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Dear Founder: Try not to renege on job offers you made before the crisis

In his weekly advice column, Maynard Webb reminds a founder that talent is hard to find. If possible, honor your commitments.

Dear Founder: Try not to renege on job offers you made before the crisis
[Photo: Phodesina/iStock]

Editor’s Note: Each week Maynard Webb, former CEO of LiveOps and the former COO of eBay, will offer candid, practical, and sometimes surprising advice to entrepreneurs and founders. To submit a question, write to Webb at dearfounder@fastcompany.com.

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Q. I made several job offers  before everything changed with the coronavirus crisis. Should I rescind them?

 —Founder of a company in a quandary

 Dear Founder,

You made a commitment at a time when nobody foresaw the market crash that now is the new reality. Everything is different.

Having said that, there’s one thing that stays the same: People are hard to find, and great people are really hard to find. One of the things you can do to help people is give them some security and comfort with a job. Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce, (I sit on the board) is leading the charge asking CEOs to take a 90-day “no layoff” pledge to help employees get through this crisis. The new stimulus package may also incentivize you to hire and keep people.

Therefore, my default answer is to honor the commitment you’ve made.

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However, that comes with a big caveat. Like everyone, you also have lots of other commitments, and the question becomes what can you afford to do at this time? We all know that many companies have already had to lay off people. The coronavirus could impact 47 million jobs and send the unemployment rate, once at record lows, past 32%, according to St. Louis Fed projections.

We are in a very challenging and utterly unprecedented period in history. Cash is king in these unpredictable times. That means that you should honor the commitment unless the economics become impossible in this new reality. It doesn’t make any sense to live up to this outstanding offer only to have to lay off someone else, or if your business is at risk of shutting its doors.

If you can’t continue with the offer you made when times were different, explain the situation. Put context around everything so that there’s clarity. Most importantly, act in a way you should always act: Treat everyone with dignity and respect. You very well might want to bring people back when things change, and that means doing what’s right in both the best of times and the worst of times. Reputations are burnished or tarnished in the midst of crisis. People will remember how you handle yourself through this challenging period long after we get to the other side.

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