WTF #5: The Undead Amongst Us

WTF #5: The Undead Amongst Us

Back in WFT #2: Motivating the Unmotivable, I mentioned how I had been handed the impossible assignment of making sure my undead colleagues — working for now, but have been notified of their pending layoff — continue to be fully committed and motivated to the project at hand. At least one reader mentioned in the comment section how he was surprised that being an undead was demotivating. Although I responded to that comment in length, I had no concrete evidence that they weren’t doing their jobs. Well, I did, sort of. I was aware of their job searching efforts. In fact, I quite encouraged it. I quite like my soon-to-be ex-colleagues and I do wish better futures for them, wherever they may land. Then there was that time when I ran into the lot of them at a restaurant during lunch. We’re all working from home nowadays so running into them at a random restaurant in this town of a million people is quite the coincidence. Obviously, they didn’t get together to talk about work. Yet, beyond this, they still showed up at meetings, responded to emails (albeit slower), and handed in their work.

So no, I didn’t have concrete evidence progress was much affected, despite me feeling otherwise. That was until this past week. Due to a software change, we were required to re-run some of our circuit simulations. I had asked two of my colleagues to please take care of this for their own respective circuits. One colleague responded positively. The other wrote this (I’m paraphrasing here):

Hey Flux, thanks for having confidence in me in asking me to run the simulation on Super Op-Amp. However, it seems FluxCorp no longer has the confidence that I can contribute to the company, so I think it’s best that this simulation be done by whoever is going to pick up the work when I’m gone.

There you go. Refusing to do work and taking a not-so-subtle swipe at the corporation simultaneously. Evidence now at hand. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if he had just replied to me personally, as my original e-mail was limited to just the two colleagues that needed to re-run their sims. However, he decided to CC a large group of people, including people in other departments and several managers. I remember him saying that he’s already past the first step of the grieving process of being laid off — denial — and had moved on to the next phase — anger. I think his anger is getting the best of his EQ. Burning bridges; sullying reputation. I’m afraid he might be more than just an undead at FluxCorp; he might already be dead to potential future employers if word spreads of his intransigence.

What The Flux is a semi-regular weekendish feature on that follows the follies and jollies of an engineer in industry, yours truly.


I was under the impression that at most companies, a layoff resulted in immediate exclusion from further work for the company.

Asking people who have been laid off to continue working for the company without retracting the layoff is practically a guarantee that they won’t be doing good work, even if they refrain from deliberate sabotage.

The management who laid off engineers then expects them to continue working cheerfully is about the most bone-headed management I can envision (and I already have a low opinion of most engineering management).

If I were asked to redo work after being laid off, I would probably respond as your co-worker did—if you think I can do the work, don’t lay me off. If I’m redundant, then the work I do is obviously not needed, so do it yourself.

It’s one thing to have the attitude, which is totally understandable, but it’s quite another to air it so publicly. There’s simply no upside to it and plenty of downsides.

Mr. F: you are either one of the most naive people in the business world or you are deep in denial yourself. Denial as in: gee, I’m doing fine, why isn’t everyone feeling glee at the opportunities presented to them? Others might be inclined to see you as a spineless Quisling and perhaps even try to help you along the path of failure.

Is this unprofessional? It is. But you need to remember that your-soon-to-be-ex-colleagues are only human. And taking away someone’s job while expecting them to continue on as if nothing has happened would be considered a great demotivator by any but the most clueless management. And, by the way, GWSP, not only engineering management is notable for its tone deafness; organizations run by accountants and others of that ilk are just as bad.

Management has done you a disservice by leaving you as the figurehead and making you responsible for turning this sow’s ear into a silk purse without giving you much in the way of authority (I’m guessing here).

Your carrot is that you get to keep your job, even though, if memory serves, it’s in another country and the pay isn’t as good. Methinks that they don’t think too much of your skill set or ability to find another job if they are treating you in this fashion. Baldly stated: you’re being screwed.

It would have been a far better idea to immediately lay off staff who weren’t needed, then offer the remaining staff a financial incentive to stay and finish the work (such as a big bonus payable on the day they are laid off too).

If a company is prepared to do what yours has done to its employees (our greatest resource, as they sneer in HR), then if I was you, I’d be thinking about my own exit strategy instead of trying to appease these clowns.

Oh my — naive, in denial, spineless Quisling — strong words, Mr. S.!

Well, I can happily report that none of your theories are true. Neither is your assertion that I’m trying to “appease these clowns”. Nevertheless, I am very glad you have decided to respond at length; your comments are very much appreciated. It’s certainly given me pause to reflect on my own writing style, a style that has somehow allowed you to read so much between the lines.

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