Mar 10, 2023 | Advancing Your Career

I don’t want to lay off any of my employees. Should I resign?

Q. Dear Zenagos,
My boss asked me to make a list of who I would lay off from my team if we need to do a 50% workforce reduction. I know all of my employees personally, so I can’t do it. Should I resign?
Participating in a layoff – such that some or all of the employees you supervise lose their jobs, but you keep yours – is an awful feeling. You will feel responsible for their worries, and you may also suffer from survivors’ guilt. It’s not unusual to consider resigning in order to avoid the experience.

However, before you resign, here are some things to consider:

Companies run many scenarios that they don’t execute
When a company gets behind its budget, its senior leaders will run a variety of scenarios. Since you have been asked to run a 50% workforce reduction scenario, you can conclude that your company’s leadership sees trouble ahead and is considering making some difficult decisions that could affect employees. However, you cannot conclude (yet) that you will actually have to execute the layoff. Your boss doesn’t want to participate in a layoff, either. Layoffs are hard on a company’s reputation, and most leaders consider them a last resort. So, it is entirely possible that your boss will run the scenario and then decide not to do the layoff.

Your boss may be testing you
Junior managers often have difficulty choosing between their loyalty to their direct reports (the employees they supervise) and their responsibility to the company. Many senior managers will not trust a less experienced manager who cannot make decisions that favor the company’s needs. So, a senior manager may test a less experienced manager by assigning an emotionally difficult task that requires prioritizing the company over the employees. If you panic, you will be sending a signal that you cannot handle the difficult decisions that are required of senior leaders. Again, running an emotionally difficult scenario is not the same as actually laying off your employees.

You need to consider your needs, too
Presumably, you need your job and your income just as much as the people you supervise need their jobs and their income. It may not be wise to sacrifice yourself. If a layoff is going to occur, your resignation is unlikely to prevent it. Your action may not even save one job. Resigning may help you avoid some guilty feelings, but it will put you in a difficult financial position. Employees who are laid off often receive severance packages, and they qualify for unemployment benefits. Employees who resign usually do not qualify for unemployment. You may do yourself significant financial harm by resigning.

Only you know how much emotional pain you can handle. If the stress of participating in a layoff will be more than you can bear – such that it outweighs the financial risks to you – then resigning may be the right choice for you. However, you might regret reacting too quickly to an assignment to run a layoff scenario. It might just be one option that the company considers.


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