75

We are a company that tries to be "strong in performance management" (I know, a poor euphemism for throwing people out) and today we terminated about 10% of the company for a variety of reasons, ranging from need to low performance to pivoting (we do a lot of this). This included all the product managers as we decided to rehire all of them for more experienced ones. I didn't make the decision.

Here is my problem. I am the lead HR specialist responsible for hiring and retaining software developers.

The problem is that one of the key software developers is very close to one of the fired product managers and he holds great sway over what the others do as he is the kind to "guarantee a good reference to any member of his team the muppets order terminated." He is an individual contributor so not a manager and not that senior, but he has placed most of the developers who we have "performance managed" out so the other developers like him. He is the kind of person who has written dozens of LinkedIn references.

His support seems to help with retention as nobody quits the company (we pay very well) just in case as he is the backup plan.

We don't have a lot of leverage over him as he is the kind to regularly get offers and use them to demand a raise and if he can place people we terminate, he can probably get a job himself.

My problem is how to convince him not to quit over us firing all the product managers. One of the fired product managers brought him into the company so I fear that she will take him out and that he will hand out tickets to leave, leading to an exodus. And then I get performance managed out.

I can't fix the product manager issue as that is not my area.

Any ideas of what I can say to him?

5
  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – DarkCygnus
    Aug 19 at 1:25
  • 23
    "he has placed most of the developers who we have 'performance managed' out" was a challenge to understand until I read more of the note. So what this meant is that the developer took people fired by your company and helped place them in other companies, helping these terminated people to get some decent jobs elsewhere. Okay. Got it. (I initially read that thinking he was somehow structuring teams within your company, which was a bit confusing until I further understood after some of the later details helped paint a fuller picture...)
    – TOOGAM
    Aug 20 at 4:30
  • 3
    If one of your key developers is always getting offers better than what you are paying him and forcing you guys to give him raises, then you don't pay that well. Otherwise, he wouldn't be able to get better offers, right? Keep that in mind.
    – T. Sar
    Aug 20 at 21:46
  • "Strong in performance management" suggest that someone has drunk some Silicon Valley Kool-Aid. Problem is, you only get to so this if you a) provide hazard pay (the hazard being your managers and b) your company looks good on someone's resume. If you're not both of these then you're in a death spiral.
    – Dancrumb
    Aug 21 at 0:03
  • I don't understand what you mean by This included all the product managers as we decided to rehire all of them for more experienced ones. It sounds like you are firing product manager just to rehire them but I don't think that's right.
    – Michael J.
    Aug 21 at 2:10

16 Answers 16

263

To be completely blunt, it sounds like your company has no idea how to manage its most valuable resources: the people.

For as long as that is the case, there is nothing you can say to make the situation better.

Your company is a bad place to be in if you're a human, because it has signaled (multiple times, it seems) that you as a person mean nothing to them and you might be out on the street next month. That makes people perform badly, it can easily create a toxic culture, and all sorts of bad second and third order effects.

Nothing you say will change this.

I have no idea why this person has even stayed this long. It doesn't make sense to me. You have to ask them and figure out their deeper motivations for staying. Then appeal to those when you think they might be reminded of how it could be a good idea to leave.


There is one good thing you can say to the remaining people during a layoff. It's "This isn't what it seems. We needed to do this just once. The rest of you have tenure for life, should you want it."

But then you must follow up, or burn through all of your trust with these people for the rest of your career.

Maybe you should be thinking more about how to tell off upper management than what to say to this developer?

13
  • 141
    Having draconian decimations with hard-coded cutoffs... and then complaining that they might lose key people. Yep, OP's company is truly deserving of all the pain they get, unless they modernize and hard. Or go out of business when a certain threshold of key losses is passed. As OP, I would start looking for a new job. Aug 18 at 4:49
  • 18
    I want to edit this for the profanity, but it really needs to be there, in this case. Aug 18 at 5:46
  • 8
    @WesleyLong: For future reference, such edits are encouraged. Due to the wide range of audiences and cultures on SE, profanity is disallowed on SE sites except as necessary for language-related SEs. See meta.stackexchange.com/a/22233/136378 .
    – Brian
    Aug 18 at 13:25
  • 21
    I apologise for the initial profanity. I rarely use it otherwise, but this situation really blew my lid off. I've edited it out.
    – kqr
    Aug 18 at 14:20
  • 23
    I have no idea why this person has even stayed this long - most likely because quote: we pay very well - some people can deal with A LOT of shit for the right price.. myself included
    – hanshenrik
    Aug 18 at 15:45
153

Hand out gobs of money.

You have a bunch of all pretty mad people and some worried ones who are also very in demand in the current market, especially if this guy gives them a reference.

In their situation, I would have sent out resumes and messaged piles of old acquaintances today. It is quite possible that the people you want to retain are already booking interviews.

Hand out retention bonuses that vest in a few months. That will let the ill feeing die down.

Literally, walk down to where the devs work (if applicable) and offer 10K bonus for remaining 3 months.

Brutal companies generally need high compensation to retain people. Perhaps a lesson.

2
  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Lilienthal
    Aug 19 at 20:29
  • 1
    One way to put this is "risk premium" if employees are at risk of termination all the time, then they're at risk, you need to pay a premium if you expect someone to accept taking unnecessary risks.
    – Mefitico
    Aug 20 at 23:22
98

There's nothing you can say that will convince him, because you don't have the authority to back it up. If your company regularly fires people and you have no say in this process, how could you possibly give him any kind of assurances that it won't happen again, or that he won't be next?

If you can offer him (and his team) significant bonuses and pay rises that might buy you a bit of time, but given the culture of the company any good developers that you still have will already be looking for new options. Especially when they start talking to their former co-workers and find out how much more they're earning, and how much better the new company cultures are.

Brush up your CV, ask him for a good reference, and find yourself a job in a company with management that isn't isn't going to fire you because of its own incompetence.

6
  • 30
    I like this answer. Don't try to stop the exodus - hitch your star to his wagon and go with them. They'll probably all be happier for it.
    – Steve-O
    Aug 18 at 12:37
  • 3
    +1 just for the last sentence. No way I'd stay in a company like this. Aug 19 at 5:29
  • 2
    If I'd get a pay rise in such a company, my first thought would be that this moved me higher up the list of people to be fired when the inevitable losses materialize.
    – MSalters
    Aug 19 at 13:54
  • 1
    Yep. If you find yourself on the wrong side, switch sides. Did the company hire exclusively bad product managers? If so, they're awful. Or are they firing a mix of good and bad product managers so that they'll have to replace the good ones too? If so, they're awful. And there's no evidence they want to get better! Aug 19 at 20:17
  • 1
    +1 Though I doubt if you have much chance of getting a real recommendation from the influence peddler.
    – Trunk
    Aug 20 at 0:31
69

"My problem is how to convince him not to quit over us firing all the product managers. One of the fired product managers brought him into the company so I fear that she will take him out and that he will hand out tickets to leave, leading to an exodus. And then I get performance managed out."

This is your core problem. It's not that you might lose these people. It's that you might get "performance managed out" for losing these people... As your company has a culture of firing people. So... the developers have a solution to this. They go to this guy. Maybe try doing the same? The fact is, your job is not stable. You are in charge of retaining developers in the face of bizarre and arbitrary firings, and you'll be fired if they leave. You need an exit strategy more than you need a retention strategy. (Both are nice, but the former is the more important for you, really.) So... Talk with the guy about it. Maybe he can hook you up.

5
  • I answered the asked question, but this is a good answer as well. The guy seems quite generous and caring, just about colleagues, not the company. OP, as long as you are solidly not to blame, you might consider trying to join his group. Aug 18 at 14:40
  • No way can OP get any help from the departed. Scores will be settled.
    – Trunk
    Aug 18 at 17:48
  • 2
    @Trunk I'm not saying the departed. I'm saying the dude who's still there, who she's asking how to retain.
    – Ben Barden
    Aug 18 at 17:59
  • 1
    @Ben Barden Except that Billy Still-Here is a great buddy of Jimmy Kicked-Out or has sweet feeling towards Mary Ellen Wacked -- both of whom are mad as hell with OP for cutting them out after being so nice at the start. Working in an intense situation with someone can create a strong and protective emotional bond.
    – Trunk
    Aug 18 at 18:43
  • 3
    @Trunk Maybe. Doesn't mean that she can't (or shouldn't) at least try to have a civil conversation with the man. After all, she can honestly say that it wasn't her call and (reading between the lines) that she doesn't agree with it. Depending on what kind of guy he is, that sort of thing can matter quite a lot.
    – Ben Barden
    Aug 18 at 20:31
48

You're part of the problem.

That might sound mean. But, take a look at a few parts of your question:

nobody quits the company (we pay very well) ... he is the kind to regularly get offers and use them to demand a raise

So, in other words, you try to convince people you pay so well that nobody quits... and yet one of your most talented employees is getting better offers from other companies. Maybe you even believe it yourself, that the company pays extraordinarily well... but if that were the case, the dev in question wouldn't come back from their periodic job hunts with better offers.

We don't have a lot of leverage over him

So... you haven't asked them what they actually want, but you've taken stock on what ways you can control/coerce them? General rule of thumb: anyone that talks about having 'leverage' on another human being generally isn't being much of one.

I can't fix the product manager issue as that is not my area.

Aka, "I wash my hands of any responsibility of the bad things that have occurred."

You're the "Lead HR Specialist", in charge of the recruiting and retaining of the software devs. How vocally did you protest what happened? How firmly did you inform upper management that, if they go through with those firings, that it would lead to massive ill-will and likely lead to widespread turnover - and that the additional people leaving would be the most talented?

Did you go to bat for them? Even if only to illustrate potential retention issues you'd run into if upper-management proceeded?

... I have a feeling that you're not going to be regarded as an ally in this. If I were in one of those devs' shoes, after a massive 10% layoff, that I'd look at the "Lead HR Specialist" as a potential enemy.

10
  • 1
    His offers might not be for more money. The dev could just be using the threat of his departure to increase his salary.
    – Tim
    Aug 19 at 11:47
  • 3
    @DonBoitnott On most issues, the employee's and company's interests align and if the relationship is healthy, both benefit from the other's loyalty. HR is your friend if there's alignment, which there should be. In this particular case, both the company and the employees' interests would be improved by fixing this situation. Aug 19 at 20:19
  • @DavidSchwartz In a perfect situation, I suppose you're right. But find yourself in a disagreement with management and see whose side they take. Aug 20 at 11:38
  • 1
    @DonBoitnott Think about it. When you ask for a raise, or better working conditions, or for an abusive employee to be fired, do you really think it's not in the company's interest to do those things? And if it really wasn't in the company's interest, what argument could you possibly make to management anyway? You go to HR when the company is not acting in its own interests and it's HR's job to make middle management stop harming the company. Aug 20 at 16:22
  • 1
    @DavidSchwartz What you're saying is rather meaningless because it amounts to "I'm always on the side of angels and the only time anyone disagrees with me is if they're not." In a perfect world everyone might agree the same course of action is best, but that's not the case.
    – DKNguyen
    Aug 20 at 20:29
25

Any ideas of what I can say to him?

Of course, a spontaneous idea...

Today we kicked out a vital amount of people which removes experience and capacity with immediate effect and will cost us additional power in the future because everyone's mood is going down and down.
Particularly all product managers are gone. For those who don't know, these are the ones at the head of (new) products which means without them and their knowledge we could be stalled for an undeterminate time and all of our workflow will be twisted, even if we would find new ones today.
You are a valuable member of our team and you seem to be enough of an idiot so I seriously ask you to stay with us, until eventually we kick you too or go down the drain because there is no more background in this place that allows reasonable working.

Please take it more serious than it appears on the first glance ;-)

3
  • 22
    Yep, canning all product managers at the same time is definitely an unconventional move. May not inspire as much confidence in the future of the company as it was meant to do . . .
    – Pete W
    Aug 18 at 8:25
  • This is absolutely true. I'm not sure how a company could survive this kind of upheaval. If I was any employee in this company, I'd take it as a sign to jump the sinking ship, regardless what department I was in. Those managers represent a massive amount of domain knowledge. Without it and having to train new people, you're probably talking 6-12 months of massively degraded productivity, and massive losses of clients and profit because of it. And if people are fired because of that, it becomes a fairly quick spiral down the toilet for the whole company. Aug 19 at 19:14
  • 1
    Either that, or the project managers weren't adding much value, and didn't have much knowledge that wasn't already known by their teams — in which case it's not their departure but the management structure itself that's worrying…
    – gidds
    Aug 20 at 21:55
21

Frame Challenge:

This company sounds like a toxic hell hole (it may not be, but that is how it sounds), so instead of worrying about how to prevent people quitting when mass firings are the order of the day, I would recommend you polish your CV and go work for someone else while leaving is still your choice.

As for answering your question: as others have already pointed out, you really can't. If he decides its time to move on he will, and your employer's actions are making that increasingly likely.

I have seen more than one company make redundancies and then bleed to death as the talent they wanted to retain also found new jobs because they feared their positions were no longer safe. Indeed, after the first time I was among those leaving. There is no point waiting for the company to go bust because it no longer has the devs to service its product(s).

2
  • 4
    I had started on an answer like this but you beat me to it. >Any ideas of what I can say to him?< "Hey buddy, I don't like that they are firing everyone (I am not one of the bad guys/please be my friend). I would like to save the people on your team (see, I am a good person) but I am afraid they will fire me if I try to fight management (encourage sympathy by having a common enemy). Can you find me a new job that doesn't suck?" Aug 18 at 16:12
  • If you do this, take the time to educate yourself about how wrong and toxic everything was so that you don't just try to replicate that somewhere else. Aug 19 at 18:06
11

This isn't the person you should talk to to solve this problem.

You cannot expect that if you fire 10% of your employees in a day, that the rest will feel secure and happy in their jobs.

You cannot treat some people like they're valuable while treating others as if they're disposable, and expect morale to stay high. That would be expecting them to cease being human, having any kind of empathy or connection to the people they work with.

While that is obviously a reasonable thing to ask of your management, it's not at all a reasonable thing to ask of an emotionally mature and healthy human being who understands the consequences of their actions.

What you should do instead is focus on explaining this phenomenon to your leadership, so that they can make an informed decision about how they'd like to handle staffing in the future -

They can either double down on being soulless ghouls, and make sure that they're building in redundancy to your processes (this will be hard because apparently they keep firing the people who would author those processes), or they can learn not to pink-slip 10% of your staff on a regular basis.

2
  • 3
    I think he better get prepped for a new job anyways if he chooses this route.
    – DKNguyen
    Aug 19 at 0:51
  • @DKNguyen Honestly I have a great deal of difficulty imagining that this wouldn't already be at the top of OP's TODO list, given that they've expressed concern over being fired due to the inevitable consequences of their management's choices. It's only a matter of time before they're on the chopping block, might as well make a hail mary on the way out the door. Aug 19 at 14:43
8

I have to agree with those saying that your employer is too barbaric to work in a HR role for.

Software companies today have the most unusual expectations. They expect staff to arrive fully au fait with all their existing and prospective technologies. Then they cry foul when such self-taught and self-reliant staff decide - quite reasonably - to leave for better offers. They provided no nurturing or training to the careers of the departed yet enact airs of grieved betrayal.

You've provided no pen-pictures of the senior management who call the shots on commercial and technological decisions in the company. But I get the feeling that several are examples of people (usually men) who after early "success" in coding start to think that their limited good fortune will translate into more of the same in new ventures. Experience shows that those associated with repeated commercial success in software usually engage closely with other experienced professionals before making major investment decisions. I don't get that feeling about your superiors: it's more like a case of a group of drunks blundering around in the dark of night in an unfamiliar farmyard.

Look for a company that invests more in staff training, especially training your graduates.

4
  • 2
    This is not just the case in tech. In any business it pays to have certain tasked delegated to people who know more than you on the subject. It reminds me of the story of Richard Branson who was once asked how it can be that a person like him cannot read a balance sheet, to which he replied he has brilliant accountants that can tell him exactly what any balance sheet means.
    – Neil Meyer
    Aug 18 at 21:52
  • My point concerned the unavoidable coupling between employer investment and employee loyalty in a software company. Ruthless managers like Jack Welch exist in other sectors. So does non-investment in employees. But software cos can well afford it though few do. And software cos are forever likening themselves to messiahs while moaning about staff loyalty. Jack Welchs don't just dish it out, they can take it too. BTW Branson can read a balance sheet, whatever self-deprecating comment he may make to others. More importantly, he also knows what goes into making his own balance sheet healthy.
    – Trunk
    Aug 19 at 1:25
  • Ok, but the fact remains no business can operate just with the expertise of one person. There is no way in which such a high turnover in the workforce could be considered a good thing
    – Neil Meyer
    Aug 19 at 1:34
  • 4
    Agree with both statements. But treating anyone - least of all a professional person whose particular skills (soft eng) happen to be in high demand these times - like a yo-yo is not the way to bring additional expertise into the business. It's a common cause of people leaving a.s.a.p. The folly in the OP's company seems to me like an absence of management skills at the board level - like as if it's being run by a pack of ex-coders none of whom ever learned how to manage a business: one narcissistic führer and a few yes-men in Darwinian competition for his favor.
    – Trunk
    Aug 19 at 1:53
8

I feel like you may be trying to put a square peg into a round hole.

Your problem is that you just laid off a ton of people, including your lead developer's best friend (at the company), and you want the rest of the people staying to "feel safe". You are trying to solve that problem by throwing money at it, as if making $100 now is going to make me feel better when I get fired in 3 months anyway.

The thing about job security is that it is job security. If you pay me $100 more now, or $1000 more, or $10000 more, then you fire me in a month, then in a month from now I'll have zero income and have to find another job. Even if it is easy to find another job (and that isn't always the case, even when you think it is), it's still a hassle, and you may wind up making less money than you were before because you can't negotiate a salary when you have none to compare against.

This is not a problem that gets solved with money. Money is, of course, nice, but the core issue is that people will start looking for a new job as soon as they lose their feeling of job security, to minimize the amount of time they are without salary, and not a moment earlier or later. So even if you give this dude a substantial raise to keep him on, the fact of the matter remains that you just fired 10% of your company which screams some kind of managerial problem, financial insolvency, or some other such issue, and if it were me I'd want to jump off that ship ASAP while there are still lifeboats available, so to speak.

This begs the obvious question: If you give a person a "retention raise", why would that person not have faith in their job security? And the answer is that companies do shady shit all the time. I had a job a while back where I got a raise, and a promotion, and a glowing review from my boss who promoted me, and within 6 weeks I was terminated (the company was insolvent). Just because you give the person a raise doesn't mean (to me at least) that you're not going to do something shady and turn around and turf him the next day, and would not change my opinion regarding if I am/should be job hunting elsewhere.

So, the real question is, if throwing money at the problem isn't a solution, what is the solution?

Well, I never said that throwing money at the problem doesn't help, only that it's not a full solution. If you pay this guy a ridiculous rate that no other company would even think of matching, then he's less likely to quit, simply because he'd have to take a pay cut if he were to quit; absent other considerations it may make him less likely to make a move, because making such a move would cost him money. This strategy only works if he would be quitting for reasons other than job security, such as a retaliatory move for the aforementioned firing of his friend; as I said, there is no reason a company wouldn't do something shady like firing someone immediately after giving them a massive raise, and there is no reason that shouldn't be in the back of this employee's mind, particularly if he perceives the company to be insolvent and you're offering to make that insolvency problem worse by giving away more of the company's money.

However, be aware that if you intend to try to solve this problem with money, it has to be a lot of money. You're going to want to go above the pay cap of any local competitor by at least 15-20%. To put this into perspective, let's say you're a small company and you are in a region where Google has a regional office. Your small company, being a small company, will pay a good developer $150k. Google will pay a good developer $250k, but Google's interview is way harder to pass than yours, because they're Google. Your goal is to make this person not want to even attempt Google's interview, because if they attempt Google's interview then there is a chance they will pass (especially since you value this guy so much, the chances he's good enough for Google are high), and they will leave. So, in order to have that, you're going to have to pay him more than Google would, if he tried and passed Google's interview. Which would put his salary probably around $300k in order to make him not want to leave. Can you afford to give him such a salary increase?

But again, that doesn't solve the real problem, which is that if a company fires 10% of their workforce, then they are seen as insolvent. Companies don't just fire 10% of their workforce, including an entire department, "just because". If I was such an employee, my first thought would be either that management is cleaning house, or that management is trying to cut costs, both of which boil down to me being very concerned about my job security. You're going to have to be creative about solving this one; the goal is that you want your employees to not feel like they need an exit plan from your company on an immediate basis, which is how they feel right now. A possible solution to this would be some kind of written documentation that no other employees will be fired for a certain amount of time, with some actionable punitive damages to the company on the condition that someone was fired this way. Something like this:

To all employees:

As you may know, ABC Software Inc. just went through a large round of layoffs. Management would like to assure you that the company is not insolvent and we are continuing operations as normal. In order to make you all feel secure in remaining with ABC Software Inc. for the future to come, in addition to this letter promising that our current layoff round is complete, we will be paying $20,000 bonus severance (in addition to any other severance promised) to anyone terminated without cause from ABC Software Inc. until December 31, 2021, who was fully employed (not on probation or PIP) as of August 18, 2021.

Thank you all for your continued service through these trying times.

If I was to receive this notice, it would make me feel that the company is really not going to fire me, at least not this year, because it would be prohibitively costly for them to do so, and I wouldn't need to find another job. Of course, this does make it difficult to fire anyone for the rest of the year without a significant reason for doing so, but them's the breaks of breaking your employees' trust; you have to take the burden of repaying those costs.

There may be other solutions as well (this is just one I can think of), so be creative!

4
  • It's already mid August. A promise of "bonus severance" if you're laid off in the next four and a half months would do the opposite of making me feel reassured and secure in remaining with the company. I'd imagine many employees would take such an email as a sign they should get out by January 1. Aug 20 at 7:04
  • 1
    That's particularly true because they didn't just fire 10% of the workforce—they fired all the product managers at once. What reason is there for the software developers to not think that all the developers are next to be mass fired? There's evidently no link between individual performance and job security if everyone in a position might be laid off in one go. Aug 20 at 7:12
  • @ZachLipton That is one possibility. But you can't just say "anyone who is fired forever gets ridiculous severance". Well, you could, but that would probably be too damaging to the company.
    – Ertai87
    Aug 20 at 17:16
  • The problem with any special retention offers is that it's far too easy to weasel out of them. Fire people for 'cause', where 'cause' is in the eyes of the employer. Aug 23 at 20:11
7

Offer Generous Severance

The only company I know of that regularly fires people is Netflix. However, they offer a 4-month severance package - this reduces the pain of leaving. As an employee there, sure, you might get fired... but you also get 4 months to take a break and find a new opportunity.

Even then... it's a pretty tough culture and a lot of people won't like it.

13
  • 3
    A good severance is both a great incentive to not quit, and reduces the fear of being fired. Great answer +1
    – coagmano
    Aug 19 at 0:43
  • In USA what is the standard compensation for a successful unfair dismissal claim ? Here in EU it's a year's salary. So allowing that employees and employers don't want the hassle of a public action and the cost of it then surely an employer offering just 4 months salary is a low-ball bid ? It should be 9 months at least if the employee is competent. And a good reference.
    – Trunk
    Aug 20 at 14:34
  • 2
    @Trunk in the US, firing someone without cause is typically legal. As such, not sure what bearing an unfair dismissal claim would have.
    – NPSF3000
    Aug 20 at 15:20
  • 1
    @FredStark: Wow - what a great interview question: "So, let's say that in a year management gets a wild hare up its butt - again - and decides to decimate the company - again. Tell me about your severance policy. I mean, I don't expect a parachute, but a pillow would be nice..." ;-) Aug 20 at 20:19
  • 1
    @Mefitico While I hear your theoretical objections, in practice Netflix has found the right balance for them, so it seems quite possible to find a middle-ground.
    – NPSF3000
    Aug 21 at 14:52
5

Let me explain to you a simple fact of life: people want stability. Whether their situation is good or bad, what they really want is for tomorrow to be pretty much like today. When a company prides itself on firing a bunch of people on a regular basis, that company is going to have a problem retaining people. Put simply: your company is a hell-hole, and nobody who knows about that self-defeating "policy" would choose to work there regardless of how well they're paid. You can hire two kinds of people: 1) those who have never heard about your "strong in performance management" policies, or 2) those who don't have an option. In other words, the clueless and the hopeless. As far as "How do we retain a really important contributor when we're firing everyone around him/her?" - you can't. If this person gets job offers regularly they will take one of them eventually. So, my suggestion is - start looking for your next job, because it sounds like sooner or later- and probably sooner - you're going to need it.

5
  • There are people who thrive on competition, and are fine getting compensated well above the going rate because the office environment is cut-throat. They’re usually not the ones that are “performance managed out” though.
    – ColleenV
    Aug 19 at 13:35
  • 1
    @ColleenV - sorry, I was referring to IT people, and in particular developers. Marketing guys or executives may "thrive on competition" like this - I have no idea as that's not my background. But I know that in my case, and I suspect in the cases of other software developers, this kind of pressure would be absolutely fatal to any hope of my sticking around. Just the stress of seeing tons of people thrown under the bus on a regular basis would soon have me calling up recruiters. Plus - decimating your workforce regularly? This company isn't going to be around long-term. Feh. Aug 19 at 15:07
  • I agree with you — I could never work in that sort of environment. I’ve known developers that seem to like the pressure that weeds out the people who aren’t so driven. I think a lot of the folks in the financial industry are like that though.
    – ColleenV
    Aug 19 at 15:18
  • 2
    @ColleenV Unfortunately I had experience with management that wanted to implement this, and at least in this case the competition was more about being good buddies with the upper level management and appearing productive than it was actually being top level developers.
    – DaveG
    Aug 19 at 19:41
  • 4
    @DaveG I hear you. The people who are best at taking credit for success and making failures look like someone else’s responsibility are the ones that get ahead in those environments, not necessarily the people that do the best work.
    – ColleenV
    Aug 19 at 19:59
4

Your company's policies indicate that they like churn. They like it when people leave and when the remaining employees have to re-invent all the knowledge that walked out the door. They like everything that makes employees feel unwelcome, unwanted, insecure, and expendable. The only way to keep this guy around (or anyone else, for that matter) is to alleviate those concerns directly.

Others have suggested that you offer this guy a bunch of money. That's probably not going to be enough to keep him, since a huge raise isn't worth much if you're canned in two months. Also, you risk having to give him another huge raise the next time the company jettisons a large portion of its personnel.

What you need to give this guy is a contract. Alleviate all the concerns that he has by giving him a legally-binding guarantee that he will not be subject to any of the regularly-scheduled summary executions. Since you already pay him quite well, job security is the biggest thing that he's currently missing. Research has shown over and over that the way to retain employees and keep them happy is the exact opposite of literally everything you're doing, so you need to exempt this guy from your current system. Words aren't enough here, you need a written guarantee that he can take to the bank.

Some companies give out big stock awards that vest over the course of 3-5 years. Those make it harder for someone to leave because they know they'll be forfeiting a future windfall. A stock award isn't as attractive in this case, though, because the way you're managing employees casts doubts as to whether the company will be around long enough for the stock to vest.

Another option would be to promote this guy to the same level of management that his friend was previously in. A promotion shows employees that you value them. It also reduces the chances of his friend poaching him, since following his friend would mean he'd be taking a demotion. This one's a bit of a long shot, though, since a lot of people will happily take a lesser position in exchange for a company that doesn't treat them like hot garbage.

One of the fired product managers brought him into the company so I fear that she will take him out and that he will hand out tickets to leave, leading to an exodus. And then I get performance managed out.

Issues like this are normally handled with anti-poaching clauses in the documents people sign when they're hired. They prevent any former employee from actively recruiting current employees for X period of time after they leave the company. If you don't have those in place, it's too late now.

The last sentence is concerning. If your performance is being judged based on whether other people decide to stay or not, then your company has already set you up to fail. They're spraying you with a fire hose and then complaining about how wet you are. I don't know if they want a scapegoat for the consequences of their bad decisions or if they're just incompetent, but either way it's highly unlikely you'll last very long with these impossible criteria. Free yourself from this circus and don't look back.

3
  • 1
    A contract is too good a thing to give to someone who is peddling his influence as vigorously as this dude is ! Besides contracts are normally given to vital employees and this guy is not that senior in development yet let alone function manager. Seriously, a contract is the sort of thing people would only be offered by employers who are already treating their employers fairly. So it's a bit like academic tenure: if you say you won't work without it, you don't deserve it; and if you're good enough to be given it, you don't need it. But I agree wholeheartedly with your conclusion.
    – Trunk
    Aug 19 at 1:38
  • 1
    Actually not "scapegoat" or "setting up for failure". Some companies just like to set almost-impossible goals and fire the lowest 10% to keep the remaining 90% worried enough that they give their top performance. In fact it worked - he's worried enough that he's asking for help.
    – toolforger
    Aug 19 at 16:05
  • @bta - "Some companies give out big stock awards that vest over the course of 3-5 years. Those make it harder for someone to leave because they know they'll be forfeiting a future windfall. " The problems are that: 1) It does no protect them against being fired. 2) It gives the company an incentive to fire them before those options vest. 3) If you are anticipating being fired in the next year, and suffering lots of stress and problems, the is just a promise of money in a few years if you are not fired and if you can't no longer stand it and if the company's stock is worth anything. Aug 23 at 20:34
3

I'm not going to say stay or leave your position. If you stay, suggest conducting Stay Interviews with the remaining staff (esp. the influential developer). I've used them as a tool to get to know the motivations of staff. It is a simple 5 questions and I don't take notes during the discussion so they can answer honestly.

  1. When you travel to work each day, what things do you look forward to?
  2. What are you learning here?
  3. What keeps you here?
  4. When was the last time you thought about leaving? What prompted it?
  5. What can I do to make your experience at work better for you?
5
  • 3
    But don't ask #5 unless the company will actually do something about the various answers they get...
    – Jon Custer
    Aug 18 at 17:51
  • @Jon Custer, that is why it is phrased as what I can do. It has to be something within the wheelhouse of the asker. If not, it is an opportunity to manage expectations. Aug 18 at 18:13
  • You won't get honest answers to these questions. Some have no definite answer, e.g. #1: the best things about a workplace are hard to define because they are the result of a number of factors combined.
    – Trunk
    Aug 18 at 18:49
  • 1
    @RobMueller If that's how I interpreted it, it would still sound like a pleasantry to me. because then both you and I know that you can't actually help me at all.
    – DKNguyen
    Aug 19 at 0:46
  • 1
    The answers will be (1) Going home (2) the company does not value me (3) Looking for a different job (4) Now. These idiotic questions. (5) Go away. Of course they won't say the truth because the OP's company has a nasty habit of burning through people and they all know it. This interview process would be pointless IMO. Staff asked these questions will immediately become defensive as they will assume a "wrong" answer could get them fired. This might only be useful in the context of voluntary redundancy schemes.
    – StephenG
    Aug 19 at 10:52
3

Like others already said. How can the company expect to fire 10 percent of the workforce in one day and not expect severe unrest among the remaining employee's, with a fair number of them probably already polishing their CV's?

However I don't see see why keeping this particular software developer is crucial for also retaining the rest of them. Sure he might be popular and write a lot of nice recommendations for his colleagues on LinkedIn. Nevertheless will him staying or not really be such an important factor for others to stay or not? I severely doubt it.

So rather than focusing your energy on this particular developer you should focus on them as a group. Like another answer says you can assure them that this layoff was just a onetime thing. And/or you can increase their overall compensation package (salary, number of free days, retention bonus, just a foosball table and free sodas).

2
  • 8
    From the sounds of things, though, it's not a onetime thing.
    – Ben Barden
    Aug 18 at 15:44
  • +1 to what @BenBarden said. Saying "it was a one-time thing" in the context of the behavior of this company is like the aliens in Mars Attacks saying "We come in peace!"
    – bob
    Aug 18 at 16:49
1

Many answers are basically criticisms of the company and OP for this lame situation. I'll play devil's advocate (or maybe good answerer) and try to give some practical ideas. I believe OP is aware of most of the criticism posed here even before he asked his question.

First, whatever your plan, you need to lay this situation and explain it to the higher management of the company. Some C-level staff might be completely oblivious to the fact that in tech fields some people are actually irreplaceable. The idea of showing this meme comes to my mind. This is never the case for big accounting companies or law firms. You need to have some bone you can throw.

Also, try making plans so that this situation can be prevented in the future, maybe suggest using different buildings for different departments or creating better tasks segregation such that one individual contributor can hardly be known or so influential to a significant amount of people.

But if there is an irreplaceable employee:

Option 1: Try to get him on board

Maybe instead of a simple employee with a salary, he should be offered a partnership. Possibly this partnership can come with a quarantine time after he quits the company, i.e. he would still hold stock in the company should he decide to quit, but he cannot work at a competitor/similar company for X years. This could prevent him from asking for raises and from quitting while aligning his interests with the future of the company. But this is not a cheap option.

Option 2: Earn his trust

Whatever the hell happened, and you are probably not saying in your question, I think both you and this guy deserve to know. I don't buy that a company fired that many employees on a whim of upper management. Is the company struggling financially? Then find out and tell him, ask him to stay otherwise all employees will need to find a job quite suddenly, and won't have the luxury of having a job while searching. Or maybe some people from the old POs group were caught in some devious plot. Well, you are likely not able to disclose this freely, but if there was actually a fair reason for the termination that upset everyone, then maybe find the channels to let him know, and have him onboard. Yes I know the situation may backfire if he decides to make this worse, but it is also not so easy getting a new job if you quit your previous one throwing shit on the fan.

Option 3: Slow cook and Terminate him

While he should have no problem finding a job, maybe you can stall his ability to get jobs for other people in the meantime. Consider making this guy take a course in a different city, then give him some vacations, and fire him. This keeps him out of the workplace for a while, with (hopefully) limited contact with other employees and people in his network. From what you've written, he's not exactly a wizard, the company can go on fine without him, except that he could trigger a mass exodus. So tie his hands for a while, then get rid of this problem at once, so he will have to use his network for his own benefit at first.

Regarding other employees

Consider calling everyone for a meeting (or several meetings) to explain (in euphemized manner) why the mass termination happened. The phrases I'd expect to hear would be "We have studied for a long time the performance of everyone in the company, and decided to terminate some low performing employees along with the ones we believe would not be necessary for our new strategic plan. The company has no intention of changing strategy often, and the good performance shown by the remaining staff is a strong reason to avoid further terminations in the near future and mid-term."

Keep in mind that it does not suffice to pay well, it is paramount to pay above the market average/median when you believe people are unhappy with the company culture. But know that salaries are sticky, in many countries you cannot lower the salary of an employee, just hope that inflation does this "job" for you. So check if the employees at risk of leaving are being paid above the average market rates. While some people say that nobody should work in a place as you describe, most people would enjoy working in a place that pays very well to good performers, even if at risk of being fired at any time, because people with that kind of self-confidence are easy to find everywhere. Plus, cases of people quitting for a lower salary are incredibly rare. The only ones I've heard about involved people leaving to pursue an academic career in a different country or working for non-profit/NGOs/charities. Even people with mental health issues often wait until they get a proposal with a raise. A possible exception would be an employee with no growth perspective leaving for slightly lower pay in a place he believes he can get raises/promotions over time.

By the way

For context, I live in a city where a company with around 10k employees is known to have mass terminations every few years. Legend speaks that once they've told employees to check the gate machines when passing their employee ID cards on their way out that day, and if the machine didn't blink they just needed not to return, as they would have been terminated. This company is around 40 years old, still exists, is not known for paying very well, and had a (not so massive) termination program during the peak of the COVID crisis (though it wasn't so poorly handled). The point of the story is that these companies exist and no amount of idealism is going to solve this problem in the near future. Yes that sucks, yes that company is never featured in a list of best places to work, still either for lack of other options or due to whatever other reasons, a lot of people depend on it for their income. Maybe that's OP's case.

1
  • @Metifico, I believe your example. But I expect that that company is laying off a large number of lower-skilled, (and more importantly) easily-replaceable people. Doing jobs which can be 'restocked' quite quickly when orders come in. However, in IT that exactly not the case. Sep 20 at 19:58

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .