business management

8 Tools to Help You Manage a Layoff

I am currently working with two different companies that are going through significant changes. They are outsourcing some of their work, eliminating the roles of some employees. The leaders want to handle these situations really well.  They care about the displaced employees and want to ensure a proper fit for them moving forward. Laying off an employee is no easy task. Confusion, anger, and even denial are some of the reactions that often greet a layoff. Working with these companies, I began thinking through tools that can aid in the lay off process. Here are 8 helpful tips to help you manage layoffs:

1. Have a Clear Mindset

  • Know that all eyes are watching how this is done, and it is important to have a clear mindset as you approach the layoff process.

2. Establish Healthy Principles

  • Communicate transparently and often:
    • People know when things are not going well. We often don’t give them enough credit, and attempt to hide the full picture. Instead, it’s important to be honest with the people who will be impacted.
    • Next, set clear goals with the given resources. Share market data and competitive information.
    • Don’t lie or be unrealistically upbeat before the layoff.
    • Answer the most critical question right away, then offer support.
      • People first, and most critically, want to know if there is bad news ahead. Answer that first. They will not be able to think clearly and listen through options with that question looming over their minds.
      • Then, support them with a discussion of the competition, market forces, or the financial environment. Take the time to talk through options with them.

3. Never delegate the pain:

  • Most people are loyal to their manager first, then to their companies.
    • The news needs to come from the manager directly.
    • The manager needs to be prepared to be there for the dismissed employee.

4. “Dismiss others as you would have them dismiss you.”

  • Practice empathy towards your employee. Empathy involves sitting with others in their current emotions and letting them feel understood.
    • Some common emotions felt during a layoff include:
      • Humiliation, anxiety, fear, and anger
      • An underlying emotion is the experience of shame: where they doubt that they are good enough.
    • Major concerns in the midst of a layoff are:
      • How do I leave the premises with some semblance of self-respect and with the information and materials I may need to help me in my job search?
      • What will I tell my significant other/family/friends etc.?
      • How will I afford to stay afloat now that I am unemployed?
  • Dismiss with dignity.
    • Deliver the message in private and face-to-face:
      • Do the dismissal before or after work so they don’t feel paraded around.
      • For most, avoid letting someone go on Friday because they will stew and could get worse. Also they will want to be able to reach out for advice or effectively start the job hunting process
      • For others, Friday is great because they need to decompress and can use the free time to do so.
      • Make the termination meeting quick and humane.
        • It should be done with the manager leading the conversation but it is also important to have another person in the room, such as HR.
        • If there is any concern, for safety make sure security is close by.
        • Within the first 30 seconds, state that their position has been eliminated.
          • “Sales have been down at the company and tough staffing choices had to be made.  It is with great regret that I must tell you that the company has decided to eliminate your position.”
        • Don’t get into messy personal discussions or say anything that can haunt you later.
      • Along with empathy, active listening is key. Give them a space to voice their emotions, concerns, and frustrations. Connect with them through the use of empathy statements, such as, “I hear you saying that you feel shocked and afraid, and I imagine that this is really hard for you.”
      • Along those lines, give them time to react in safe environment.
        • Some may need to vent
        • Some may need time to think
        • Some need facts and explanations
        • Your role in this is to provide a space free of judgment, where they can feel safe to express themselves.
      • Give them what they need to move to a stable, emotional keel.
      • Then as quickly as possible, move them towards thinking about their own future and not about the company.
        • They should feel that you want to help them succeed in the future.

5. Give them practical tools moving forward. Severance Package must be vetted by an employment lawyer. An appropriate severance package is:

  • Clear on what it offers
  • Includes the date it must be signed off by
  • Provides conditions on which it can be revoked
    • Provide outplacement consulting as part of the severance which helps to mitigate potential liability.
      • Most people who are in the process of getting laid off are thinking, what do I do now? Few have resumes at hand.
      • Providing outplacement consulting sends a message to the dismissed employee and the remaining employees that you are treating the ex-employee as a human being, not a line item on the budget.
      • Then, direct them to the outplacement immediately.
    • Allow them to come back to the office on a weekend or evening to get their valuables and/or return company property like laptop and smartphone to minimize embarrassment.

6. Give them the best chance to transition successfully by focusing on the person’s needs.

7. Have an exit interview with the terminated employee so you can grow.

  • Assess how will they represent the firm after they’ve been let go.

8. Have a town hall meeting for those who survive the cut.

  • Know that you are going to lose a lot productivity the day the layoff happens (and possibly more days).
  • Address the core questions of: What is the company’s future? Are there more layoffs coming? How will their jobs change? What are the expectations/goals now? Will they have to do two jobs?
  • The doubts start with their role and then expand outward to their team and then the company overall. Be honest, clear, and available to your employees.


Chew On This:

  • What areas of a layoff seem particularly challenging to you?
  • How can you improve your layoff strategy?


Ryan C. Bailey is President and CEO of a company that catalyzes the transformation of leaders’ lives.


*This blog is an amalgamation of a few different clients.  No one single client is being singled out.