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I’m a bit unsettled by the fact that one of layoffs is a surprise to me. Not on the same team but I’ve been on a work trip with him, and he seemed diligent. Would it be poor form to inquire about it during our regularly scheduled 1:1? In the announcement, it seemed mostly financial, the performance part isn’t too clear.

Separately, would it be okay to reach out to him to express I liked working with him, even though it wasn’t too extensive?

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  • You want to ask the CEO for a 1:1 meeting ? It depends on whether you are 1 level below the CEO or 3 level below the CEO. If you are 1 level below the CEO, and you have regular meetings with the CEO, then it may be OK to do so. But, if you are 3 level below the CEO, then he may be too busy to meet with you. Generally speaking, even if I were 1 level below the CEO, I would not request a 1:1 meeting with him regarding this matter. Just let it go. It is most likely just a business decision. Commented Feb 1 at 4:35
  • They are regularly scheduled.
    – Jakory
    Commented Feb 1 at 5:09
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    Where in the world are you? There are countries in which this is public information that the company is required to give out. Others, it might be a sercret you don't talk about. It's hard to answer without knowing which of it it is for you.
    – nvoigt
    Commented Feb 1 at 6:14

2 Answers 2

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I've had to do layoffs before. While it seems obvious to just "lay off the poor performers" that's generally not what happens. Instead you do "that whole department" because you'll stop doing something or you'll outsource something, or you do "1 in 4 from every department". That 1 might be the lowest performer (who could still be fine if all the others were a superstar), or could be the highest paid (freeing up the most salary by doing it), or the person who can only do 3 roles while everyone else can do 4, or ...

I generally didn't like being asked why I chose who I chose. Partly because talking about someone negatively (he couldn't x) isn't my style, partly because in general having people ask me to explain myself gets stale very quickly, and partly because look, dude, I had to pick someone, I wish I didn't, and your role here is mostly to be glad it wasn't you and let me get back to trying to get the same stuff done with less people. So I wouldn't recommend you ask why that person was let go. If you're talking to the CEO anyway, you might be able to ask about it, but be sure to phrase it as wanting to know whether you are at risk, rather than asking someone to justify their choices to you.

I think it's always ok to tell people you liked working with them (if you did) and to offer to stay in touch. It's best to do that before you discuss the layoff with someone else, so that if the former coworker asks you if you know why or anything like that, you won't have to worry about breaking any confidences.

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  • "your role here is mostly to be glad it wasn't you and let me get back to trying to get the same stuff done with less people. So I wouldn't recommend you ask why that person was let go." - I think the problem with that, is that people typically want to live in a social order, where things make sense, decisions happen for reasons, and they are protected as individuals from serious misfortunes.
    – Steve
    Commented Feb 4 at 9:15
  • I'm sure they do. Realizing that sometimes things are very close to random, that bosses just pick someone and maybe not for the right reason, is distressing, I agree. But especially in a small firm that may be falling apart, where people are trying to prevent that and aren't sure they can, being picked at and asked to justify actions, to prove they will prevent it, to reassure like a kind parent or grandparent -- that's a lot to ask and many bosses will not be able to provide it. Commented Feb 4 at 14:00
  • Exactly like @KateGregory said, cuts can happen for all sorts of reason, and some of them ARE unreasonable.
    – Nelson
    Commented Feb 5 at 8:58
  • Appreciate the perspective from the "boss" side. One remark: While I emphasize that it is annoying to be asked why someone was laid off, I still think it is a valid question and would not discourage asking it. Actually, your explanation is a good answer - you can absolutely answer in general terms while explaining that you cannot comment on the person directly, for privacy reasons.
    – sleske
    Commented Feb 8 at 10:55
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If you regularly have a 1:1 scheduled with the CEO - then you can ask about it, but the reality is you may not get the answers you seek and it can be seen (by some people) as 'improper' to ask that sort of question.

It depends on how in-depth you ask and how commercially sensitive the answers as as to how proper or improper it could be seen.

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