The Boss Who Laid Himself Off


My brother-in-law “Bob” (not his real name, because I promised not to identify him) has always been a tough top manager who brooks no fools. For more than 30 years, he’s worked for a successful, family-owned electronics distribution company, rising from the sales ranks to become president and general manager. Bob had fired dozens upon dozens of people over the years, and he had no compunction when it came to pulling the trigger. Recently, Bob’s company was getting ready to pull the trigger, unfortunately, again.

But this time, Bob laid himself off — not because he wanted to or was quite ready to retire, but because he wanted to save the positions of two younger managers whose names were on the layoff rolls.

Over the years, I’ve heard Bob complain about “coddled and demanding” Gen X and Gen Y workers. But he’d trained and mentored these younger managers and had grown fond of them. He told me, “I was looking at two good, loyal, hardworking people with young families who are about to be cut through no fault of their own. One of them had a wife who was eight months pregnant with her first child. The other one had two kids and an unemployed husband. They would be facing a horrific job market.”

By contrast, Bob had saved a decent, if not handsome, retirement nest-egg; as a very conservative investor (he only bought into municipal bonds and risk-averse mutual funds), he hadn’t lost all that much in the Wall Street meltdown. After 30 years at one firm, the idea of change was daunting, but also inviting. He tapped his network, landed a part-time consulting job that was perfect for him, and told the owner his plan. Take the younger employees’ names off the layoff list. Put mine on it.

Many older workers can’t afford to retire, and the recession is keeping them in their jobs. But others don’t want to retire simply because they enjoy working and wouldn’t know what to do with themselves if they didn’t go to the office every day. Unfortunately, their reluctance to move on is having a devastating effect on younger workers who either can’t break into the job market, or who, lacking seniority, end up on the “last in, first out” layoff list.

That seems to make Bob something of a hero for what he did. The question is, are there more Bobs out there? Does his move signal a bigger change, or is he a rare, heartwarming exception to the rule?

Should more older workers think about passing the baton, if they can afford to?


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