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When layoffs abound, compassion is critical

Four actions employers can take to conduct layoffs more compassionately

Shawna Simcik //April 23, 2020//

When layoffs abound, compassion is critical

Four actions employers can take to conduct layoffs more compassionately

Shawna Simcik //April 23, 2020//

The trajectory of COVID-19 remains uncertain around the world. Published spending cuts typically impact employee headcount and whether or not this pandemic results in the layoff of one or hundreds of individuals, how employees are treated during this time can pay long-term dividends to a company’s future brand and recruiting efforts when the market does recover.

Although many organizations are taking drastic measures to keep employees in the short term, making concessions to cut costs in a different way including furloughs and pay cuts, it may not be enough for the long-term and your company may have to make the tough call to endure layoffs. To make layoffs less painful and damaging, we suggest employers take the following actions to conduct layoffs more compassionately.

Plan and prepare

It may seem urgent to act but take your time to plan and prepare. Use this as an opportunity to review your workforce plan and ensure that the right talent remains to sustain your operations and customers. Identify critical roles based on current and future business needs, assess re-hiring costs and evaluate the difficulty of replacing laid-off employees.

Once you have identified the roles and notifications are imminent, timing and planning are critical. Gather the appropriate stakeholders including HR, legal and any other senior leaders that will help you prepare. Script communication plans, exit strategies, gathering of belongings, IT and security considerations, day and time of notifications, etc. Even if this isn’t your first rodeo, take into consideration that most of your workforce may be remote as social distancing measures are still in place. 

Train your managers

Many leaders and organizations are experiencing layoffs for the first time in company history. Train your managers on how to effectively deliver a notification message. For example, managers should avoid making promises that they can’t keep such as, “as soon as the business picks back up, we will rehire you.” All the employee will hear is “rehire” and you don’t know if and when the business will pick back up.

Managers should take the time to deliver the message with a ton of empathy and compassion. They shouldn’t detach from humanity, but this is not a time for the manager to express their insecurities; “this is really hard for me.” Remember, it is much harder for the person losing their job.

Treat employees with respect and dignity

Employees have dedicated their working lives to you, your company and your customers. Treat them with the same respect and dignity that you took while recruiting them into the company. Create an FAQ sheet and be prepared to answer questions around benefits, severance and more immediately rather than making the employee wait for an answer from you.

If possible, extend medical benefits and offer outplacement services. Certain outplacement benefits extend the employee a dedicated career coach to support them during these tough times. The career coach can offer support, guidance and quickly empower the employee. You will know that someone is watching out for their wellbeing and they are not at home, alone.

Take care of the survivors

Don’t forget about the employees who will remain with the organization after the layoffs. You should provide equal support to those who stay with the organization as many of them will be suffering from survivor’s guilt, more responsibilities and other layoff effects. If possible, conduct quick surveys to gain perspective on the impact to your team. Managers, leadership and their communication will be critical factors in bringing the organization back to “pre-layoff” productivity, rebuilding and sustaining employees’ morale. It is important to reassure the people in the organization that they have value and that you respect their contributions.