Wednesday, December 3, 2008

RIF Takes On a New Meaning for Publishers

Remember when RIF stood for "Reading Is FUNdamental"?

As a tech sector refugee, I'm much more familiar with the other, pinker meaning for RIF: Reduction In Force.

Having only recently turned my attention to publishing, I'm not sure how inured the industry is to these cycles. When you work in software and chips (even as a lawyer), you get used to the RIF cycles. Hopefully you get at least a few weeks' severance out of it, and if you can manage to pick up another job quickly, then hey - BONUS. All's well that ends well. On the other hand, if you get no severance and it's a few months before you get your next job, then start working on your positive attitude now because you'll need it for the long haul.

So, all hell's breaking loose at the major houses right now. Not that the holidays aren't stressful enough on their own. Having had plenty of experience on both sides of the table with RIF's, I thought I'd share some wisdom if you find yourself sitting down for one of these painful meetings.


1. Don't try to be a friend.

Allow the person who's getting the bad news their anger. After all, when the meetings over, they're going to go put their stuff in a box and try to figure out how to pay for COBRA insurance for their kids. You'll go back to your desk and your job. No matter how compassionate, empathizing and caring you try to be, you will still be The Asshole On The Other Side Of The Table. Accept the situation for what it is, and don't try to rob the poor RIF-ee of their right to hate you for the next 20 minutes. At least allow them that much.

2. Have a neutral third party in the room with you.

Here's the lawyer in me coming out: have a witness, but not someone who would be provocative in the sense of making the RIF-ee feel ganged up on. People tend to behave better when there's someone else in the room, plus it will help with any he-said-she-said arguments that may come up later.

3. Be prepared and organized.

Have all your exit paperwork ready and at hand. Have packing supplies ready. Have security available on call, even if you don't think you'll need them. Be ready to answer all questions.

4. Never, ever RIF anyone over the phone, email, twitter, or any other method than a face-to-face meeting.

Don't be a weasel. RIF's suck more for the RIF-ee than the RIF-er. Suck it up and at least have the courage to allow the RIF-er the dignity of a personal meeting.


1. Get the hell outta Dodge.

Seriously. Get your stuff and go. Quickly. Hanging around will only make you bitter. Trust me on this.

2. Don't burn bridges.

Keep your snarky comments to yourself. Don't take anything with you that isn't yours. Be a consummate professional about it. RIFs happen all the time. It's nothing personal, and if you take it personally, you're only digging a deeper hole for yourself to have to climb out of again when it's time to go get the next job. Something about RIF's: they tend to spawn new ventures, new opportunities, new companies. You want to be thought of well when those new things are coming together and someone like you could fill a spot in it. Keep your contacts up, start making coffee and lunch and drinks dates with everyone in your network. Remember birthdays and anniversaries.

3. Get ready for the long haul of positive thinking.

Finding a job in a down economy is hard. Keeping your energy and enthusiasm up after a string of dead ends and rejections is hard. Whatever you have to do to prepare yourself for that, do it. Go for more walks. Get more sleep. Eat healthier. Set aside some of your free time for pleasure reading, crosswords, drives in the country - whatever it is that recharges you. Be kind to yourself and your body. You need all the resources and support you can draw from. Now is a good time to re-think self-destructive habits and toxic relationships. Maybe it's time for a complete change of career. Clear your head and get yourself to a good place so you can make that decision based on rational deliberation.

4. Figure out what you want, but don't put people on the spot.

Something I learned during my own series of layoffs was that people wanted to help me - I didn't need to ask them for help. Asking people directly if they knew of any jobs or job leads put them on the spot and in the uncomfortable position of having to tell me they couldn't help me - it was a real downer for both of us. I realized that when I met with someone over coffee or lunch, if I could tell them with enthusiasm what I was looking for, what I was interested in, who I was talking to, what my plans were, they would naturally get swept up by the possibilities and suggest leads and other contacts without my asking. Really, try it. People are drawn to a can-do attitude and want to be a part of your success.

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