MT agony uncle Jeremy Bullmore

I overheard a private conversation in the gents and I'm in shock

I overheard a very private conversation between two senior directors in the men's toilets. I was alarmed to hear them talk about redundancies. Should I confront them?

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 28 Jun 2013

Q: I was privy to a conversation between two senior directors in the men's toilets. They thought they were alone and didn't realise I was in one of the cubicles. I was alarmed to hear them talk about redundancies that they were going to have to make in the department and became desperately scared when I heard my name as one for the chop. We'd had a departmental meeting just two weeks before to reassure us that cuts were not going to be made, so you can imagine my shock. This was a week ago and I've yet to hear anything. Should I confront them?


JEREMY SAYS: I can quite understand your state of shock and uncertainty - but please think very carefully before you 'confront' anyone.

What would you say? That you'd overheard them talking about redundancies in the gents? And how would you expect them to respond? You'd put them in an impossible position.

If a decision about redundancies has already been made in principle but the communications process and details of compensation have yet to be agreed, they'd have no choice but to stall and bluster. Their shame and embarrassment at having been so stupid and unprofessional would be entirely deserved - but it would gain you nothing.

When you were reassured in the departmental meeting that no cuts were going to be made, was that reassurance given by one of those two senior directors or by someone else? If by your departmental head, for example, it's entirely possible that person was speaking in good faith, but because of the proper sensitivity that surrounds any redundancy programme, he or she may not have known what the latest position was.

I know that uncertainty of this kind can seem worse than the truth, however unpalatable. Your instinct to look for immediate clarification is entirely human - but I'm not sure you'll get it.

The best thing you can do is calmly assume that you'll soon be offered a reasonably acceptable redundancy package and you should therefore start planning the next stage of your career.

Should that turn out to have been unnecessary, you'll still have been through an extremely valuable thought process that you're likely to find curiously liberating.

Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. His book Another Bad Day at the Office? is published by Penguin at £6.99. Address your problem to Jeremy Bullmore at: editorial@managementtoday.com. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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