A layoff nightmare at Chicago Public Schools

One communicator shares how he was told to leave his job.

There’s always a first time for everything.

In more than 20 years as a corporate communications professional, I’ve seen organizations communicate poorly or in mediocre fashion during a crisis. However, I’ve never known of an organization that didn’t communicate at all during a full-blown tumult.

Until June 2009, that is.

In the face of an almost $500 million budget shortfall, the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) announced that layoffs in the Central Office were close to inevitable. This came as news to CPS employees who learned about imminent layoffs in media reports on June 10.

That same evening, the head of the CPS department that I worked for issued an e-mail blast to all employees. The message was that it was unknown how budget concerns would affect this department, and that employees would be told as soon as there was further information.

Laughably, the next time employees in my former department received said “further information” was when they were summoned to brief, impersonal “meetings” at which the department head read verbatim from a pro forma script. The message was brief: thanks for everything, but your time is up.

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