Editor's Note: The Ethics Guy, Dr. Bruce Weinstein, writes the ethics column for BusinessWeek.com.Here is Dr. Weinsteins followup blog to to downsizing: "Downsizing 101 – When You Have to Do It"
Bruce Weinstein, Ph.D.
The Ethics Guy, BusinessWeek.com
Americans are bracing for massive job losses in the wake of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Even before the recent crisis on Wall Street, anxiety about employment was high; earlier this year, the U.S. Labor Dept. released a report stating that there had been a net loss of 63,000 jobs, which was the biggest decline in five years.
Whether or not your own job is in jeopardy in the near future, at some point in your career you may become a victim of downsizing. What should you do? What you should avoid doing at all costs? We’ll consider these questions in this column, the second of a two-part series on the ethics of downsizing.
WHAT’S ETHICS GOT TO DO WITH IT?
Being laid off is one of the most traumatic events we can experience. On the Holmes-Rahe Stress Scale, getting fired is the eighth most stressful life experience, behind the death of a spouse (#1) or going to jail (#4), but ahead of the death of a close friend (#17), foreclosure on a mortgage or loan (#21), or in-law troubles (#24). Rightly or wrongly, many of us define ourselves by our jobs, which is why one of the first questions we ask someone we meet is, “What do you do?”
I’ve already shown why downsizing has ethical implications for the bearers of bad news. But ethical issues are also at stake for those on the receiving end. If you’ve just been downsized, I’ll bet your first response was, “That’s not fair!.” Even if your company had—or believes it had–good reasons to eliminate your position, from your point of view it feels as though an injustice has occurred. And of course fairness is one of five fundamental ethical principles (Read 'Be Fair- Part 1' and 'Be Fair – Part 2' ). Even if it’s hard to see how ethics plays a role in other areas of your life, when you’re on the receiving end of a perceived injustice, ethics moves front and center into your field of vision.
But it’s not just fairness that is at stake here. When you ask yourself, “How will I able to pay my bills now?,” the underlying question is, “How can I meet my responsibilities to my family, myself, and those to whom I owe money?” All of these responsibilities are ethical ones and are applications of the principles avoiding harm of making things better, and showing respect for others.
Finally, we’ve all known people who let the loss of their job get the better of them, so the ethical principle of compassion, which applies to how we treat ourselves too, is also on the table.
A CODE OF PERSONAL RESPONSBILITY
I propose the following guidelines for you to consider, should you find yourself suddenly out of a job.
Yes, it’s dispiriting to get laid off, but MacKay’s book reminds us of the riches that may lie just beyond the horizon, which would have been unavailable had we stayed where we were.
Bottom line: Taking the high road is challenging enough when all is going well. The real test of your character comes from how you respond when things are at their worst. Following the above guidelines will help you show the world—and yourself—that nothing, not even the loss of your job, can hold you back from success.
Note: Nothing in this column is intended to be or should be construed as legal advice. Please consult an attorney for legal questions you may have about your termination.