Zero notice sackings - Techies want honesty

Lies, disrespect, sneak attacks: When it comes to redundancy, few technology companies deliver the news with dignity and truthfulness

That's the conclusion of a survey released Monday by Bloomington, Minnesota-based Techies.com, a career portal for information technology workers. Researchers determined that laid-off employees value truthfulness more than any other factor--but only a minority of cost-cutting bosses are willing to be blunt in face-to-face conversations.

Two out of five workers received the news directly from their immediate supervisor, while most received the news from a higher-level manager, human resources executive or even a contractor hired specifically to deliver the harsh news. An unlucky 4 percent heard word from media reports, and another 4 percent heard the news via an impersonal email.

Roughly one in three techies said they expected to be laid off, but the rest said it was "completely unexpected"--either companywide or in his or her individual department.

Adding insult to the unpleasant surprise: Three-quarters of respondents said they had only a few hours to pack their things and vacate the office. Nearly one in 10 had to leave the premises immediately while someone else packed their belongings.

When asked to describe how they felt about getting laid off, techies said the worst part had nothing to do with a lack of severance or failed reimbursements. Rather, they most despised the feeling that their bosses lied to them or didn't prepare them for the prospect of layoffs.

"The very day my layoff occurred I had just asked my boss if he knew what was happening, and he assured me that everything was fine," said a network administrator. "However, I did not take him at face value and talked to the HR department. After an hour or so, I received a call. My answer was that I was being laid off. I said, 'When?' and they said, 'Now.' At 3 p.m., with zero notice, I was told to turn in my keys and leave."

Several respondents complained of the "sneak attack" layoff method. A help desk analyst said he was kept in the dark about layoffs and didn't find out until after a vacation.

"To my surprise, when I walked into the office, all the lights were off and no one was in the office," he said. "That is the worst part of being laid off--not even knowing until you show up for work the next day."

Survey data came from about 700 tech workers who had been laid off at least once within the past three years. The survey included full-time, part-time, self-employed and unemployed tech professionals throughout the United States, ranging from chief information officers to computer operators.

Although they were most angry about evasive executives, they also had reason to bemoan paltry severance packages: More than a quarter of the respondents received no severance pay or benefits. Forty-three percent received a month or less of pay and benefits.

Six percent got to keep their computers or other equipment, and only one in four people received reimbursements for outstanding expenses the company owed them.

Workers who made less than $50,000 per year were the least likely to receive severance. Techies in New England and the Rocky Mountains received the most generous severance packages, and Southern techies received the smallest packages.

Techies.com researcher Nick Doty said the "most disturbing survey finding" was the laid-off workers' rather grim prospects for finding a new position. Of those laid off in the past six months, 76 percent are still unemployed. Of those laid off six months to a year ago, 65 percent are still looking for a new job.

But most troubling to techies themselves was a perceived lack of honour or respect among axe-wielding executives. Many workers complained that their bosses bought luxury items around the same time they were firing rank-and-file programmers and engineers.

"Monday came, and companywide layoffs came with it--save a very small skeleton crew," said a network engineer. "No paychecks; and by filing bankruptcy so quickly (the company) protected itself from labour law violations we could have (sought) protection with. This was of course about a month after the CEO purchased a Ferrari, and the CTO a Dodge Viper."

CNET Networks, the publisher of News.com, is an investor in Techies.com.

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