By: Susan Ruhl
We hoped with bated breath in 2021 that the world would settle down, and then the same in 2022. It has settled down in some respects, but uncertainty still abounds. World affairs, inflation, and gas prices all appear to be pushing us toward a recession. Many of our global partners assure us that it will become a global recession as well. Super. But with an increase in layoffs on the horizon, whether it becomes a layoff of one, or hundreds of individuals, how employees are treated during layoffs can pay long-term dividends to a company’s future brand and recruiting efforts when the market does recover.
We’re in such a weird time. There’s a lot of talk about the Great Resignation and the struggle to find employees, but layoffs are picking up. We learned that life could change in a flash. We may think layoffs aren’t coming, but the evidence says that won’t last. When your company must lay people off, work to make it less painful and damaging. Here are some ideas on how to handle layoffs and make them less painful:
- Plan and Prepare: While you might find it necessary to exit employees, be sure to plan and prepare. Take this chance to review your workforce plan and make sure the right talent remains to keep your operations and customers running smoothly. Estimate rehiring costs and evaluate the difficulty of replacing laid-off employees based on current and future business needs. Timing and planning are essential once you’ve identified roles and notifications are coming. Make sure you have the right stakeholders, including HR, legal, and any other senior leaders that can help. Plan communication plans, exit strategies, gathering of belongings, IT and security considerations, dates, times, etc. Even if this isn’t your first rodeo, be sure to think this different dynamic through. Take into consideration that most of your workforce may still be remote and conducting a layoff is different.
- Train Your Managers: This is one of the most overlooked aspects of layoffs. Train your managers on how to effectively deliver a notification message. For example, managers should avoid making promises that they can’t keep – such as, “as soon as the business picks back up, we will rehire you.” All the employee will hear is, ‘rehire.’ You don’t know if and when the business will pick back up. Managers should take the time to deliver the message with a ton of empathy and compassion. They shouldn’t detach from humanity, but this is not a time for the manager to express their insecurities; “this is really hard for me.” Well, it is much harder for the person to lose their job.
- Treat Employees with Respect and Dignity: Employees have dedicated their working lives to you, your company and your customers. Treat them with the same respect and dignity that you showed when you hired them into the company. Create an FAQ sheet and be prepared to answer questions around benefits, severance, etc. Immediately rather than making the employee wait for an answer from you. If possible, extend medical benefits and offer career services. A compassionate outplacement program provides a dedicated career coach to help employees through these difficult times. The career coach can offer advice and guidance and empower an employee quickly. You will know that someone is watching out for their well-being and they are not at home, alone. A phrase that I find relevant is “don’t pay for assistance and pay more for an attorney."
- Take Care of the Survivors: Don’t forget about the employees who will remain with the organization after the layoffs. You should provide equal support to those who stay because many of them will suffer from survivor’s guilt, more responsibilities and other layoff effects. Run quick pulse surveys to get an idea of the impact on your team.
Leadership and communication will be critical factors in bringing the organization back to “pre-layoff” productivity, rebuilding and sustaining employees’ morale. It is imperative to reassure the people in the organization that they have value and that you respect their contributions. For more expert insights on how to layoff employees gracefully and effectively, check out our Layoff Guidebook.