Being “Let Go” – Part I: Overview

In a series of three posts, I’m going to discuss what happens when employment is terminated, both from an employee’s perspective and from the manager that has to do the termination.  Neither are easy but both can be valuable if you are prepared.

If you’re “let go” -- this is a familiar scene in the games industry and you should be prepared for the day that you might be let go from your job.  It won’t be easy but the more you have thought this through, the more you understand this is part of the process, the better you and your loved ones will cope.  You will be OK.  In these blogs I’ll describe coping strategies.

If you’re a manager -- be prepared that one day you may have to terminate someone’s employment.  In a competitive age, you may have to as a means to weed out low performers, it’s part of the job.  Or maybe you have no choice because “corporate” tell you to. In either situation, you need to have prepared for this and be in a position to control… you.  It’s never easy (and if it is, you are officially a heartless bastard that should not be allowed near people!)  Remember the impact this will have not only on the person (or people) being let go, but also on those who remain.  You need to demonstrate leadership and help the team focus.  In these blogs, I’ll describe how you can pour one out for the lost and manage through these difficult times.

While I use the games industry as reference, it’s because this is the industry I know, however, I am sure the sentiments I describe apply could apply to most forms of entertainment industry, if not all jobs.

I wrote this series of blogs because over the years I have seen so many people struggle with employment loss – either post job-loss trauma through being under-prepared when it happens to them, or managers who simply make the whole thing worse by not being able to control themselves.  I hope this helps you in some way – please do add comments, would love to hear your thoughts and insights if you have experienced either side of this.

Let It Go

Working in games can be a rewarding experience in every sense, but understand too that it's an entertainment industry that reflects consumer tastes and frequently, just like fashion, those change.  And like all modern technology industries, the games business is changing faster than ever.  The hot studio you joined with the franchise printing money that felt secure when you joined becomes anything but that.  And one day they let you go.

Get used to the idea that you will get let go in your career, perhaps several times.  That's not to say that there aren't people that can work at the same place in games for 5, 10, 20 years - but mostly these are exceptions, their jobs have changed and almost certainly those people will have seen former colleagues at their studio let go at some point.

If you manage people, know that at some point you will probably end up being asked to “let go” some of the people you are responsible for.  It doesn't matter if you disagree, you'll need to do it anyway because it's part of your job.

There are two types of being “let go”, and I'll address this from both the employee and the manager's perspective. I have had to do both in my career as a manager at different companies and I have been on the receiving end too. Neither is easy.  It is especially not easy on the manager, nor should it be.

To my mind, being "fired" is not the same as being "let go".  While the end result is the same – termination of employment – being “fired” usually only affects one person and usually means there was some kind of performance issue (someone not doing their job as expected). 

Being “let go” typically affects a group of people and is a form of downsizing the workforce or restructuring.  Unfortunately, these two ideas have become blurred as it's easier to tell someone they are being "let go" instead of “fired” - it’s softer and therefore we assume less damaging emotionally than telling them "you're fired for (whatever the actual reason is)".  Plus, if we blame “downsizing” we can avoid a difficult conversation and pretend it’s nothing to do with us, blame “corporate/management/them”.  In reality, if someone is losing their job for performance reasons, they should know the details as it can help them become a better employee in future.  If that means having a difficult conversation, then so be it – it’s part of a manager’s skillset to be able to do that.

Next up – Part II: The Employee’s Perspective