Entrepreneurial Tightrope: Make layoffs a last resort

— -- Hi, Gladys, Due to the slowdown in business I had to lay off several people from my company. The other day my wife told me that while she was at the market she ran into the wife of one of the men I let go. My wife said when she greeted the woman and asked how she was. The woman shouted at her saying I put good men out of work so I could maintain my own high lifestyle. It was not an easy decision to let people go, but it is unfair to my family to earn less and sacrifice my responsibility to them. One of the benefits of owning your own business is to make money. I am quite upset about my wife's encounter. And, my wife has taken the woman's side and is upset with me. Should I just try to forget the whole thing? What is your take? Thanks — S.P.

It is much easier to deal with a situation than to try to forget it. Often what we try to forget keeps coming back to haunt us.

I remember once when an employee got upset with me because I didn't handle a situation the way he wanted me to handle it. So, he did what he thought would be the best solution to getting things turned around to his way: He called my husband and "reported" me.

Unlike your wife, my husband did not get involved but suggested that the employee talk further with me on his situation.

The idea of eliminating employees in order to rake in huge profits is something large companies have often been accused of. However, it is not a standard practice for small business owners to operate from this perspective.

Considering that you have taken the time to seek advice and you are troubled by this situation shows you care about what has happened and you want to find a resolution.

Therefore, I will assume your former employee's wife has unjustly criticized you.

I agree that the benefit of owning your own business is to make money for you and your family but it also should include your employees and the greater community. Business ownership can and should have a riveting, positive effect on a community. You earn money, and you give others the opportunity to earn money.

As business owners we have a moral and social responsibility to our families, our communities and ourselves to act responsibly at all times. And firing people just so that we can rake in larger profits violates all that an entrepreneur should stand for.

Perhaps your wife and your former employee's wife think that you violated the golden rule of successful living — that is, treat others as you want to be treated.

You're right; it is not easy to put people out of work. Have you considered alternative measures? I once found myself in your situation, and with the help of several friends I was able to locate other work for my employees that I couldn't keep due to a business slowdown. In some cases I helped others to set up freelance operations until I could afford to take them back.

Perhaps you could put forth an effort to help find work for the folks that you had to let go. Or assist them in starting their own businesses. I have often said that entrepreneurs breed entrepreneurs and that most of us grow and develop out of crisis.

Consider taking a proactive approach and deal with the situation. Try to help these folks find other employment. Your effort can send a good message and above all give you peace of mind knowing that you didn't just forget the whole thing or ignore a troublesome situation.

Gladys Edmunds' Entrepreneurial Tightrope column appears Wednesdays. As a single, teen-age mom, Gladys made money doing laundry, cooking dinners for taxi drivers and selling fire extinguishers and Bibles door-to-door. Today, Edmunds, founder of Edmunds Travel Consultants in Pittsburgh, is a private coach/consultant in business development and author of There's No Business Like Your Own Business, published by Viking. See an index of Edmunds' columns. Her website is www.gladysedmunds.com. You can e-mail her at gladys@gladysedmunds.com.