How to Conduct Layoffs With Compassion and Respect

By Robert Half on February 6, 2023 at 1:30pm

Layoffs are never a pleasant experience, but they are a business reality. While most organizations do everything they can to avoid letting employees go, sometimes a reduction in force is the only solution for challenges like declining revenues, spiraling costs or shifts in market conditions.

Still, layoffs are uncomfortable for all parties involved — laid-off employees, team members who remain on staff, and managers. Emotions sparked by layoffs often run high. If handled poorly, layoffs can harm your organizational culture and cause lasting damage to your brand.

Whether you’ve conducted layoffs before or are navigating the process for the first time as a manager, here are a few tips to make the process as constructive as possible.

Prepare thoroughly and thoughtfully

In addition to reviewing factors like performance, seniority and skills when determining which employees to let go, make sure your decisions comply with relevant regulations like the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act. Doing so helps protect the company from potential lawsuits and costly penalties. It also demonstrates a commitment to ethical business practices.

Once you’ve identified the staff members to let go, make sure you are prepared to communicate the reasons for the reduction in force. A clearly articulated approach to layoffs will help departing workers maintain their dignity. It also reinforces to other employees that the company values its workforce and is not haphazard or offhand in its handling of the process.

Next, schedule the meeting. Try to avoid Friday afternoons, a time slot that leaves the departing employee in limbo until Monday morning and can demoralize other team members as they gear up for the weekend. An in-person conversation is best for office-based and hybrid workers, while a video call is usually suitable for remote employees.

If you are laying off a substantial number of people, consider breaking them into smaller groups so everyone can ask questions.

Be honest and upfront

Honesty is critical when laying off employees and sharing the news with the rest of the team. In the heat of the moment, not everyone will understand the reasons behind the layoff, but you can at least give people the information they need to process the decision over time.

Highlight any challenges the business faces to emphasize that this is business, not personal. At the same time, take full responsibility for the decision. Blaming layoffs on pressure from the board or senior executives is a sure way to lose the respect of departing workers, who may decide to vent their feelings on an employer review site or social media channels.

Your communications to employees who will remain on staff should be equally clear. Some questions to address with your team include the following:

  • Who will take over the duties of laid-off workers?
  • Will any other roles change?
  • How will the organization help remaining employees transition to new responsibilities successfully?
  • What is the company’s strategy for weathering the market pressures that caused the layoffs in the first place?

Rumors and speculation may quickly spread if there’s a lack of clarity surrounding these issues.

Connect laid-off employees with useful resources

Offering support to a terminated worker demonstrates compassion and can soften the blow of a layoff. Providing an appropriate severance package shows appreciation for a departing employee’s efforts while on staff and helps them transition to their next opportunity. Also, consider arranging for outplacement services that provide laid-off workers with job search training, coaching and resources to help them find a new job more quickly.

Even simple gestures like a LinkedIn recommendation can have a significant, positive impact by showing potential employers of the laid-off worker that their former company was willing to vouch for them.

Check in with remaining staff following a reduction in force

While it’s natural to focus your attention on the employees you’re laying off, you also need to check in with your remaining staff. This shows team members that they’re valued and respected. It also allows you to assess the layoffs’ impact on your team’s morale and productivity.

After a reduction in force, it can be difficult for employees to readjust and come to terms with the changes, so take the time to listen to any concerns and provide guidance and support, but never make commitments to the remaining workforce that you can’t keep. Promises of job security and the company’s future success after a round of layoffs can lead to broken trust and a negative attitude from team members. It’s always better to be honest and realistic about the future — even if that means saying, “I don’t know.”

No matter how difficult or unpleasant it may be, conducting layoffs is sometimes the soundest strategy for bolstering your organization’s success in the long term. Taking these steps can help you handle the process with compassion, dignity and transparency — and make sure that your remaining employees feel as supported and secure as possible.

Subscribe to the Robert Half newsletter for more articles and resources for managers — sent directly to your inbox.

More From the Blog...