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Would You Fire Your Colleague to Save Your Own Job?

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Hunger Games at the office

It’s being called The Hunger Games of workplace layoffs.

The Kansas City Star recently told two of its reporters that, due to budget cuts, one of them had to go — and that the employees themselves needed to decide who stays.

Um, what?

The two reporters, Karen Dillon and Dawn Bormann, reportedly had about a week to choose which of them would lose their job.

According to KCConfidential, a news blog, Dillon has seniority over Bormann and the option of staying put. Not surprisingly, Dillon voted to keep her job, and Bormann got laid off.

Mi-Ai Parrish, president and publisher of the Kansas City Star, had this to say in a company-wide memo:

“These are always difficult decisions, so we will on occasion allow employees to volunteer for a severance package when we are reducing in areas where there are two or more of the same types of positions.”

She added that if an employee does not volunteer, “then the person with the least amount of tenure is included in the severance program.”

We’ve all seen situations where the person with the least experience is the first to go. But employees having to fire each other? Seriously?

HR experts say this is one of the biggest management fails of all time.

Dr. Cassi Fields, a career expert who specializes in helping people land the job they want, says what happened at the Kansas City Star is shocking.

“It’s the most cowardice leadership I have ever seen,” Fields said. “It’s bad enough being laid off, but when you make the employees decide, it adds pain and suffering that doesn’t need to be there.”

In the memo, the publisher says comparing the layoff to The Hunger Games is inaccurate. But the newspaper isn’t exactly denying reports that Dillon and Bormann had to decide among themselves who would go:

“We find it unfortunate the way the situation has been portrayed, and we are very sorry for the impact on the employees involved. We will continue to work with all employees affected by this severance program to help them transition through this difficult time made even more difficult by the misinformation being reported.”

However this went down, Fields, who holds a PhD in industrial psychology, says the situation is instructive for young professionals just entering the workforce. She believes it’s important for new employees to become leaders even if they aren’t technically in charge.

“Young people need to set the right tone from day one,” she said. “They need to always do the right thing and make sure everyone on the team is contributing. That’s how people become leaders.”

Fields adds that it’s also important to decide whether you can trust your company — and how the company’s higher-ups approach these types of situations should play into that.

“If you realize early on that you’re working in an unethical place, you need to ask yourself, ‘Do I want to stay in this environment?'”

What do you think? Was this a fair or ethical way to conduct a layoff? What would you do if you were in these reporters’ shoes?

Danny Rubin, a media consultant based in DC, runs News To Live By, a blog that shows us how to apply the lessons of the news to our own lives. Follow him on Twitter at @NewsToLiveBy.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=811303027 Ann Gavazzi

    This is so asinine… people are in survival mode and will do anything to keep their jobs. Did their employer really think the reporter with more seniority was going to accept a severance package? If I were able to survive on a part-time job, I might have offered to split the job with the employee with less seniority, provided that the employer agreed to it. However, a lot of factors would have to be considered before making that decision: insurance, benefits, etc. The “but would you want to work for that employer” motto is quaint. In this day of age people need jobs, and for new employees, they have to accept that they will find more unethical employers than honest ones–so get used to it and learn how to cope. Or start your own business…

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=630593076 Michael Brand

      Not just a ‘job’, but a job in a newspaper industry going into the final stages of its 20 year death spiral

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=811303027 Ann Gavazzi

      Very true, Michael ..

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=792235477 Megan Maxwell

    I

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=792235477 Megan Maxwell

    Offering employees the option to take a severance package might not be so bad. If I wasn’t satisfied with my job, I would be happy to look for a new one and have extra money.