No one likes being laid off. Even worse is when the people being laid off are completely caught off-guard and don’t see it coming. People make financial decisions based on the security of their jobs, making adjustments to their spending and planning patterns as changes occur. It’s important that employers and human resource managers be as transparent as possible with their employees to ensure that everything goes as smoothly as possible.
It can be daunting to take on the challenge of understanding when a layoff is going to happen and even more so to tell your coworkers the unfortunate news. For your convenience we have broken down this article into two sections: planning for the layoff and communicating about the layoff.
Planning for the layoff:
There are a few preventative measures to take in order to try and avoid layoffs. Hiring people slowly can ensure that your organization only hires as many people as it needs, rather than hiring too many people and having to lay off valuable employees. Additionally, keeping a close eye on budget revenues and deficits can both help you pinpoint looming layoffs and perhaps even prevent them through some budgetary maneuvering. Depending on the requirements of your superiors, you might also be able to examine some non-layoff solutions such as phasing employees to part-time positions, transferring employees to other departments where their skills are relevant, or cutting back on non-essential discretionary spending.
It can be difficult to determine whether layoffs are going to happen. Again, keeping a close eye on the budget can help you prepare for layoffs. Sometimes superiors are cryptic about whether layoffs are looming on the horizon. It is best that if there is a mention of big cuts in spending, you have a plan of execution.
First you’ll want to examine existing employee contracts. Some will have particular clauses dealing with layoff procedures. In the public sector employees have numerous protections from being laid off, however organizations in the private sector set their own policies.
Second, make sure your organization is adhering to current state and federal policies, such as the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, which requires employers with 100 or more employees to give their employees at least 60 days notice before their employment is terminated in a mass layoff.
Third begin meeting with your superiors and human resources team to ensure that layoffs are the only solution to address the spending issues. Establish a list of most essential employees who have contributed the most to your organization in terms of years, their work ethic, and production. Then go down the list and start to determine who the less essential employees are, including recent hires, those with poor performance reports and disciplinary reports, and have less essential contributions to the overall wellness of the organization. Make absolutely sure that your layoff is non-discriminatory in nature and have the documentation to back up your organization on this account.
Last, create a timeline for notifying employees of the layoff. This will include drafting and putting together the necessary documentation, talking to management and human resources, determining the amount of any severance packages or other employee benefits, meeting individually with each employee to deliver the news, and meting with the employees at least once after the news is delivered to ensure they are coping decently with the change.
Communicating about the layoff:
This is going to be a jarring experience for your employee, no matter how you slice it, but it’s important to try and be empathetic, and try to understand how the layoff is going to affect your employees personally and professionally. Make sure you are meeting with the employees in a private space, free from the curious eyes of their peers. If you can, time it with normal performance evaluations or other events so there is no judgment cast on those called into a meeting.
You can consider giving sugar-coating your delivery of the bad news by reminding your employee of their contributions to the organization and their useful skills and talents, but no matter what you do, the news that you’re delivering is negative and will likely not be seen in another light by your employee. Depending on the employee, it might be better to just get to the point of the matter: the layoff.
Be as transparent as possible. Explain to the employee the reason for the layoff, what resources your organization has made available to them, their contractual rights as an employee, and the logistics of the layoff. Never identify other individuals being laid off.
Your employee will need your support and encouragement more than ever. Be patient and gentle with them. Ensure that assistance will be made available to them in the vein of counseling, meetings, or even financial planning. Their surprise will manifest in silence, upset, depression, grief, rage, shock, or fear. Be prepared to offer your condolences and guidance in all of these situations. The more support you offer to your employees, the less ripple effect will occur throughout the organization. Maintain open communication with them either personally or with the assistance of management or a professional counseling agency.
Perhaps most importantly of all, give yourself and your employee some time after each meeting to decompress and collect yourselves. You’re going to be taking in a lot of emotion and grief. Laying people off never gets easy, but you can rest easy knowing you did all you could to find other options and provide solutions.
For further resources, see these articles:
Fast Company: 5 Ways to Help Employees You’re About to Lay Off
Growing Self: Getting Laid off? Here’s How to Deal
UC Berkeley HR: Layoff Planning Flow-Chart