One of the most difficult decisions an employer will ever have to make is whether or not to dismiss employees during an economic downturn.

Invariably, those at risk of losing their jobs are competent, hard-working and loyal. They do not deserve to be unemployed – they are simply the likely victims of circumstances.

As one employer said to me recently, “I hate the idea of having to be ruthless – but I need to sack forty to save the jobs of four hundred”. So, what are the key ethical considerations an employer might take into account?

  1. Save what can be saved

    There is no honour in destroying all for the sake of a few. Even the few will eventually perish in such a scenario.

  2. Give reasons

    Be open and truthful. Throw open the books so that people can see the proof of necessity.

  3. Retain the essential

    Some people are of vital importance to the life of an organisation. However, when all other things are equal, protect the most vulnerable.

  4. Cut the optional

    The luxuries, the ‘nice-to-haves’ should not be funded. Use income for the essential purpose of preserving jobs.

  5. Treat everyone with compassion

    Both those who leave and those who remain will be wounded by the decisions you make – no matter how necessary.

  6. Share the pain

    consider offering everybody the opportunity to work less hours, for less money, in order to save a few jobs that might otherwise be lost.

  7. Seek volunteers

    If sacrifices must be made, invite your colleagues to be part of the decision. Some might prefer to step down – their reasons will vary. Honour their choice.

  8. Honour your promises

    If you have made a specific commitment to a member of staff, then you are bound by it – even in a crisis – unless it is impossible to discharge your obligation.

  9. Minimise the damage

    Those who lose their jobs should not be abandoned. How can they be supported by means other than a salary?

  10. Look to the future

    Make sure that your organisation has a purpose that can inspire those who remain – and justify the losses suffered during the worst of times.


You can contact The Ethics Centre about any of the issues discussed in this article. We offer free counselling for individuals via Ethi-callprofessional fee-for-service consulting, leadership and development services; and as a non-profit charity we rely heavily on donations to continue our work, which can be made via our websiteThank you.