8 Tips for Handling Layoffs

Layoffs, according to Wayne F. Cascio, a professor at University of Colorado Denver who has studied layoffs for decades, “have been pretty constant over the years, and it seems to happen no matter what the economy is doing. When the economy is down, it’s always the argument that we’ve got to cut costs, and when it’s doing well we often hear we need to improve profitability, because it’s the best time to do it. The tune hasn’t changed.”

While media headlines and news only report the layoffs happening across big companies, small and medium sized businesses are not immune. While layoffs may be viewed by larger companies as just another business decision, the owners and executives of small and medium businesses (SMBs) make these difficult decisions only after all other remedies have failed, and with a large degree of guilt and sadness. When a company employs less than 1,000 the decision weighs exceptionally heavy on owners and managers that have come to see employees as family. while media headlines and news only report the layoffs happening across big companies, small and medium sized businesses are not immune. @EmilyM_Elder #SmartTalkHR http://bit.ly/2p9AY51

Before now, the option of engaging with established outplacement providers didn’t exist. Recognizing that companies, regardless of size, understand the financial and brand impacts of a layoff, SMBs now have a quick and easy mechanism to offer career transition support to one person or multiple people.  This allows the company to demonstrate that they care for their employees and their community while meeting their financial goals and helping to minimize long-term tax liability through helping people get back to work quickly.

Because “doing the right thing” by employees is often top of mind for small and medium business owners and managers, we’ve compiled a list of 8 ways to take care of your employees following a layoff.

#1: Build a business case

By the time you are ready to layoff employees, chances are, you’ve done everything else to reduce spending and cut costs across the business. This is why it’s so critical to communicate during every phase of the process, and create a concise business case for the purpose of the downsizing event. This business case will inform sequential communications, like notifications, general internal and external announcements, and notices to employees. By explaining, with a concise business case, why a layoff was necessary, employees are less likely to criticize your actions.

#2: Host manager notification training

It’s critical that managers and business leaders understand their role during a layoff. RiseSmart offers Manager Notification Training (MNT) to help HR and functional leaders understand their role and that messaging is consistent throughout the organization. Even if you’re only going to lay off a few employees, manager notification training can help those who will be delivering the message understand the importance of following best practices and legal guidelines, it also helps your management team prepare emotionally for the event. Managers, Human Resource business Partners (HRBPs), and benefits providers have distinct roles during a layoff. A successful transition requires all groups to be supporting employees in unison. Getting everyone together in a meeting before the event will create the synergy you’re seeking.

#3: Plan and prepare emotionally

It’s normal to feel a wide range of emotions when facing a layoff. Sadness, guilt, fear, anxiety, confusion, cynicism, embarrassment, and resentment are all on the spectrum of normal. As we tell managers during MNT, it’s normal and expected that you would have an emotional reaction to the event. Acknowledge these feelings and try talking it out with other managers or HR professionals in the organization. The more you can do to process and feel your own emotions prior to the event, the more empathetic you can act toward impacted and retained employees. 

#4: Assemble a layoff team

Gather internal folks, including leaders from HR, finance, legal, and other key players, as well as the heads of departments impacted by the layoff to be on your layoff “team.” This team should then be driven by an HR project manager or other key executive team member.

Externally, it’s smart to connect with legal counsel and employment attorneys who are experts in handling workforce reductions. The size and scope of your external team should depend on the percentage and types of population affected by the layoff.

#5: Hold a planning meeting

Meet with each leader or manager responsible for making decisions about who will be retained, and who will be impacted by the event. It’s important to discuss, either as a group or one-on-one, all of the legal, ethnical, and organizational ramifications of a layoff decision. It’s helpful at this point to have a step by step plan of established best practices and assign responsibilities to team members.

#6: Communicate consistently and quickly

Try to deliver all layoff notifications within a short period of time to alleviate the concerns of employees who will be retained. When you spread it out across multiple days or weeks, employees are left wondering if they are next. This in turn creates feelings of anxiousness and emotional turmoil for the employees left behind.

We recommend that mangers schedule a group meeting with remaining employees in the department once the layoffs have been communicated.  Plan to meet one on one with each remaining employee as quickly as possible after the layoff. This sends an immediate signal to the employees that you respect and value them as individuals, which will not only help you preserve your reputation as an employer and a company, but it will also help the organization return to its new state of normal as quickly as possible.

#7: No apologies, only appreciation

As you communicate the news of a layoff with impacted employees, it’s vital to demonstrate care and kindness. Instead of apologizing, express appreciation for what your employees have contributed to the team during their tenure. Revisit the business case for the layoff, and calmly and non-defensively reiterate the decision and rationale for the separation. And, above all, even if it feels like you have a million things to take care of, truly listen to employees.

As you communicate the news of a layoff with impacted employees, it’s vital to demonstrate care and kindness. Instead of apologizing, express appreciation for what your employees have contributed to the team during their tenure. @EmilyM_Elder #SmartTalkHR http://bit.ly/2p9AY51

#8: Partner with an outplacement provider

Sure, it’s possible to handle a layoff without an outplacement provider by your side, but it’s not always easy. When considering a vendor, be sure to choose one that has programs and packages designed specifically for small or midsized companies. The last thing you want is to reach out to an outplacement provider only to be told that you’ll have to sign an expensive long-term contract and sign up for services you’ll never use.

Due to the rising demand from small and midsized businesses, RiseSmart offers an “Express” version of its outplacement and career transition services technology. RiseSmart Express is designed with SMBs in mind. Businesses can purchase outplacement resources a la carte, depending on the position of the transitioning employee, as well as manager notification training and other services.


10 Strategies for Dealing With Layoffs

Elaine Varelas

Many leaders would rather have a root canal than eliminate jobs and lay off staff. Most go to great lengths to cut costs first to minimize the number of people affected by a reduction in force (RIF). Everyone—employees being laid off, those staying, HR managers, and leaders—fares better when a RIF is handled skillfully. Here are 10 strategies:

1. Recognize it will be painful. RIFs are upsetting for everyone. Leaders and HR managers should not be expected to smile through it or “put lipstick on a pig.” Doing so might make light of the layoff’s impact and belittle people’s feelings. Acknowledge that it is painful for all employees—those being let go, those who are staying, and for the HR managers who have to implement the reduction. It is also stressful on the organization, as people go through this difficult transition.

2. Remain objective. It can be easy to personalize a layoff, but it’s not productive. Managers should remain objective when selecting positions to eliminate. They need to be mindful of their words when speaking about the reduction. People are not being cut—positions are cut, and people are affected.

3. Have a well-thought-out plan. The lay-off must be well planned and executed. Address every detail. HR needs to help leaders ask probing questions to determine how positions will be selected. If the downturn only affects one area, will that department be the only one to face cuts, or will the entire company face restructuring? What will the criteria be for position elimination? Will it be last in, first out? Will it be performance-based? Has information been documented? Consult with legal counsel to know legal risks and implications of every activity involved in the RIF. Consider what talent, skills, and experience will be needed in the future. What teams need development to expand or refine needed skill sets?

4. Come to a consensus. Whatever the reasons for the layoff, the management team needs to come to agreement and move forward as a team. Managers should avoid casting blame or making sideline deals. The leadership team needs to develop a clear message and present a united front.

5. Treat employees with respect. We’ve all heard lay-off horror stories—people who arrive at work to find boxes on their desk and security standing nearby; people who try to get into their office and realize the locks have been changed; or people who were terminated via a form email. Managers should treat every individual with respect and protect each person’s dignity. Even if the RIF affects many people, managers should treat each person as if he or she is the only person being affected. Each employee deserves a private meeting with a manager, a chance to ask questions, and be informed of any transition support, verbally and in writing. Deliver the news with kindness and compassion, remembering that the layoff has a compounding effect on family. 6. Offer as much support as possible. Provide people with transition support. Here are five examples: 1) Redeployment: Is there another area of the company or another location that can absorb some of those affected? Can training be offered to fill a need in another area? 2) Separation package: Even if the cutbacks are fiscally based, provide a separation package that includes financial benefits, and career transition support. 3) Reaching out to other employers: Contact other employers to make them aware of the staff affected. Do they have open positions some of the employees could fill? 4) Engage a career transition firm with a proven record of delivering value to affected individuals. They try to get those affected by the RIF into the right roles in the best timeframe. 5) Employment Assistance Program can help people deal with the separation and move on. The organization benefits from having logistical support when many people are being asked to coordinate events. The individuals notified benefit from having a person to speak to who can address the impact of RIF.

7. Communicate clearly and honestly. Rumors are often more damaging than reality. There is some information that is confidential, and it changes daily until the day of the reduction. And yet the status of the company, its finances, and its future are pieces of information each employee should have. If managers don’t control the message, fear and rumor can rule the day, and negatively influence people’s behavior. Tell what the company is doing to avoid eliminating positions, and remind people of assistance for those in transition and support for those remaining. 8. Ensure resilience. Following a RIF, consider an alignment of structure, people, and process. Create plans for moving the business forward. Retention and engagement of key talent becomes a priority, and managing change becomes the focus. HR ensures resilience.

9. Look to the future. Focus on what will happen next. Are strategies, goals, and roles aligned? What will the new incarnation of the company look like? Is there a communication strategy to re-engage people? Does the culture need to be reinforced? How can leaders support employees in managing change? The sooner you speak to the future, the sooner you can recover.

10. Re-recruit remaining staff. Be highly visible and engaged with employee communication. This is the time to rerecruit remaining employees by reinforcing the support provided to those employees affected, and reaffirming the organization’s commitment to current staff. Enlist the help of employees so they can play a role in shaping the future. What are their hopes and concerns? What do they need to do their jobs well? Reassure them of their place with—and their value to—the organization to avoid losing them. HR professionals need to be experts in conducting RIFs to ensure that the people affected are treated with respect and supported in making a smooth transition. When leaders handle the process well, they can also reinforce their commitment to remaining staff, and communicate the mission so that the organization continues to thrive.

First Published in Leadership Excellence www.leaderexcel.com