Employee layoffs are one of the most difficult situations to handle in business. This process has the potential to go awry in a variety of ways if not handled correctly. Even more, the emotional implications of changing employee livelihood can be devastating for both the person delivering the news and the person receiving the news.
If you have been tasked with laying off employees, there are a few important guidelines you should consider. This is not a time to “wing it,” but rather walk into the situation well-equipped to deliver the unfortunate news succinctly and with compassion. Hiring people means that eventually you're probably going to need to fire people, it's an essential managerial skill that in a perfect world we'd never need to use.
1. How to lay someone off to avoid wrongful termination lawsuits?
It is vital that your business have a standardized process for handling the layoff of an employee. Training should be implemented for all managers so they can become acquainted with the process, practice what to say and what not to say, and reduce anxiety around the task.
What to say:
- Be direct from the start, explaining there is no other position available and the employee is being laid off
- Explain actions that need to be taken (timesheet submission, exit paperwork, and unemployment paperwork)
- Express gratitude for the employee’s service
- Provide any resources to assist the newly laid off employee with the transition
What not to say:
- Don’t talk about the weather or initiate small talk
- Don’t leave room for hope if there isn’t any
- Don’t identify negative employee behavior if the layoff is due to company downsizing
- Don’t talk about your own feelings, like how difficult this decision is for you
Poor handling of employee layoffs has the potential to detrimentally affect the company’s reputation, as employees can take to online sites to openly discuss their experiences for other employees or potential hires to review. Even worse, legal ramifications can be put into effect if a thorough process for handling layoffs is not implemented.
2. How to lay someone off when you don’t know what to say?
Incorporate another person into this process, like a consultant, or HR personnel. This is helpful if the conversation requires pivoting – the other person can quickly step in to keep the conversation focused. Practice what you plan to say. Role-playing is helpful and provides you with a set of potential responses from the fired employee that can help you shape a script.
Consider worst-case scenarios, including managing intense emotions. The employee may have an angry outburst or begin crying. You’ll have to be prepared to manage your own emotions through this experience. Allow the person enough space for their expression but do not get sucked into their feelings. For example, someone may say “I won’t be able to afford my apartment anymore. What am I supposed to do now?” Consider how you will respond to a question like this and direct the conversation to assistance programs, like unemployment insurance.
You’ll need to employ a balance between delivering your message clearly and demonstrating compassion to allow the person to have a dignified exit. Acknowledge emotions but stick to speaking with facts. This way, you maintain control of the conversation, provide necessary resources, and close the meeting in a timely fashion.
3. How to lay someone off with kindness?
Be mindful of where you deliver the news. Choose a private office environment and equip yourself with a box of tissues. When handling redundancy, you should be providing dignity to the person you’re speaking with. Often, the immediate reaction when you fire workers is shock.
Empathize with words like, “I realize this is unfortunate news and completely understand you are feeling an array of emotions.” However, keep the conversation focused and directed toward addressing required action items and providing resources for the laid-off employee.
Also be mindful of when you deliver the news. Although there is no “right” time to have these kinds of conversations, choosing Friday afternoons is common practice. This provides the person with the weekend to process the newly received information.
This also protects you and your other employees if the person attempts to act out. In addition, scheduling layoffs for Friday afternoons helps maintain good employee morale, as they do not have the full workweek ahead of them to discuss the recent layoff(s).
These are difficult decisions, especially if you're laying off solid employees, so give them a period of time to process everything without it having a huge emotional toll on the employee.
4. How to lay someone off without getting sidetracked?
Although it is tempting to beat around the bush after calling someone into your office, it’s always best to be upfront and honest. Let the person know you have to deliver unfortunate news, explain the lay-off, and have a folder ready with any required paperwork or resources (e.g. outplacement assistance) you’ll be providing to the laid-off employee.
Keep in mind this does not have to be a long interaction. Have a loose script prepared and follow along to keep yourself focused. For example:
- Immediately advise the employee you have difficult news to share. This prepares him emotionally for the rest of the information you’re about to deliver.
- Lay the employee off by explaining the reason for the transition, be it overall company downsizing or the elimination of a specific position.
- Present any required exit paperwork and any severance agreements.
- When possible, redirect the employee to resources that can assist during their time of transition. This may be unemployment benefits or outplacement services, if you have set that up to help laid off employees navigate the transition.
If true, let the person know you are happy to provide a great reference as they re-enter the job market. Having an outline for the meeting keeps you on track and allows you to deliver the lay-off news succinctly and compassionately while adhering to legal guidelines surrounding this process.
The layoff notification meeting is certainly going to have a negative impact on the employee, so be firm and stick to the script. Don't give them false hope that something may eventually will work out. All layoff decisions should be final.
Points to remember:
- Create a quiet, private atmosphere to deliver the bad news and make the layoff process less unpleasant.
- Have your process and paperwork ready beforehand, especially if you're doing mass layoffs.
- Provide support by identifying resources and offering a good reference. Give them a reasonable time frame to get used to the situation and start looking for new jobs.
No matter how prepared you are or how often you must conduct this process, it still takes a toll on you - and not just your human resources team. Take the time you need after the interaction to restore your mental state – a walk around the block or simply stepping out for some fresh air can be very helpful.
Whether it's because of economic downturns, poor performance or other business reasons, the layoff process is never easy. When you make this business decision, it's crucial that you deliver it in a dignified manner. But do you really need to have those layoff conversations?
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