For exhibit and event professionals  

Your Dilemma Answers: If I ignore an elephant, will it go away?

April 1, 2011 By Editor

I manage several departments, and I’ve had to let one or two people go from each. I’ve noticed the “survivors” seem uncomfortable when they come into a meeting and see another co-worker is missing. Should I notify them of any layoff before we all get together? Discuss the situation at the beginning of the meeting? Or just continue to ignore the elephant in the room?

— Shelby, Marketing VP

ElephantEven David Copperfield couldn’t make this elephant disappear

Shelby, our readers believe that you cannot ignore this situation and hope it goes away. They suggest you:

  • Hold a meeting to discuss what’s happened.
  • Show your humanity.
  • Reassure the survivors.

Hold a meeting to discuss what’s happened

If the departments you manage work in different areas, some of the people may not know an employee has been laid off. But they’re bound to notice someone is missing at the next meeting, and that’s not good.

In fact, a director of trade shows and events believes waiting until a regularly scheduled meeting only makes matters worse.

“Call a meeting as soon as possible. If you ignore the elephant, it will run you over.”

Show your humanity

Undoubtedly, letting someone go is an unpleasant task for you, and you’d just as soon forget about it. But you must address the issue the right way for the sake of your remaining staff — and yourself.

Marci Williams, administrative assistant, explains why this is necessary for all of you.

“Yes, people should be told before a meeting why a co-worker is missing. We have a history with our co-workers and often a good relationship, which means we grieve for them and their situation. To ignore them as if they never existed is cruel and will only create hostility between the remaining employees and you.

“A manager who is honest, straightforward and sympathetic will be respected, even though the decision he or she must make is not liked.”

Reassure the survivors

After employees hear about a coworker being let go, it’s natural for them to wonder if one of their heads might be the next on the chopping block.

An exhibits manager describes how to take away some of their anxiety.

“Don’t just announce, ‘We had to let Tom go.’ Take a few minutes to explain why. You could say, “The company decided some of his duties were redundant with those of other employees,” “With the available technology, his position was no longer necessary,” or whatever else is appropriate.

“Emphasize that the layoff, while unfortunate, has made the company leaner and increased its chances of recovery — while reducing the likelihood of further cuts.”


  • We live in stressful times, and even the best employees worry about job security. And if they’re blindsided by a coworker’s layoff, a manager feeds into this insecurity and can damage his or her relationship with them. Consequently, a manager must face the issue head on to show compassion for all employees — those who’ve been laid off and those who remain with the company.

    What do you think a manager should do in this situation?

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