Sanofi-Aventis employees really up in the air

Did you see Up in the Air, the 2009 comedy-drama starring George Clooney who plays a corporate downsizer who travels around America doing layoff interviews? He delivered wholesale bad news face-to-face on behalf of companies unwilling to do it themselves and who hired him for the task. The Clooney character’s comfy lifestyle is rudely interrupted when he’s called back to his company’s HQ and encounters an ambitious, freshly-graduated new hire promoting a plan to cut costs by conducting their layoffs via desktop videoconferencing instead.

It’s a great film even with touchy subject matter like layoffs and the effects on people.

But maybe that’s where executives at French pharmaceutical company Sanofi-Aventis got the idea to implement a mass layoff of 1,700 employees in the USA via a telephone conference call. The Huffington Post reports the case, citing the experience of an anonymous employee called ‘A.R.":

[…A.R.] said she and her coworkers each received one of the two mass emails the company sent out that Tuesday morning [December 2]. Both emails contained a code, an 800-number and a call time, either 8:00 a.m. or 8:30 a.m. The employees who were instructed to call in at the earlier time were told they could keep their jobs, but the 1,700 employees who called in at 8:30 a.m. weren’t so lucky: They were laid off by a voice on the other line that told them to stop working immediately, and had no opportunity for question or comment.

Unfortunately, A.R. found herself in the second group.

"The way they did this was so brutal and inhumane," she told HuffPost. "We were each assigned an employee number when we started working there — an ‘NM’ followed by five digits — and that’s how I felt that day. Like a number, rather than a valued human being with feelings."

Sanofi-Aventis told its employees they would be paid through Dec. 31, and gave them a modest severance package. A.R., who had only been working at the company a year and a half, received 13 weeks of pay and benefits.

[…] Jack Cox, the senior director of media relations for Sanofi-Aventis, said the company acknowledges that its method of laying off employees "wasn’t ideal."

"Rather than cascade these announcements and stretch the notifications over the course of days, we decided to address these colleagues at one time, to explain the rationale for the reductions and express appreciation for the contributions they’ve made to the organization," he said. "We acknowledged in the call that delivering this news on a teleconference wasn’t ideal, but given the scope and scale of the reductions, there was no other way to share this news quickly and consistently."

What an incredible story. Hard to believe that an organization could imagine acting this way has any redeeming quality or could behave so brutally towards people.

Full story at The Huffington Post: Drugmaker Lays Off 1,700 Via Conference Call Ahead Of Holidays. Note the more than 3,500 comments to that post.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

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