The only thing worse than laying someone off is laying someone off without adequate preparation
Updated on January 23, 2019
“Layoffs,” does that word ever strike joy or happiness in either side of the situation? Despite their unpleasantness, layoffs keep businesses alive and even lead people to opportunities they never would have searched out otherwise. With that being said, there is a right and wrong way to go about layoffs. The right way putting you in possibly a better standing than before and the latter leaving you feeling awful for more reasons than simply having to tell someone their livelihood as they know it is over.
Layoffs are something that need to be handled delicately and strategically—we’re dealing with people, after all—and it’s paramount to treat employees with dignity, respect and empathy and remember that they are human and vulnerable.
Layoffs are a last resort for otherwise good employees.
Get creative and exhaust all options before letting go of valuable team members. Before layoffs, consider implementing different work week schedules, forced vacation or temporary shutdown, hiring freezes, wage freezes and even wage reduction. Though risky, you can be completely transparent with your employees and ask for voluntary layoffs, you just will not be able to control the outcome of who you're left with.
Before laying off or firing someone, you should always speak with an attorney. Each state has different laws and requirements when it comes to terminating an employee, and you want to ensure your way is above reproach. Be sure to research how giving notice under the WARN Act applies to your business and any other laws that pertain to the specific preparation and documentation needed before laying off an employee.
While you cannot guarantee a disgruntled employee will not seek legal counsel after being laid off, your professionalism, compassion and preparedness can make all the difference in how someone feels as they walk out the business doors for the last time.
Many businesses are required by law to announce upcoming layoffs, but even if yours is not, it’s a small gesture that goes a long way in terms of company morale post-layoff and employee preparedness.
Whether you have been transparent with your employees that layoffs are coming or not, it’s likely most people are sensing that something is up.
There are pros and cons to every day of the week when it comes to layoffs, but the general consensus is that Mondays and Fridays are a no-no. It is seen as cruel to lay someone off on a Monday because they just came all the way to work for nothing, and laying someone off on a Friday not only completely shatters their weekend, but also halts their job hunt until Monday. Laying off someone is best done during the middle of the week, on a Tuesday or Wednesday, in the morning. This allows employees to use the rest of the week to job hunt and apply for unemployment if need be.
Except in specific circumstances, it is generally expected that the direct supervisor or manager will hold the layoff meeting with their employee in the presence of a third person, like a human resources professional. Preserving the dignity of the employee during a layoff is paramount to the overall turnout of the conversation, and nothing is a bigger slap in the face than when a superior you hardly know tells you it’s time to pack up and leave the building.
Layoffs are best done face to face, it goes back to “treating your employees with dignity”. While it’s specific to your work environment and the situation, it’s best practice to have the layoff conversation in a private area, like a meeting room, away from the sight of other employees.
Avoid your office and the office of the person being laid off. No one wants to stare at a picture of their family as you tell them it’s their last day or develop feelings of resentment as they look around your flashy office that is not about to be packed into a box.
The most important part of preparing for layoffs is the script.
Thoughtfully prepare a script beforehand and mentally prepare to execute the meeting as close to the script at the situation allows. At the beginning of the meeting, get to the point immediately, no small talk. Be genuine and understanding, but make it clear that the layoff is a final decision. Thoughtfully answer questions and be as transparent as possible, your employee deserves the truth and will feel offended by oversimplified or sugar-coated explanations. If the scenario allows, bring to light all the valuable work the employee has done and highlight their impressive performance, just be sure to only say these things if they're true. When it comes to compliments during a layoff meeting, stick to the old adage, "If you don't have anything (truthfully) nice to say, don't say anything at all."
Be kind and compassionate, and try to put yourself in the employee’s shoes. Have tissues ready in case the tears begin to flow, and allow your employee a moment alone if need be. If the employee does not understand the purpose of the meeting, graciously repeat yourself so they understand the decision is final. If the situation allows, let the employee clear their desk at a time coworkers are not around or even say goodbye to coworkers if it's in everyone's best interest.
If you anticipate the employee becoming aggressive or resulting to threats or violence, have a security guard in the meeting and do not engage or get pulled into an argument.
Severance packages are your best friend in a layoff meeting and often a large reason terminated employees do not seek legal council or go after a company. While there are numerous laws surrounding severance pay, the most important factor is offering severance pay fairly to protect yourself from a discrimination lawsuit. You don't have to offer severance pay to everyone just because you gave it to the longest-standing employees, but be sure there are clear distinctions of what positions and lengths of employment receive a severance package.
If you want to sweeten the deal even more, consider adding other perks to the severance package to show employees that you care. Career counseling, paid access to job search tools, career training and even resume writing give terminated employees a leg up in the job hunt and encourage them to focus on finding a job instead of simmering over their termination.
Though it is unlikely a terminated employee will become violent, it is important to notify everyone in the company anytime someone is laid off so they know not to let them in the building and whether or not they should notify security if they see the individual on the premises. Hiding terminations from remaining employees may seem like good PR in the beginning, but it is not worth an uncomfortable scenario or someone getting hurt.
If you follow our checklist, it is likely your team is prepared for layoffs, making your job in the aftermath much easier. In the following weeks, questions will come up and it's crucial that you're as transparent as possible so employees can re-establish trust and confidence in you. Once things have settled down and it is “business as usual” around the company, consider planning a few team building activities and taking an eNPS survey to get a read on office morale, changes since the terminations and anything else you want to measure simply.
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