Times like these usually spawn all sort of silly, unethical games and immoral behaviors that employers sometimes adopt.
The reason for the layoffs is obvious: Banks blew it by lowering lending standards, then played fast and loose with the mortgages they secured from people not able to pay back the money they borrowed. Those rotten mortgages, sold in packages as supposedly excellent investments, have resulted in a meltdown of the entire financial system. This has required massive government intervention not seen since the Great Depression. All this has tightened credit, lowered sales of everything from houses to cars to toiletry items and heightened the possibility of a prolonged deep recession or even an economic depression.
Layoffs are inevitable in such a free-market cycle. They are not the fault of individual employees (except in the case of some immoral high-up bankers and Wall Street types who created the mess) who are now likely to lose their jobs in the midst of the meltdown.
Businesses and other entities, including churches, will have three options:
1. Tell the truth to their employees: The truth is that sales and other methods for securing funding are down. Less revenue means less money available for salaries and other things. This means some people will lose their jobs. The decisions of who will be laid off need to be based on clearly defined moral, just, and ethical guidelines administered in the fairest and best way possible.
2. Set up immoral or unethical scenarios where certain employees are targeted as people to be laid off because of arbitrary and random plans not easily explainable to them or anyone else. (These can range anywhere from personality conflicts to such arbitrary matters as whether a person participates in the office drinking parties to hidden illegal discrimination based on race, gender, religion or age.) Following this scenario, employees losing their jobs will be set up for failure. They will suddenly find themselves criticized for work that previously might have even received commendation. The persons losing their jobs will be made to feel that they somehow are to blame for the decision. The company will try to present itself as dealing with troubled employees instead of the soured economy. Churches are expert at this; they will tell staff members that they are "not spiritual enough" or don't exhibit Christian attitudes in their work, when the truth is, the church can't afford to pay their salaries any more.
3. Camouflage the whole nasty situation as some type of "reorganization" in which people suddenly find their positions eliminated. People will know they have been laid off, but the company (or church or entity) appears to be merely adjusting to a new organizational scheme. Churches and church institutions particularly use "reorganizations" as ruses for layoffs--presenting to the public an image that is both dishonest and unethical. Regrettably religious groups are not the only ones that follow this behavior. Mergers, such as those occurring in the banking industry right now, provide great covers for these kinds of scenarios to happen, too.
Over the years I've been a part of both secular and church institutions that have gone through these layoff cycles. I've seen all three of these options carried out by bosses who range from highly ethical to downright deceptive. I've seen bosses struggle gallantly with ethical dilemmas involving who goes and who stays; I've also seen bosses who refuse to own up to the realities of the marketplace and instead turn to blaming and shaming others to cover their own tracks and perhaps save on unemployment payroll taxes (which escalate when employees are fired without just cause). Sadly, churches and church institutions and businesses run by people who call themselves Christians have not always been the ones taking the high, ethical roads.
Thanks to the Internet and the transparency of the current economic crisis worldwide, we all are able to discern clearly that this is a dangerous time for employees as well as for employers. No one likes to lose his or her job; no ethical boss likes to have to lay off anyone.
Nevertheless, religious leaders need to take the initiative in making sure:
1. That they act in moral and ethical ways when any layoffs occur inside their institutions. Remember the old saying: actions speak louder than words. In this environment, pretense will easily be seen for what it is and only add to the growing lack of trust people show in institutions of all kinds today.
2. Speak out boldly about the need for layoffs to occur in morally just and ethically fair ways. Now is the time for religious leaders throughout the country to identify criteria that should be used and pinpoint unethical behaviors that ought to be carefully avoided.
Neither making certain employees scapegoats for the current mess nor whitewashing layoffs as some kind of innocent reorganization ought to be tolerated during the current crisis. We got into this situation because of unethical business practices by banks and Wall Street types; allowing other unethical business behaviors to be perpetuated during this crisis ought to be nipped in the bud quickly.
Openness, honesty, and truth are always the best options. Otherwise, the public will continue to lose faith in our system and way of life, which will birth far greater problems than will a declining stock market and slipping economy.