You position at the company is in review as part of a potential downsizing effort and we are informing you it is not necessary.
A friend received this alarming email recently — because coronavirus lockdowns are not irritating enough. And this layoff notice is indeed irritating. Not because my friend lost his job (although that blows), but because of the wimpy, watery construction of this notice.
Now, I gladly repeat here that Lexicide is not a grammar site. But we do embrace clarity, and that is one of the reasons we urge you to choose the right word, not the one that will sow confusion. This email is confusion writ large.
We get it. You don’t want to feel bad. You want to protect your own feelings. Any jury would find this sort of self-preservation ample grounds to acquit you on the charge of atrocious writing, right?
For those of you who don’t read Lexicide regularly, or for those who don’t understand the rules of English (but I repeat myself), the problem in this alleged dismissal notice is an uncertain antecedent. An antecedent is the noun to which a pronoun* refers — e.g.; manager in the sentence “My manager knows he is an idiot.” In the email, it’s unclear whether it refers to position, the review itself, or even the downsizing effort. For a brief moment, my friend wondered if perhaps his firm had decided against staff cuts. Maddening. A simple re-ordering of this sentence would have helped:
As part of our downsizing effort, we reviewed your position and determined it was not necessary.
Still horrible, but at least it leaves no room for confusion. But it does commit the sin of using a verb — the company actually reviewed the position instead of the job miraculously finding itself in review. Verbs imply agency and action, and corporate folk like to think of bad things just happening instead of people causing them to happen. (“The gun went off,” “The knife went in.”)
Another problem I have with the way this company fired my friend is saying his position was unnecessary. It may well be true, but come on. They’re one shade away from saying my friend, with all his skills and experience, was unnecessary. Why not just call him redundant?
I have a revelation for companies and managers. People (employees, customers, partners, and the like) appreciate clear, direct statements. I know of no instance where someone has sued over a forthright termination. In fact, dodgy layoffs cause way more problems for companies than direct ones.
The problem, as I allude to above, is people want to protect themselves rather than serve their audience. To put it another way, they are selfish. To communicate clearly is to serve others. The tools are there for us to use: grammar, word choice, medium. In uncertain times, these tools provide us with certainty in communication. Use them.
— Otto E. Mezzo
*Antecedents are not always nouns. They can be verbs (Belinda uses bad grammar, just like Ralph does.), adjectives (Andrew Lloyd Weber is pretentious, which everyone knows.), and so on. But in those cases, the referring words are called pro-verbs, pro-adjectives, and so on.