“Up in the Air” with Employee Relations

This last week I saw the movie “Up in the Air.” (Yes, I know this movie came out in 2009 but at least I finally seen it) The movie focused on the relationship between employees and their organizations.  Ryan Bingham (the main character played by George Clooney) is a corporate downsizer and a business traveler. Clooney is initially portrayed to be content with his quiet lifestyle, living and traveling alone while firing loyal employees of organizations.  It is not until his ability to travel is challenged by new innovative technology based strategies to let go of employees through web-based conferencing that he feels the need to prove that his job requires more sensitivity that computers do not offer.

When I watched the movie, it is apparent that the wave of downsizing and layoffs has taken its toll on employees. In today’s economy, employees are staring at the job market through the lens of a realist.  Individuals understand that more and more corporations are choosing to downsize in order to survive the current recession.  Many people are scared of losing their job. How you treat people really matters – to the people who leave and the people who remain as it can directly affect the morale and retention of valued, high-performing employees who are not downsized.

The movie “Up in the Air” further demonstrates how hard it is to lay off people especially a significant number, that is why organizations hire people like Ryan Bingham to do their dirty work and wanted to start using web conferencing.  However, using a web conference or other insensitive and distant medium to communicate with employees is only going to create a greater separation in the gap of trust between employee and employer.  Laying off employees is never pleasant but as a manager it is your responsibility to handle the situation with care.  Listed are some tips that managers can use:

  • Minimize the Impact:  It is important to come up with a strategic communication plan that identifies the stakeholders and who needs to be informed of the layoffs. The plan should then be put into a timeline that communicates in the order of personal impact. As an example, an affected employee would be communicated with before the employee’s coworkers are informed of the layoff. Being sensitive to what is communicated and the timing of the communication is critical in minimizing the personal impact it has on all employees.
  • Transitional Plan:  Develop a transitional plan for those being laid off. As a manager, you may want to have a severance package which can include extended health benefits, outplacement services and pay for an extended period of time. A good severance package can ease the burden and help make a positive transition for laid off employees.
  • Don’t Forget about the Remaining Employees:  Make sure there is continuous, factual communication to employees who remain. Honesty is the best policy. Engage the remaining employees in helping to identify ways to reduce costs in other areas of the organization. Share vision about the future and offer hope when possible.  In my organization when lay offs occurred, we re-engaged with employees through training sessions on topics of motivation, survivorship, and team building. 

I understand how sensitive the topics layoffs can be that is why it has taken me a long time before I decided to write about it.  Watching this movie gave me the opportunity.  I would like for you to share your experience with layoffs whether you have been laid off and want to give tips about how to cope with it to help people, you had to layoff someone or you have seen the movie and want to share your insight. Thank you for reading and commenting.

photo credit


About Patricia Knight
Hello and welcome. My name is Patricia Knight. Thank you for taking the time to view my blog. I’m a Human Resources professional who is currently pursing an MBA at the University of Nevada-Reno. I am an analytical, detail-oriented professional who believes that collaboration and negotiation are critical for successful employee relations between leadership and employees.

8 Responses to “Up in the Air” with Employee Relations

  1. Eric Chaump says:


    Let me start by saying that was a good movie. It really portrayed the bitter reality of laying off loyal employees.

    I’m not a manager, so I can’t say that I’ve ever been in the position to lay off employees. I recently spoke with a manager though, whose organization has been going through rounds of layoffs. As he started polishing up his resume in order to prepare for the worst, he was notified that his job was safe, but had to let two of his employees go. While he was happy that he wasn’t about to lose his job, he was disappointed, but more so scared, to do what he had to do next. Let me just end by saying, he wished it would have been him packing up his office that day. It’s that hard to do.

    So, thanks for the tips. I recommend them to any manager, whether you have to fire someone or not.


    • Thanks Eric for sharing. Layoffs are never easy and I know that your friend felt that too. My organization went through layoffs a couple years ago. It was a difficult time for all of us. The situation still seems dire but we have been keeping the communication lines opens which has helped.

      Thank you,

  2. I hope I never get put in a situation where I have to lay someone off. The person your laying off may be one of your best workers and you may have to lay them off because their compensation is higher than others. It would be easier to let someone go due to poor performance.

    • Thanks Marisela for the comment. I do hope that you don’t have to lay-off anyone off in your career. In my organization, most of the employees are under contract or code which specifies how lay-offs are to be done. Still, it doesn’t make it easy.

      Thank you,

  3. Great thoughts, especially based off of a movie (I haven’t seen it but will certainly do so now). It’s amazing to me how many companies aren’t honest with their employees! It seems that companies like to talk about their employees being their best asset but when push comes to shove, they seem to be willing to cut people away without having a transitional plan in place.

    • Thanks Russ! I couldn’t agree more. Employees want respect, communication, & honesty from their employers. It is amazing how some organization really miss that part especially during a stressful times such as lay-offs.

      Warmly~ Patricia

  4. Patricia,

    Good post and excellent advice. Communication and managing people are the most important part of an effective organization. A company can have the best system in their industry, but if their employees are not managed well, they will be unable or even unwilling to perform their tasks to the best of their ability.

    Good job!
    Mark Cohen

    • Thanks for reading my post Mark. I couldn’t agree with your comments more. Honest, open communication is so important to employees. It is amazing how organizations forget that.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: