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Ask the Ethics Guy: Downsizing 102, when it happens to you

Here's a look at issues raised by downsizing in which I offer ethically appropriate solutions for those who are on the receiving end.


It's tempting to react with hostility when you're told that your position is being eliminated. Don't do it. Making someone fear for his or her safety is one of the obvious ways that getting angry violates the do-no-harm principle. Less obvious but also important is the damage to a valued relationship that you may not be able to undo later. You won't regret holding back, but you will regret lashing out.


That saying that, "This is business, not personal," applies not just to the Corleone family but to the recently downsized, too. For all that we'd like to be able to control our lives and shape our destiny through the sheer force of will, sometimes things happen to us that have absolutely nothing to do with what we've done or who we are. This is one of those times.


One of the best ways for a potential employer to find out how valuable you are is to hear from your current boss, but you may have to be the one to make this happen. Get a recommendation in writing as soon as possible. Volunteer to write it yourself. If a letter is out of the question or doesn't arrive in a timely fashion, ask your boss to send you a short e-mail; even a one- or two-line testimonial will do. Get your boss's permission to put his or her direct phone number on your resume and give out at job interviews.


We're raised to believe that it's wrong to "toot your own horn," but if ever there were a time to put that belief aside, it's now. Believing in yourself, and letting others know about how valuable you are, are two of the best ways to apply the ethical principles of making things better and being compassionate. How can others benefit from your expertise if you don't get the word out?


Grief is a natural and healthy response to losing something of value in your life, and taking your grief seriously is another important way to treat yourself with loving kindness. It is a sign of strength, not weakness, to seek counseling in the wake of being downsized. Many of us still attach a stigma to psychotherapy-wrongly so.


Is it possible that one of the worst things that could happen to you might turn out to be the best? Take a look at Harvey MacKay's "We Got Fired!: ... And It's the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Us" (Ballantine Books, 2004). Muhammad Ali, Billie Jean King, Home Depot founder Bernie Marcus, Lee Iacocca and Robert Redford are just a few of the wildly successful people who explain how losing a job led to something much better. 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.


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(c) 2008, Bruce Weinstein, Ph.D.