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Layoff Announcement via Email

Saturday March 14, 2009

Reading Time: 7 minutes

This past Monday, March 9, 2009, one of my former employers sent a company wide layoff announcement via email. Sadly some of my friends were impacted by this layoff. Given the state of the US economy we have all grown accustom to layoff news. It is happening everywhere, touching every industry; however, prior to this week Mercury Insurance Services, LLC, founded in 1962, had never resorted to layoffs. I could ask a lot of questions about this business decision, most of which are not answered in their press release. The one question that weighs on my mind is why did they choose to communicate this business decision via email?

Perhaps companies feel this is accepted email etiquette. For some companies, maybe. But you need to know that prior to mid 2002 90% of Mercury employees did not even have personal computers, they worked with dumb green terminals. That’s right,no email, no word processing software, no internet access…they spent eight hours a day in their cubicles connecting to a mainframe to perform and produce their work product – underwriting policies or adjusting claims. In 2001 I was named the project manager to bring Mercury employees into the 21st century. One of the biggest project battles was convincing senior management that the employees should have and use email. I won the battle and this week I learned that senior management used email to announce a company wide layoff. What a difference seven years can make!

Generally technology is wonderful for the work environment, but have we technically progressed to the point that it is considered acceptable to deliver life altering news via a cold email? Let’s remember that this startling news negatively impacted those who were not laid off, as well as those who were.

Today I dedicate this blog post to all Mercury employees, those who were fired and those who were retained. In September 2004, when I resigned from Mercury I sent a good-bye letter to those whom I had worked with over my almost seven year tenure. And because I had managed many company wide projects this letter went to many employees. In that letter I shared the following thoughts, which ironically are still pertinent today:

—As I leave you, I tried to think of the best advice I could offer you as individuals and as a group. It came to me that what I have always tried to impart to you is to question each request as if your life depended on it. Do not be afraid to stand your ground for the betterment of your work ethic and the company. In other words, do the right thing. A few years ago, I saw a movie, “The Winslow Boy”, and in the closing scene a defense attorney states: “I wept today because right had been done.” When questioned by the defendant’s sister, “Not justice?” to this the attorney replied, “No, not justice. Right. Easy to do ‘justice’. Very hard to do ‘right’.”

In these difficult times, can we all just try to do right?

Good night and good luck!

March 10, 2009 5:14 PM EDT

In a Form 8-K, Mercury General Corp. (NYSE: MCY) announced that on March 9, 2009, the Company took action to eliminate approximately 360 employee positions or 7% of the Company’s workforce in an ongoing effort to improve its cost structure. The Company expects to record a charge, in the first quarter of 2009, of approximately $8 million for severance and other employee termination costs in connection with the reduction in workforce, all of which will result in future cash expenditures. The total annualized pre-tax cost savings that are expected to result from the employee reductions is estimated to be approximately $22 million.March 10, 2009 5:14 PM EDT

Reading Time: 4 minutes

To think that 20 years ago I was a Vice President for Indian Head Bank North, New Hampshire (now owned by Fleet Bank), sitting in a private office equipped with a private bathroom, a vault, and right outside my office sat my “secretary” (now referred to as an Administrative Assistant) with a typewriter (no computer). Dilbert, the syndicated cartoon by Scott Adams, was making its debut (April 1989). Most working people found this cartoon to be really very funny and perceptive, to the point that it was almost as if Scott Adams was secretly infiltrating corporate America to obtain material on which to base his cartoon.
In 1997 I returned to California and was hired as a Senior Business Analyst by the IT Department of Mercury Insurance Services. I soon found myself living in a cubicle in a room shared by 40 other IT gurus. I was now part of Dilbert’s world. We always read Dilbert, we regularly cut the strip from the newspaper and hung them on the inside and outside of our cubicles. Some Sunday strips were so apropos that I even framed them to hang on my cubicle “wall”. Here you can enjoy the Dilbert strip from my first day at Mercury and the one for the day I gave my notice.

I have now learned from visiting the Dilbert website that: “The Dilbert web site, dilbert.com, was the first syndicated comic strip to go online in 1995 and is the most widely read syndicated comic on the Internet.” And yes, Scott Adams has a blog on dilbert.com. Amazing! Why do I share this with you? For no other reason than it is Saturday and everyone deserves to take a break and laugh on Saturday. We spend a lot of time talking about Web 2.0 and now Scott Adams’ new book “Dilbert 2.0” will be available in October. Great holiday gift for the techies in your life.