Given the rush of the market in the last few years layoffs didn’t seem possible but as speculation of a recession sows fear into the economy, the threat of potential layoffs could become a reality for many organizations. They may be the result of the loss of a large client or project, a shift in the mission or market factors, or a multitude of other reasons. How an organization communicates and handles layoffs is critical for the ongoing success of the company, its brand, shareholders, the employees who have been separated and, most importantly, the remaining employees.
If you’re facing the tough decision of making layoffs, here are some factors to consider while preparing your organization. It’s important to remember what is at stake for each individual and it’s imperative to be sensitive to their situation while ensuring remaining employees feel supported in the wake of these unfortunate circumstances.
Be People Focused
First, your actions and communications should be people focused. Leadership transparency is tested during a restructure and if the organization has been led authentically, then employees are aware of the opportunities and challenges the organization is facing. The message of “why” the layoff is happening should be crafted, consistent, and understood by the leadership team and all leaders who are being asked to deliver the news.
Have a Plan
It is important to have the logistics determined. Where will the meetings with employees take place, who will be in the meetings, when does the separation occur, how will company property be collected, is all paperwork is accurate and reviewed (Cobra, final pay, severance) and will some form of outplacement or ongoing assistance be provided. When possible, meetings should be one-on-one and in person or over video.
Prepare, Practice and be Empathetic
Communicating a job loss to an employee is not an easy task, even for the most seasoned leader. It is important to share the information of the separation clearly and consistently. While listening and offering support is appropriate, it is not an opportunity to get into a personal discussion or debate “Why them?”. Human Resources should practice with any leader delivering the notification. Have a plan in place for any employees who may not be available on the day of the notice.
Be prepared that once the news is delivered, that the employee may be in shock and not be taking in the rest of the information offered. Ensure enough time to offer answers to questions and ensure next steps are clarified.
Even if employees are suspect of pending layoffs, it is important to recognize that each person will respond differently, and you need to be prepared for those reactions. If people are in the office, ensure you have water or tissues available. Have a plan for how people can gather their personal items, or come back at a later time, and how they will leave the office. If they don’t drive or rely on alternative transportation, you may want to consider Uber/Lyft/taxi vouchers. If you are asking employees to leave that day, you need to have a plan where they can exit without interaction, if they choose, or a time frame in which they should leave as not to cause awkward situations within the office.
Make sure employees have a contact to call for questions and support (EAP). Providing a handout with helpful contacts they can reference when emotions aren’t running so high will be appreciated. Additionally, you can make available the services of your organization’s recruiting or staffing firm to help them with discovering their next opportunity. They will be able to talk with them about the current job market, updating their resume and polishing interview skills. By offering employees an immediate resource to assist their reentrance into the workforce after a layoff demonstrates that this was not an easy decision, and their skills can still be valuable.
It all comes back to communication. Once the layoffs are complete, bring your remaining employees “back together” with a meeting, video call or message from leadership to let them know that the current reduction is over. Express gratitude and focus of coming back together and achieving success. It’s imperative that your remaining staff feel secure and comfortable following events like layoffs, as such situations are likely to make remaining staff wary and apprehensive about their own long-term stability.
Layoffs are never easy decisions, and they impact everyone in an organization. How you handle yours can make the difference to building the future of your business, but by being cognizant of the six factors above, you can make the process as simplified and compassionate as possible for everyone involved.