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9 tips on how to handle employee layoffs

The employee layoff procedure can be a stressful situation for both the employee and the employer. If you don’t like hurting other people, you will likely find it difficult to fire anybody. However, no company is complete without layoffs. 

This article will discuss some ways to tactfully part with an employee without harming them or the company.

The impact of dismissal on the emotional state of an employee

Say goodbye to people the way you would like them to say goodbye to you. 

Yes, you parted ways. But the world is too small, and you do not know how this person can influence your fate in the future.

A rude dismissal can not only leave a bad experience and emotions running high but also damage your reputation. Moreover, the mistakes made can affect the mood of your team. 

How will other employees react if you offhandedly kick out their colleagues?

The New York Times published an article in 2009 on the emotional and financial consequences of unemployment. It contained the results of a survey of 708 unemployed people about their feelings after being fired.

They split like this:

  • 69% experienced stress;
  • 55% got sleep problems;
  • 48% experienced changes in emotional or mental health (e.g., anxiety or depression);
  • 46% were ashamed or embarrassed about being unemployed.

As you can see, a layoff significantly affects the psychological state of people. Therefore, it is extremely important to follow several employee layoff rules not to harm a person.

No messengers, talk face to face

Yes, it’s probably easier to send a layoff letter to the employee and notify the person about the losing job by text. But this is just an attempt to hide from reality. Such an act will not leave a good impression; most likely, it will leave unpleasant emotions.

It is important to discuss your decision in person, face to face. Try to do this not on public display but somewhere in a quiet, private place. Believe us; few people want to hear such news in the presence of colleagues.

If necessary, bring an HR representative to the conversation. 

In 2014, Microsoft tried to address downsizing and laying off 12,500 employees in a simple letter. Microsoft’s Executive VP, Stephen Elop, emailed the news.

The letter had an unclear beginning, which, instead of being specific, is misleading. At the very beginning, it is said that the direction, in general, does not change, although this was not the case. And the most important information about laying off came after ten paragraphs of evasion.

The wording was vague, and instead of the understandable word “lay off,” the indefinite “correct amount” was used. The message also mentioned the severance pay, but entirely without any specifics.

This case perfectly illustrates many of the methods, which we will discuss later. Keep Microsoft’s example in mind and try not to repeat the giant corporation’s employee layoff mistake.

Don’t beat around the bush

Get straight to the point of the conversation. Ideally, the employee should understand what is happening in the first 30 seconds of the conversation. But do not start right off the bat, immediately saying, “We decided to fire you …”. Be sure to state the employee layoff criteria for every situation.

An example of a great conversation to start an employee layoff process goes something like this:

“The company’s sales have dropped, and we are forced to make tough staffing choices. With great regret, I have to inform you that the company has decided to reduce the staff.”

In such a speech, everything is clear and understandable. There is a requirement; there is the very fact of lay off and concern. The phrase does not sound like blaming but like a forced step taken by the company.

Keep in mind that getting somebody fired is a harsh procedure. It is somewhat similar to removing a medical plaster: the longer you pull, the more painful it ends up being.

The worst thing is to be afraid of reporting the situation honestly. The Walmart experience is a great example of how not to do it. The company announced an increase in the internal minimum wage, new bonuses, and benefits but kept silent about the closure of 53 stores.

Walmart not only kept silent about the news but did not even manage to send employee layoff notice. As a result, Sam’s Club staff confidently went to work in the no longer functioning store in the morning. They learned about what happened, not from an HR department employer, but a note on the door.

Twitter has shown similar behavior in its time. In 2015, the company also chose not to say anything to its employees. Why bother yourself if they figure everything out?

One by one, the laid-off employees tried to open their corporate mailbox. But they found closed access. Put yourself in their place: wouldn’t you feel confused?

Don’t look around for somebody to blame

Often there is a desire to relieve oneself of responsibility for what is happening. You want to seem like a good person whom other people force acting badly. It is very childish behavior that will not make you better in the eyes of the employee.

Do not under any circumstances say that this is not your decision and you have nothing to do with it. Do not shy away. Otherwise, you will lower not only your reputation but also the reputation of your company.

Even if you have been instructed from above, do not talk about it.

The following phrases will be a bad solution:

  • “My boss made me …”;
  • “If I could choose, I would, of course, let you stay, but …”

Remember – you are just doing your job. Don’t make yourself a victim.

Be Human: show compassion

People react differently to being fired. Some take it calmly, others emotionally. Someone can get angry, and someone even cries.

Therefore, you must show compassion. Don’t stop the person from showing emotion. If they need to express their opinion about the situation, then do not interfere with this. Even if it is aggression, the main thing is that the person lets emotions go out. Of course, if this is not associated with destructive actions.

Make sure you have a glass of water and towels on hand. Always treat the person being fired with the utmost empathy. As we have said above, the golden thing about layoffs is to treat people the way you want them to treat you.

Do not discuss the decision in any way

Your task is to announce the company’s resolution. It should be a clear statement, not a theme for discussion or compromise. Therefore, you must show that the decision of employee layoff has already been made, and there is no turning back. Be empathetic, but don’t let the person think that something can be changed.

Get down to business right away. You not only have to inform the person, but also decide on the working moments. These are severance pay, benefits, and other important things. If the financial aspect of the layoff is not negotiable, be sure to highlight it.

As you have already seen from examples, layoffs occur not only in problem companies but also in successful ones. Therefore, it is a bad idea to look for the blame of the bosses. If the decision has been made, then it will be beneficial for the company in the future.

A great example is Activision Blizzard. It is a major PC game developer with released franchises such as Call of Duty and Guitar Hero.

In early 2019, Blizzard announced that it would cut 8% of its workforce. At that time, it was about 800 of the 9,600 employees.

This decision was made solely for the development of the company. Blizzard decided to focus on its iconic products like Call of Duty, Candy Crush, Overwatch, Warcraft, Hearthstone, and Diablo. The management was convinced that they had not yet reached their full potential.

As a result, despite the company’s active development and many popular products, there was a layoff. Do you think it would be wise for an HR manager to discuss this decision with the fired employees?

Don’t leave the person alone with the situation

Your task is not just to kick the person out the door. Consider employee layoff communication. Be empathetic and talk about all the opportunities your company can provide.

Be sure to give good recommendations to reputable employees. It will help them find a new job and maintain a good relationship with your company.

You can also sometimes call dismissed employees and ask how they are doing. However, this should only be done if you have a close relationship.

Important tip: Don’t make empty promises. As much as you would like to help a dismissed employee, do not lose touch with reality. Therefore, do not offer help that you cannot provide or that will interfere with your work.

Don’t make a person sign something

It is obvious that you will need to provide a paper for signing at the end of the conversation. But as much as you would like to resolve the issue quickly, the person will most likely need time. They may want to discuss the news with their family, accountant, or lawyer.

Therefore, it is important not to pressure a person and not demand to sign papers right now. Give them time to think, but do not delay. Choose a reasonable amount of time according to employee layoff laws and be sure to give the person the deadline.

Always say goodbye in a friendly manner

The way you say goodbye affects your image and the image of your company. Therefore, it is important to say goodbye to a person as kindly as possible.

Many companies have their own safety rules, following which people must immediately leave the building after dismissal. In this case, your task is to help the person leave and not to lose their dignity.

If the person needs to be accompanied, do it in person. Do not shift the responsibility to the security service. It is advisable to choose a time for dismissal, so there are not many people in the building. It will help if you don’t draw too much attention to the situation.

Consider the former employee’s personal belongings as well. If they are not comfortable picking their stuff up now, offer to send it by courier.

When you say goodbye, be sure to say “thank you” and shake their hand. It is very important, especially if you see each other for the last time.

Keep the focus on positive attitudes

If you follow our advice, it will be much easier for you to lay people off. Moreover, former employees will leave with gratitude for their time, not with hatred for management.

Remember: live, sincere communication is an important part of any dialogue.

A lot depends on how you tell the person such unpleasant news. Treat this procedure responsibly and keep our advice in mind.

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