Addressing a Layoff
One day we were comfortably driving on an open road with the warmth of the sun on our faces, and then wham, it all came to a crashing halt. The impact of the pandemic has put us in the position to make incredibly difficult decisions.
As companies look at how to survive this crisis and come out on the other end, nobody wants to let go of their employees. However, it may be necessary. Restructuring a team and communicating that news to the affected employee and the “survivors” is the hardest thing you will ever do as a leader. You feel the sorrow and guilt of a broken promise and want to do what’s right for your employees.
It’s our responsibility as leaders to give our employees as much support and resources as available and offer them the most dignified and respectful exit possible. This takes careful thought, communication, and a support system.
Some of us have had experiences with layoffs; for others, this will be a new and difficult experience, especially as this came out of nowhere. First, always consult experienced counsel and your HR professional in this process. There are legal, cultural, brand, and ethical implications. Properly executing a layoff is essential and will be a message not only to your affected employees but to the employees you retain, your vendors, partners, and clients. How you communicate and handle a layoff to the people impacted, and how you manage and lead throughout the process for everyone, really matters. No one will forget how people were treated and what they were provided.
Even though it seems to be thought of as a dated model, career transition-outplacement services are needed now more than ever. Don’t make the mistake of believing that due to the internet, technology, social media, and internet job boards that people can make an effective emotional and strategic shift to looking for a new job or career. High touch and tailored career consulting and coaching is critical to help with the transition and to focus on a successful preparation, strategy, search and onboarding into a new role, new boss, new culture, and possibly a new industry. High caliber career consulting and coaching is needed now more than ever.
Leadership needs to own the messaging and to take strategic ownership around the plan. Employees joined your organization or company because of your vision and values. And, ultimately, it will be your direction that determines if employees are treated with dignity and compassion when exited or furloughed. This is where trust and confidence are built or broken.
When you begin notifying employees, word of a layoff will travel quickly. It is important to try to complete every conversation as soon as possible. These conversations should be private and done with each individual, no matter how many employees you need to notify. Ensure that your managers are trained and educated, so they do it in a way that exudes empathy, consideration, and clarity for the impacted employees. Given our current remote work situation, those notification meetings may need to occur via a virtual video platform. Plan to practice and gain comfort with the message you need to deliver. Be prepared that each employee will react differently to the news. It is vital to keep the messaging clear, concise, and strategic, acknowledge the employee’s reaction, and provide clarity around next steps and services available to them.
As soon as notifications are complete, you need to communicate to everyone in your company a consistent message. You want to ensure your team hears the news from you directly, and you confirm that notifications are complete (so they don’t have to worry about their own status). In coordination with HR and IT, you will quickly need a way to reach all employees not impacted. This should be a prepared email or video explaining the difficulty of the change and why the change is occurring. It’s also imperative to thank and reflect a sincere appreciation for the outgoing employees’ contributions. You are now communicating with the remaining team that will move forward, and need to demonstrate empathy, understanding, and gratitude. In this communication, you should also announce an all-hands meeting for later that day, or the latest, the next morning. Your continuing employees need to have an opportunity to hear from you and ask questions. Please don’t wait too long, as you need to assume the email and communication you send will be read by those leaving you and by the general public.
Some companies have already gone through a layoff and are trying to introduce these employees impacted to their network and aid them with their job search. Partnering with a firm that can provide high-touch career consulting and coaching will accelerate the employee’s transition, networking, interviewing, and landing their next job.
If you are going to do a layoff, it’s going to be one of the hardest days of your career, but not nearly as bad as it will be for your impacted employees.
If you conduct your layoff with compassion and clarity, you will ease the burden on your impacted employee(s) help them begin the process of transitioning out of your organization to their next role, while re-establishing trust and confidence with the team that remains.