Whether your organization is facing the first round of layoffs or a second wave you never thought would be necessary, there are steps you can take to make a difficult process as personal and compassionate as possible.
1. Start with compassion
Think about the people on the other end of your decisions. You’re in the driver’s seat of a tough process, but compassion helps you navigate with heart.
Visualize having your position eliminated as a reminder that you have the power to avoid making this feel like a sterile process. Compassion means remembering, every step of the way, that your words and actions affect real people with complex lives. When you navigate layoffs with compassion, your communications strategy will ultimately be enhanced.
2. Establish clear communications
The people affected by your decisions will help guide your messaging. Leaders should adopt a proactive communication strategy for any workforce reductions.
Be transparent and communicate to your team as early as possible that cuts will be coming so employees have the ability to brace themselves.
This could look like all-hands virtual meetings where leaders discuss previous plans, actions the company took to avoid layoffs and the factors that led to the decision to use layoffs. The forum chosen should offer employees the chance to ask questions about the company’s process and proposed timelines for re-hiring. Then, employees should be given a hard date for when cuts will be made—don't spread the cuts out over several days; it can cause greater disruption than a single decisive day.
Ripping the bandage off by getting the layoffs done all at once so that fear and anxiety don’t continue to run rampant will be viewed as compassionate by the employees who survive the cut.
3. Prepare your leaders
Even with a compassionate mind and solid communication strategy, leaders must prepare for a complex administrative and emotional process.
Appearing ill-prepared can make leaders appear less competent in a time when they need to be perceived as both competent and compassionate.
Organizations should think about how they’re equipping leaders to field questions about layoffs. A shared document with a running list of employee questions and leadership responses can be a powerful tool in helping leaders provide a consistent response across the organization. Also, organizations should create strategies early on in the layoff process to update their organizational design.
4. Embrace the unknown
For all the planning organizations do to establish clear communication and processes around workforce reductions, an element of the unknown will always persist. While you can control an org chart, you can’t control people’s responses to the layoff process.
Employees will process layoffs in different ways. Some may get angry and yell. Others will quietly accept the news but need to talk it out later with colleagues.
Instead of trying to control their reactions, leaders should use scenario planning to identify potential outcomes. Leaders can then work through different responses in advance instead of being blindsided in the moment.
5. Nurture your outgoing and continuing workforce
Layoffs split your workforce into those outgoing and those remaining. Companies should think about crafting a landing pad for those departing. The biggest things employees need from you are stellar references and for you to reach out to your professional network to help them land softly.
Instead of handing departing team members a package as they walk out the door, explore resources that will offer employees ongoing support. Perhaps it’s an alumni network or letter of reference program. It could be an outsourced firm that handles benefits questions so employees don’t feel abandoned. There are always ways to let laid-off employees know that their service remains valued.
For your remaining workforce, it’s not necessarily going to be business as usual. They’ll need attention and compassion following such a tumultuous time in their tenure.
After layoffs, follow up with the rest of your employees to share your vision for the future of the company and their role in it. Hold smaller meetings to address questions as the situation develops, and be understanding if teams are not as productive. It can take up to a year for cultures to return to a ‘new normal’.
This article was adapted from an earlier version https://amex.co/2AXKIZ8
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or an opinion on any issue. It should not be regarded as comprehensive or a substitute for professional advice.