7 Tips for Communicating a Layoff

The U.S. economy is allegedly improving, but try telling that to 4,500 employees who are losing their jobs at Citigroup or 30,000 who will leave Bank of America in the next few years.

The fact is that layoffs happen even in a good economy. The macroeconomic environment isn’t the only thing that affects whether or not companies shed people. Industry trends, competition, cost management and many other factors are also at work.

Layoffs are awful for everyone involved. Of course, the people who lose their jobs are hit the hardest, but to be fair, those who are left behind and even company leaders — the good ones anyway — suffer when companies cut jobs.

Communication can help ease the pain. Let me say up front that there is nothing that can make people feel good about layoffs (unless you are a shareholder who has no compassion or regard for others). But communicating layoffs the right way can help ease the pain and facilitate recovery.

Here are some things to keep in mind when communicating layoffs:

  • Develop a plan. It could be that you are given little to no advance notice that a layoff announcement is coming. (Best practice would be to have a communicator at the table from the start.) Regardless of when you are brought into the discussion, the first thing to do is to develop a communication plan — for how you will announce the layoff as well as the days and weeks following. Keep employees informed of the process every step of the way. Prepare managers for their difficult tasks ahead. Think ahead to the days and weeks following the layoff.
  • Be timely. Companies are obligated to let certain groups of people know about their layoff plans first, but employees should find out simultaneously or as soon after as possible. It should go without saying, but don’t let the grapevine or, for God’s sake, the news media deliver the news to employees.
  • Put leaders out front. This is the time for strong, visible leadership. Nobody wishes to deliver bad news, but employees will respect leaders who communicate openly, frequently and who don’t hide in their offices.
  • Be honest and candid. Employees can see right through BS. Tell employees the business reasons for the layoff in a straightforward way. If it’s because the company has failed to manage its cost structure effectively, acknowledge it. If it’s because the competition is eating your lunch, say so.
  • Be respectful. Treat employees like adults. Recognize that this news is devastating to employees, regardless of whether they will lose their jobs or not. When you make the announcement, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to notify employees of their individual status, so be respectful of the anxiety this news will cause among all employees. When individuals are notified, treat them with dignity. Never give them a box for them to fill their belongings and have security officers escort them to the door. Believe me, this has happened.
  • Show an appropriate degree of empathy. If your management has never treated employees with respect and empathy before, this is not the time to start — it will only come across as fake. But if your management has wisely made deposits into its goodwill account over the years, acknowledge how difficult the layoff is for everyone and how hard it is to have to make such an awful  business decision.
  • Remember the survivors. You should develop a communication plan not only for informing employees of the layoff, but also for the days and weeks after separations occur. The survivors are likely to be sad to lose co-workers, scared of what the future holds, and even a bit angry at business leaders. Think about communication activities and content that could help ease the transition back into business as usual.

Do you have tips of your own? Comment below.


7 Responses

  1. Excellent and concise.

    One might add that no one involved is to even THINK the words “right-sizing” or “deadwood,” even if the company WAS overstaffed and carrying some coasters. It hurts the people leaving and their friends who are staying, and it doesn’t tell the others anything they hadn’t figured out for themselves.

    It would also be nice if for some time afterward no executive appears enthusiastic about having done layoffs, even if others tell you that the cheerleading will boost the stock price because the company can now move forward boldly with new competitiveness. But they will probably do it anyway.

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