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Five Methods For Handling Layoffs Gracefully

It's possible to ease the process of terminating an employee with the right approach.

Josh Fechter

by Josh Fechter - July 1st, 2022


There's no sugarcoating layoffs. They're an unavoidable part of running a business that, like most hard decisions, tend to leave a bad taste for everyone involved.

The key is to take every affected party into account, from the employees being let go to those who remain. That includes the leader in charge of delivering the bad news. Here are five ways to address everyone's needs so that the departing staffers are able to quickly get back on their feet, while your company can complete the offboarding process with minimal disruption.

Approach Preparation as a Priority In Itself

The first and most important priority when conducting any personnel change is to ensure that it's performed in accordance with regulations. This can take a lot of work. According to Fortune 500 executive turned HR author Lisa Quast, a business should make a point of carefully planning out everything ahead of time so to avoid potential legal oversights.

Advanced preparation is particularly important when it comes to items such as termination notices and exit interviews. In certain situations, a company may not only be required do things a certain way but also within a specific time frame, which doesn't leave much room for error once the train starts rolling. Going into the process with a game plan can likewise help with the non-legal tasks that a business must tick off if it wishes to avoid bumps in the road.

Download the Guide To Creating a Positive Offboarding Experience

Take Time to Write

Coming prepared is important not just for the company as a whole, but also for the specific leader charged with announcing terminations. Andy Molinsky, a professor at Brandeis University's International Business School, shared some advice on the subject in a 2015 interview. One of his recommendations is to craft a script for the occasion.

Articulating the message in writing is a good way to identify rough edges and iron them out ahead of time. Yet even the most polished script shouldn't be relied on too heavily, Molinsky warns, or the leader sharing the news may come off as distant. A better approach is to treat the text as a general framework for what to discuss. This helps you stay on message (and avoid getting into an argument) if employees may understandably react in a heated way while leaving enough flexibility to address unexpected situations.

Still, templatizing your layoff process and creating an offboarding checklist seems to be the recommended course of action.

"This is especially applicable if you are laying off multiple employees at your company for a similar reason — follow a script outlining the layoff and its details," advises David Aylor of David Aylor Law Offices. "You want to ensure all employees are given the same information to keep from causing confusion or further animosity with ex-employees."

Support Their Job Search

The most meaningful way to mitigate the impact of layoffs is to provide departing employees with assistance in finding a new position. There are many available options for a business looking to go beyond the bare minimum set out by law. A company's HR team, for example, can compile a list of relevant openings to help exiting employees get a head-start on job hunting.

"Putting in extra effort to help employees find their next role will help them transition smoothly to a better work environment," says Max Hauer of Goflow. "It would be easy for you to show sincerity about keeping in touch and leaving the door open for future opportunities."

A business leader, in turn, could draw on their professional network and make a few calls on staffers' behalf. Some organizations even offer personnel access to career coaching services.

"By giving a referral, you effectively tell the ex-employee that they can provide value elsewhere. Says Milo Cruz of Freelance Writing Jobs. "It shifts the focus away from their perceived shortcomings and turns an unpleasant experience into an opportunity for growth."

These types of gestures can provide a valuable return in the long term. In an era of social media and re-hiring, it's wise to maintain a good relationship with former employees.

Be Transparent

When handling the aftermath of job cuts, it's important not to overlook the effects on the employees who remain. If workers are terminated due to a localized issue such as poor performance, the reason should be communicated internally to avoid sending the wrong message about the company's health. And honesty is equally essential in situations when layoffs do have a broader significance. Employees can often figure things out on their own from the changes which occur in day-to-day operations, which means that it's best to be straightforward.

The same applies at the individual level. After layoffs, an employee will first and foremost be concerned about where they stand personally. To avoid any confusion that might hinder the return to routine, a company should clearly relay how staffers' workloads will change and other important information.

Exercise Judgment

The question of when is the best time to do layoffs is a point of disagreement among experts. Laurence Stybel, an adjunct instructor at Northeastern University, has stated that making the announcement on a Friday is preferable because it gives affected employees the weekend to adjust. Others such as The Balance's Susan Heathfield argue that the start of the week is better.

Ultimately, it all depends on the situation. This applies to best practices in general. Laying off employees is an unpleasant task and it can be tempting to simply follow established procedures. However, a company must make efforts to account for the unique business and HR circumstances of a given workforce change if the process is to be carried out in an optimal fashion.

In the end, showing respect to the exiting employee should always be your goal.

"Treat others with the same warm respect with which you would want to be treated by them," says  Tomoko Harris of WinnerWinner "Show empathy, concern, love, and comfort. Offer encouragement, support, or help. You can't control other people's reactions to you. If you treat them with respect and kindness, you have fulfilled your responsibility."

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