearly stretched as thin as they can go and she is just *tired* of dealing with this yo-yo of employment unpredictability from on high.

      1. RVA Cat*

        All of this, plus it’s a dying industry.
        The OP needs to do the hard thing but in a kind way – fight for a decent severance package and provide the great references the whole team has earned.
        Who knows, maybe the person will land at a much better company and even recruit the OP to come work there?

  41. Works in IT*

    Given the nature of the industry and the fact that everyone knows there are layoffs, would this be an appropriate time to begin by presenting the situation to the team and see what they say? There may very well be at least one person who has seen the writing on the wall and is actively job hunting/going back to school/planning on an early retirement/going to move to another city with their significant other next year/won the lottery and is one of those rare people who don’t actually need a job to ensure their bills are paid.

    If there’s truly nothing to be done (and if corporate is willing to lay off someone in a department that has actually been contributing to the bottom line, instead of the departments that are…. not… there may be nothing that can be done, although I cannot wrap by brain around this) then trying to figure out who would be least harmed by a layoff, and attempting to negotiate them a generous severance package, may be all you can do. This is a terrible situation though.

  42. Texan In Exile*

    My friend Luke did that years ago. He worked for a consulting company and had to reduce headcount on his team. He looked at the numbers and his team and eliminated his own.

  43. Beth Jacobs*

    If OP wants to stay, they should stay. If they’re already unhappy and know that their skills are in-demand, why not take the severance package?
    The real question is whether OP can get a good job fairly quickly. OP might want to start job hunting now, just to see what the market looks like.

  44. Girl in the Windy City*

    I don’t have any real advice, but what I came here to say was that based on the kind of manager (and person) it sounds like you are, I would give a whole hell of a lot to work for and have mentorship from someone like you. Please don’t discount the value you bring to your team. I’m not sure removing their insulation from the outside will be as helpful as you think.

  45. archangelsgirl*

    I had two thoughts. The first one was, if you tell your superiors that you’re laying yourself off, you’re putting the ball in their court for them to say, “Okay, bye,” or, “No, we need you, lay someone else off.” So it’s a way of taking the temperature.

    Secondly, to be fair, you sound a teeny bit burned out to me. You have your B-School degree. You’re going to work a lot harder at stuff at a lower level than you if you stay. Maybe it would help your own career to lay yourself off?

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      But if you nominate yourself to be laid off, and your employer refuses, and you leave anyway, you haven’t been laid off. You’ve quit. Which may or may not be okay, depending on whether the LW needs the (presumed) benefits of being laid off.

      1. archangelsgirl*

        Yeah, I was struggling with that, it kind of made my brain hurt. I’m Canadian, and I know your rules and regs for that sort of thing are very different than ours, so I didn’t think about those ramifications too long, though I know they’re complex and vary state by state.

  46. MinnieK*

    Oh goodness. Everyone has such good suggestions. I used to work in a journalism, and our newspaper itself was profitable, but our profits were sucked up by the parent organization to offset debt (due to bad business decisions) and the poor performance of other newspapers. It was so frustrating to know that if we existed independently, we would have been doing great! But the industry itself was/is dying and we were forced, no matter our success, to keep chipping away at our staff to save the parent organization.
    I think Mr. Jingles is right – show them the numbers. Show them how your numbers would be effected by cutting someone. Make them decide what tasks/jobs, etc will no longer be a priority. Don’t quit unless you have someplace else to go, because you will not save anyone that way. Quitting to save one position will eventually lead to more layoffs when they fill your position with someone who can’t do the job and your team falls apart.
    This may also be something that you don’t want to insulate your team from. You may want to quietly ask around and see if anyone is planning on leaving or making a change and see if you can get a good severance package going. Or pitch pay cuts for yourself and your team to save the position. Or find another way to save the money in the budget other than staff.
    And not to sound dire, but this is the beginning of the end. When they start coming for departments like yours, they will not stop. It’s time to start looking and planning for an exit strategy, and to encourage your employees to work on professional development. I know this is difficult to consider, particularly when people care deeply about their work, but its time.
    I wish you luck! You sound like an amazing manager and leader!

  47. Momma Bear*

    I’ve seen both sides. Actually just this morning I was telling a coworker about a manager on a firm fixed price contract who left to give the rest of us more time to find new jobs. They figured they cost the most and we were able to basically manage our own daily tasks (we reported to various clients) and someone else could sign our paychecks. But it was a very temporary solution. We all lost our jobs when the money ran out eventually. OTOH I’ve also been privy to a manager of a small team pushing back that every person in that department is irreplaceable for x or y reason, and they didn’t lose anyone.

    If OP leaves, is this a stopgap or a long-term solution for the company/team? If in the long term the loss of OP’s leadership would not cut costs (due to good management being lost), then OP should argue that. No one wants to lay anyone off, but managers are routinely asked to evaluate their employees for bonuses and layoffs and I think you should always have a ranking in your head.

    I’d argue all the things that OP has laid out and try to save the team, but if not, then take an honest look and pick someone. I agree with the other posters that if OP doesn’t choose someone, upper management likely will, and better their direct manager make a choice than someone new off the street or someone who will only look at beans to be counted vs people. OP may be able to “reward” hard work by arguing for a generous severance package for the person who gets laid off.

  48. boop the first*

    Damn, that’s why layoffs are a death knell to a business. Not as a sign of late-stage struggle, but because it’s the layoffs themselves that ruin the business for the exact reason you mentioned: creating unmanageable workload and bad morale for no reason.

    1. Consultant*

      That’s absolutely untrue. There are plenty of examples of companies that did layoffs and successfully restructured their business.

      1. Colette*

        Agreed. The wrong layoffs (e.g. “we’re going to cut the bottom 5% across the company”, “every department has to lose 1 person”, etc.) can be a sign of trouble – but plenty of healthy businesses have occasional layoffs.

  49. animaniactoo*

    OP, I don’t think you’re looking at this right: You can make the decision to lay yourself off. Your company can reject that decision by hiring somebody else to manage your team since somebody needs to do that strategic work and then they will lay one of the teammembers off.

    This is the most likely outcome of laying yourself off – while leaving them exposed to all that you insulate them from right now anyway in the meantime, making it more likely that at least one of them will quit, disrupting the team. In the end, a self-defeating exercise.

    So, no. I would not lay yourself off. I would make the case on a dollars and cents basis to your company and go to bat for your team that with a reduced workforce, you will need to cut production as they are already going above and beyond and LITERALLY will not be able to absorb the additional workflow from the missing team member. So, they can insist that you lay someone off, but on the flip side of that, they will have to accept reduced production output from your team of XY&Z targets. And continue to push back and fight that if the layoff happens and they keep trying to get the same amount of work from your team after having reduced its capacity to produce work. Let them feel the impact in a way that will be your best argument for why the laid off employee needs to be brought back ASAP.

  50. AliV*

    The way this person talks about how they manage makes them sound like the best manager ever, how do I go work for this person.

    1. Jenny*

      I get you are trying to be altruistic, but I thibk other commenter are right. If you lay yourself off they’ll replace you and lay someone off anyway. They aren’t going to count you and your team as the same bucket. And then your team’s buffer is gone. I’ve quit an organization when my good manager left, it makes all the difference.

      I’d potentially be job searching as this place sounds dysfunctional. But, you can push back but it’s 100% not the right call to try to fall on the sword.

  51. SpartanFan*

    If your division is the one making the money, you should be investing in that division, not making it harder to succeed.

  52. Bostonian*

    Noooooo OP. You’re the one person who has the power to make things as functional and stable as possible for the remaining staff. If you go, who knows what kind of leadership they are going to be under and how badly they ALL will be affected. You staying now might be the best way to get the most of them to stay in the long run.

  53. Karia*

    I don’t think you should undervalue yourself; one reason your team are succeeding is your leadership.

    But also, I think you want to lay yourself off because you’re done. You’re a creative in a business role; in a stressful, declining industry; and you describe your business as incredibly dysfunctional.

    It’s ok to leave.

    Creative, politically savvy MBA grads who can drive a profitable division in a declining industry, during a pandemic are going to be welcome everywhere.

  54. LizardOfOdds*

    I’m really surprised to see how many people are advocating for OP to volunteer as tribute. I mean… I get it from a personal relationship perspective, but from a business perspective that approach does not check out.

    Let’s say OP does volunteer and they leave the company. OP’s employees need to report to someone – who would that be? The options would be 1) have all the ICs report to OP’s boss, 2) promote someone internally to take OP’s position, or 3) backfill OP with a different skilled manager. While option #1 and #2 still result in a reduction of headcount, if OP is the good manager they say they are, all 3 options would leave OP’s team in a state of higher risk. There are some great anecdotes in the comments that illustrate the impact of those risks… further layoffs, working for a crappy new manager, voluntary attrition. If OP cares about their team like they seem to, they’ve got to think a few more steps ahead here and recognize that volunteering will not leave the team in a better position.

    I know layoff selection is a difficult choice for a manager, especially when they believe their team members are all amazing at what they do. In reality, though, employees are not all equal. If OP thinks they are, they need to develop a set of objective criteria they can use to evaluate their staff with an unobstructed lens and choose the person who’s contributing the least value to the business based on that criteria. Leave names out of it if that helps. Does this suck? Yes, very much. But the needs of the business are priority when you’re a leader, and leaders can’t be responsible for the individual, personal impact of business decisions. If these employees truly are the rockstars OP believes they are, they will have marketable skills and will land on their feet somewhere else, maybe even somewhere better. We read those stories all the time on this blog.

    Get comfortable with making this tough choice, OP. It’s part of being a good leader.

  55. HR Exec Popping In*

    Sadly, this is one of the things that comes with the title of manager. You will at times in your career have to make these types of decisions that you don’t necessarily agree with. You of course can resign, but generally a department needs a manager so your boss will likely just replace you and have your replacement eliminate a headcount in the department. My advice would be to take all of the team members out of consideration initially and start with a white piece of paper. Design a department with the number of boxes that aligns with the new headcount you are being allocated and divide the work accordingly. Look for synergies and work that can be simplified or eliminated. Do a few positions currently have similar responsibilities where you could change responsibilities to increase productivity (e.g., 3 jobs that do reporting and development might be able to become 2 jobs where one does only reporting and one does only development). Once you have the new structure, you would need to assess candidates for each role based on them having the necessary skills, knowledge and ability taking past performance into account.

    I know this is difficult, but this does come with the job.

  56. Lost academic*

    No. If it’s an option to have you leave, it’s already being considered by your own manager. It’s not up to you. Push back on laying anyone off by all means, but you weren’t to be included in that group. It’s going to look weird and potentially manipulative to suggest it be you.

    1. HR Exec Popping In*

      I actually came back to make this point. Your position elimination is not up to you. Your manager will make that decision. You have been given the task to figure out the rest of your department.

    2. Colette*

      That’s just it – the OP may already be on the list to be laid off – but she’s probably not in the same group as her employees.

  57. NW Mossy*

    From your letter, here’s what I see: severe burnout. One of the features of burnout is that it makes challenging things feel both insurmountable and incredibly important to get right. It’s a terrible feeling – you can’t solve it, but you have to, but you can’t, and you loop endlessly. When this feelings loop arises, it’s really common to start thinking that the only way out is to blow up the whole situation.

    To find the right way forward, you have to confront the burnout, ideally with the benefit of a licensed professional to help you through it. Sometimes it’s possible to mitigate burnout without making a dramatic change, and sometimes not – it really depends on what’s driving it underneath. I will say, though, that trying to muscle your way through it as you have been rarely works out. Staring down the causes of burnout is hard, painful work, but it’s to your everlasting benefit in the end.

  58. Analyst Editor*

    One company I worked for was in a similar boat, and did this incredibly short-sighted thing of laying off legions of staff, and then having to hire temps when demand picked up again.
    If it will actually cost twice the budget in freelance support to replace one of your headcount, can the case not be made to avoid layoffs on your team?
    Is there anyone in your chain of command who thinks, who is a person and not an empty suit, who would be willing to make a decision and not just punt?
    I am fairly confident, though, that with you gone, someone will still lose their jobs – if not all of them.
    It will hasten the company’s undoing, but that’s how short-term thinking seems to tend.

  59. LGC*


    I mean, I’ll joke about stupid and useless bosses (and how I myself discovered that I was stupid and useless), but…you’re seriously undervaluing yourself, LW.

    Consider this: if you did volunteer to be laid off, who would take over for what you do? While the revenue generating work is the most important part of the business, that can be scaled in a way that administrative tasks can’t. You can reduce production staff by 5%. You can’t reduce the management work by 5% in the same way.

    A lot of people suggested you push back against layoffs in your department, and…I partly agree, but also I worry that next time they’ll just lay people off for you.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      That’s a good point, I wonder if that would count against the OP in the future, as in “can’t make difficult decisions” etc.

  60. BRR*

    So what I’m missing from the letter is what happens to the team without a manager? Are you, as a layer of management in the org chart, necessary? Sometimes management is needed and sometimes it’s not. I was laid off last year when it really would have made more sense for my manager to be laid off (yes I know it sounds biased). The department was very top heavy before the lay offs and it was only worse after. We could have easily adjusted the org structure in many other ways that would have made more sense.

    I’m getting the sense that your main reasons for wanting to be laid off over someone in your team is because it’s not fair to the team member. Layoffs are often not fair. They’re often about necessity.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      OP addressed that:

      I tend to be the bridge between our front line revenue team and the doers, but that bridge could be reestablished with more senior leaders taking some of the lift and dealing with my folks directly.

  61. WFH with Cat*

    Sorry, but I don’t see any way in which laying yourself off will save anyone’s job. The new mgr — and there will be a new mgr because they are not going to leave your role empty — will still have to lay off at least one person. And that new mgr is far less likely to feel as committed to and protective of the team as you do, so any further layoffs will probably be handled with less care than you might like.

    You can push back now with all the data and passion you can muster, and possibly prevent having to lay off someone. Alternately, you could also talk honestly with the team — not saying whether is a good idea for a manager or not, it’s just an idea — and see if anyone has been thinking about leaving. If so, perhaps your energy would be better spent fighting for a decent severance package for that person or to keep them as a consultant or whatever might help.

    But, bottom line: Sacrificing your own job will not protect anyone else’s. And it will leave your team leaderless for a period and then quite likely working for a boss who doesn’t care as much as you do.

  62. Conspiracy-Industrial Complex*

    The only way to be safe from the Office Death Panel is to join the Office Death Panel.

  63. Another manager*

    OP, my advice would be different from many of the other commenters. I was in a comparable situation myself for a while, when the superstar department head, my boss, was chased off because of politics. I was the acting dept. head for months, during which the administrative limbo interfered with the department’s performance.

    After more than a year, which included making me take a pay cut, I was finally rewarded with the permanent department head position and a substantial increase in salary. However, the organization I was working in was not, overall, dysfunctional. That’s why I would suggest you find another job now. If you stay, you anticipate that your department’s performance will suffer, and that won’t be as good a time for you to job-hunt. It sounds as if the business is poorly run, and that’s why you should leave now, when it’s a good time for you.

  64. Cendol*

    OP, I hope you’re not my boss, because I’d be devastated if you laid yourself off! Good managers make a world of difference during high stress times.

    As other commenters have pointed out, with you gone, your team might *still* be in the line of fire, and they would have lost their best advocate. If layoffs are inevitable, I would second the suggestion to see if anyone on your team was already thinking of leaving and might be open to taking a severance package.

  65. EventPlannerGal*

    I think that when you are at the point of having already suggested laying yourself off, being flatly refused by your leadership and then contemplating pushing back on that, this is no longer about laying yourself off. I think that on some level you want to quit, maybe because of the declining industry besieged by barbarians and holding back a tsunami of work amid a pandemic, maybe because your new MBA has changed how you think about your job, I don’t know, and this situation has presented itself where quitting can be reframed as actually an altruistic act.

    If you want to quit then that’s completely fine! You do need, though, to be realistic about whether it will actually accomplish what you want it to (I think many commenters have outlined why it might not) and whether you can afford to do so – I presume that the answer is yes given the question and your successful career, but the fact that you haven’t mentioned your personal circumtances at ALL in this letter even when they’re very relevant kind of makes me wonder if that’s a topic you yourself are trying not to think about. It’s important to be clear with yourself why you are making big decisions like this.

  66. HarvestKaleSlaw*

    Sometimes reading over your own question can help. OP, have you already decided to move on from this company? Is there any chance you actually welcome the moral clarity this situation gives you? You describe a dysfunctional, poorly-managed, failing company. Perhaps you have considered leaving in the past. If you did, what were your doubts? What stopped you? When you think about leaving now – in a heroic way where you are saving your team in general and a good worker in particular – what are you feeling?

  67. HR in the City*

    So to me I see this is kind of a no win situation. I feel like cutting yourself for the good of your team means that they have jobs BUT without you as the buffer for them things will get worse for them. You staff might not realize how much buffering you are doing so once they are working hard & having to deal with all the BS than most will feel that the job isn’t worth it and quit. So I’d make sure that you lay out both scenarios for your boss. The one where you leave and the one where a team member is cut. And I would sort of go with the nitty gritty of your employee quirks. If one employee can only work efficiently with polka music playing than let your boss know that now they get to manage that. It probably won’t work and most times companies do things that are against their best interest but I think that you need to try your best to show how valuable your team is before you sacrifice your own job.

  68. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

    Without reading all the comments, I focused on this:

    Firstly, I make the most, and by a decent margin, over anyone else in the group. I would definitely save the team from taking further losses. Secondly, my job is largely strategic and managerial these days, rather than in the weeds of making and execution

    ‘I make the most money’ etc seems a short-term way of thinking about things, in that hypothetically: if you were to ‘lay yourself off’ now in order to save the rest of the team, they would then be without the managerial input which you yourself admit is the driver of the team’s success and is uncommon (though not unappreciated, I assume!) within your company. In short it may be a short term “quick win” but have a poor outcome long term. Yes, you might save the team from taking further losses in this iteration, but in the next one, with different or lack of management, and less contribution to the company, there could very well be more losses…

    I think that you have to make the difficult decision to decide who (out of your reports) to lay off, rather than yourself, unless there is any way to push back on that requirement altogether.

  69. agnes*

    It’s letters like this that make me wonder what the heck US Business schools are teaching executives about how to run a successful company. Here you have a strong performing team and the people making decisions at the very top still don’t understand how to evaluate the contributions of their employees and make adjustments accordingly. Instead they say ” just cut somebody” from the team doing the best work in the company.

    I wish you well. I hope you and your team can find other work in a company that appreciates your contributions and is better managed than the one you currently work in.

    1. Colette*

      They may very well be making the best decision possible – we don’t know. You can be the world’s best telegraph operator, but that doesn’t guarantee you a job in a world where no one uses telegraphs. And if they have to choose between saving the business line that will take them into the future vs. saving one that is winding down, the future line is the one to choose.

    2. NW Mossy*

      Layoffs tend to come in two flavors – cyclical ones for feast-or-famine industries like oil & gas, or the last buckets of water over the side of a ship that’s half sunk already. This one sounds like the second.

  70. QuietRiot*

    I don’t have the time right at this moment to read the comments (will do so later) so I apologize if someone has already said this: Don’t Do It. You say that some of the higher-ups can assume the liaison work you do, but I suspect they won’t want to – so one of your fabulous team members will likely be tapped to do it and take them away from the day-to-day business. Plus – you said you do some of the day-to-day work too (lmk if I misunderstood that) and I would be willing to bet the higher-ups would have no idea how to do that even if they wanted to – so, again, your team members will take on more in that way too. Finally – there is no guarantee that your leaving will prevent future layoffs on your team. I would recommend staying and if you can’t make a pitch to keep everyone, think about the skills of your team members and identify the person whose tasks could be assumed by the rest of the team most easily. It is terrible, I know, but your company gets a lot by keeping you – who knows how to help your team pivot and still get the work done. I am really, really sorry you are going through this.

  71. Policy Wonk*

    Selecting who to lay off remains a difficult question, but the question of whether to lay yourself off is easy. No. Don’t do it.

    You raise good points about the importance of your team, but you don’t talk about who would fill your role. I doubt the Barbarians you cite will leave that role vacant, so you will lose a worker bee anyway, and depending on who they favor and would elevate, your employees could be far worse off. Alternatively, if they don’t fill your role, who is likely to take it upon themselves to step in? Someone will, count on it. Again, I doubt that person would take the same thoughtful approach you do.

    I’m sorry for the quandary, but laying yourself off isn’t the answer.

  72. fluffy*

    This sounds like a very difficult situation where there’s no proper winning solution. But for a least-bad result, is it possible to tell your team members about the situation and offer a better severance package for people who volunteer to be laid off?

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      It doesn’t sound like OP has discretion to offer a better severance package (or even if she were to go back to her own management, no doubt there will be a ‘standard’ severance, if any). I feel like the only way an enhanced severance package could be offered would be an off the record payment from OP personally (which of course, isn’t rexommended!)

  73. Luke G*

    Are there ANY departments in the company that are hiring at a skill level roughly parallel to your team? I was faced with a comparable situation a while back- told I had to reduce my team by 1 for budget reasons. However, the company was trying to tighten up the salary budget in our R&D department while the Quality Control group was simultaneously understaffed and filling positions. Although it’s not a 1:1 match (people tend to try to move from QC to R&D, not the other way around) I was able to lay out the case that “Betsy is the person my team can best manage without, but instead of terminating her we should offer her one of the open QC positions. It’s a good fit for her skills and she’ll make roughly the same amount of money, plus it will save us the cost and hassle of recruiting and training.”

    My pitch was successful and they agreed that they would give her that as an alternative to termination. Then we got a sudden surge of work and the powers that be FINALLY realized that I had been right all along about not really being able to do with one less person, and the whole plan was scrapped. But still, that’s something to consider. If they absolutely positively won’t budge on cutting your headcount, you could give someone a softer place to land (and even if they don’t really like the option, you’d be arranging for them to have income in the short term while they job searched).

  74. Chopsington*

    There is another option. Blow up the team for their own good. What you described is a situation in which there is no good outcome, just delayed suffering. It’s an industry that is shrinking. The company has been and will likely keep doing layoffs. Your team isn’t a profit center. No matter what you do now to escape this situation, it sounds like the future still holds more of the same.

    The best thing for everyone on the team would be to start planning for what the next phase of everyone’s career will be, not to cling on desperately to this one.

      1. Chopsington*

        Don’t fight the lay off. All things being equal lay off the person most likely to find their next job quickly. Have an honest conversation with your team about the future of the company. Support their job searches while still employed until the next round of layoffs. Start looking for your next role yourself.

  75. LilyP*

    Oh my god please PLEASE find a new job for yourself! That has to be an option you’re considering here. It is so clear that your upper management is dysfunctional, doesn’t appreciate you, and is not going to change. The job you know and like is going to stop existing as your team shrinks. Don’t do it for your team or your company, get yourself out of there for *yourself*!

  76. SEM*

    Your staff is high performing because of you. Explain to management that the work can’t be done with one fewer person- they’ll decide if you have to cut someone anyway but it can’t be you. High performing teams aren’t that way by accident

  77. Opey*

    Hello. It’s me. OP.

    I want to thank so many of you–especially those of you who posted over and over and re-engaged in this conversation repeatedly. I have read everything here. Every. Single. Comment. Really. I want to share some things given a few recurring themes, which I think will help put a pin in this. Or, I don’t know, it might create more conversational flow! In any case, please accept my many thanks to each of you. I have reached out to a lot of friends for counsel on this, but I have to say, this group has really been the most thoughtful and thorough with my query.

    First I want to address an issue mentioned by a few astute commenters: Short- vs Long-term outcomes. All those people calling out my lack of strategic long-term thinking, you’re absolutely right. I see this as a short term problem, because it’s so clear that long-term, the whole thing is increasingly a house of cards. My gut is wrenched by the idea of taking one of my people–who through no fault of their own, or of any of us, since we’ve been profitable this year!–and throwing them into this job market. The Times recently ran a graph with labor stats on their Saturday front page. It showed that of the approximately 20 million jobs in the US (where this is happening) that were lost to the pandemic from March to May, about 11 million have returned. That means 9 million net loss to opportunity. The creative industries in particular have just been pummeled. I find it reprehensible to throw anyone into that climate, especially when they have delivered and their work will continue for quite some time. So my thinking is short term, in that if they let me go, I’ll get the severance (more sizable as I’m more well-paid) and the unemployment, and then my folks will have some time to figure themselves out. They know what kind of company we work for. If I act as the canary in the coal mine, so my thinking goes, perhaps they can get themselves out of there without having to take the hit that could potentially be ruinous. So agreed–I’m not thinking long-term. I’m thinking GET OUT ALIVE. Of course, that means I literally go for broke. But I can sleep at night with that one.

    Second point I’d like to make: this has been framed to me as primarily a cost-shifting and budget-balancing exercise. I’ve been told (though having been through this rodeo before have strong doubts to the veracity of this promise) that I’ll have freelance dollars instead, and that since all the other divisions of my company can make do with only 1 or 2 people on their teams in these roles, my team of 4 needs to lose a person and freelance out the rest. It’s purely a fixed-cost to variable-cost move. Bean counters, etc. My agita rises first from having saved them significant sums by moving away from this model when I reorganized the team several years ago from a primarily flex-worker basis with two staff to four full time roles and very marginal freelance which resulted in net gain of 24% to the bottom line. Management (capital M) has forgotten this savings and now only sees liabilities in full time roles, rewards and office expenses. My senior leadership reviles this as much as I do, but won’t communicate it back up because “we have to match” the other divisions, and it’s been made so by decree. Never mind that these other divisions are losing money and as a result of the mismanagement and poor strategic thinking, have been unable to pivot quickly in crisis. I can’t remember if I mentioned this in my original letter, but it bears repeating: We were a net contributor to the larger corporation that has had significant revenue impacts this year. So as someone points out, yes, they are cutting from their profiteer, to save their less fortunates. It’s a case study in shit leadership. For this reason, I’m just astounded.

    Thirdly, some focused on what I didn’t mention about myself. Yes, I am burnt out and was looking for an easy way out. @Collette called me immediately and repeatedly on this and she’s not wrong. I’ve been trying to get out for some time, but I’m just senior enough that it’s a slog to move over, out or up quickly, and not quite senior enough that people think of me as executive material (yet). Pity for them, tbh. I’m a good manager (and yes, I know it). That doesn’t mitigate my basic needs to survive, however. Laying myself off blows a mortar into my financial life. As a person who is old enough to now be senior management, but, by a hair, falls into a Certain Generation Everyone Loves To Hate, I am also one of those who was on the frontlines of layoffs in 2008-09. My earning capacity has never recovered (though I’m actively trying to remedy that with a job search), and what tiny little bit of financial security I built in the first ten years of my career vanished into piles of debt that I have managed to varying degrees of success since the economy started slowly recovering in the last decade. This year was the first time I was able to actually save, because it was also the first time I made enough AND as it happens, the first time my employer began a traditional savings benefit with a marginal contribution match. So by most accounts, I have about 10% of what my peer group would have in my tax-abated retirement account. In other words, losing my job would be survivable short term. Long term, it’s ruinous. Beyond 6 months, I’m looking at bankruptcy, without a doubt (hey, someone’s gotta pay for that MBA, amiright?). I’m mostly just thinking of my team’s ability to survive the pandemic and how little I want the job I’ll get as a result of losing this person; it will mean *I* am the one doing their job, a job I used to have, and one which is lovely but I can’t do with my current job and don’t particularly want. So perhaps I can solve several issues by compressing management layers and cross my fingers that I find work before the worst happens to me, about this time next June.

    Anyway, final point I want to impart on all of you is the majority of you are right: me extracting myself doesn’t solve the bigger problem, and ultimately I need to get out. So in the next 24 hours, I’ll decide which head will have to go to satisfy someone in a finance position hundreds of miles away, simply because my headcounts look “bloated” in comparison to my fellow Desk-Of-Clever-Service chiefs, and in spite of the fact that my Division closed record-breaking business in the midst of a pandemic. It’s madness. And then, I’ll hope that I can break through the HR noise and finally land somewhere else, where I can rebuild. The damage that comes in the wake of these decisions will be vast. The pain that’s coming during them is so insanely unnecessary and I really appreciate all of you letting me treat you as a sounding board.

    You’re right; extricating myself doesn’t solve this problem, so I’ll just handle it, just like I do every day, and have quite loyally done for this venture, for “more than three and less than 20” years (lol–someone deserves a medal for observing that; let’s say the number is more than 5 years, but not enough for the severance to exceed a couple months’ pay). In the end, the business will suffer. I’ll suffer. The poor soul who’s going to be “converted to freelance” will suffer the most and hardest. We’ll all land on our feet somehow, but indeed, damage done.

    Thanks y’all. Those of you who said they want to work for me, I appreciate your sentiments and thank you for being supportive. I’ll let you know how it pans out.

    With much gratitude,
    O. P.

    1. Opey*

      PS: Those of you that point out the value I bring to the table, and how little I value myself in the equation: Thank you. I needed to hear that. You are likely quite right. Sigh.

    2. Filosofickle*

      Thank you for such a thoughtful response. Sounds like you’ve examined it from every angle and have found clarity on the best path forward in a lose-lose situation. And, in the opinion of an internet rando who’s another creative-turned-MBA, I agree with your analysis. Sending you strength, luck, and socially distant hugs if you want them.

  78. babblemouth*

    Hi LW! First, I want to commend you for even thinking of this as an option. I’ve been through layoffs before and managers never seem to consider they might be the ones who could take the hit, so it’s refreshing to see this.

    I think it’s not unreasonable to consider doing this. However, if you “sacrifice” yourself, make sure it’s not in vain. That is, if no one is left to manage internal politics for your team, you leaving might expose them much more in the next round of layoffs (and it sounds from your letter that these happen regularly, pandemic or not). If you’re doing it to protect them, who will protect them after you’re gone? Do you trust upper management to do that for them?

    Obviously your personal situation matters too. If you are comfortable financially, and/or feel like you’d easily find another position somewhere else, it would be kindness to take the hit in the place of others who might find this more difficult. If you’re less secure financially, make sure you negotiate a good severance – you’ll be saving the company a lot of money if your salary is that much higher than your reports; make sure you emphasize that.

  79. Robin*

    All of these comments raise so many valid points and factors to consider, but I just keep going back to this as the bottom line: You are a manager, this is a part of management and you need to do your job even though it really really sucks. The best thing you can do is advocate hard for your team and for the person who will be laid off.

  80. knitcrazybooknut*

    I did this back in 2011 or so. My company had been taken over by a horrible grandparent company, and the newly-installed CEO cut the workforce in half and hired all of his buddies into C-suite roles at twice the salary the old CEO had been paid. We had round after round of cuts, and I was working in HR, putting together the severance packets for hundreds of coworkers/friends. Someone I had hired would have been next, and I just flat resigned. I was only a lead, but I couldn’t hack it. I wouldn’t change it. That company had become something I hated, and I wasn’t going to let my coworker and husband and sons take the hit. Nope. I weathered being unemployed and I stand by my choice.

  81. RedinSC*

    I”m late to the game on this one, but here’s what I did back in 2002-ish

    Working in a tech company that was hit hard by the .bomb decline, my team went from 22 people in the US to 5 in the US and 4 in India. The company asked for additional reduction in staff (even though we were a profit center). I had moved to almost exclusively managing people and was out of touch with our software and all that needed to happen in the day to day work of supporting it. SO I did lay myself off. I had my list, and once we got to the critical numbers, we needed to keep the people who knew how to do the daily work, and their management could be done by another person.

    So yeah, in your case, if you can’t actually pick up and do a lot of the work that is going to come to the team, I think it is time to let yourself go. a

  82. JSPA*

    I’m even later.

    If you could furlough yourself for a period of time that saves them the equivalent of someone else’s salary, you get a break, they save money, and you slide back in with a secure job (if you still want it) once business picks up.

    But first, see if anyone on your team is hoping to transition out, anyway, if you can think of a way to do it. Someone may have seen the writing on the wall, and be on their way out the door.

  83. JSPA*

    I’m even later.

    If you could furlough yourself for a period of time that saves them the equivalent of someone else’s salary, you get a break, they save money, and you slide back in with a secure job (if you still want it) once business picks up.

    But first, see if anyone on your team is hoping to transition out, anyway, if you can think of a way to do it. Someone may have seen the writing on the wall, and be on their way out the door.

    (In either case, be prepared for more people to peel off, as the workload continues, and the support drops.)

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