Well, it’s happening. As we continue into 2023 layoffs are happening everywhere. While this is a scary and very unpleasant experience for both parties, it’s important to know how to lead the layoff conversations well.
Most people will say, “I avoid conflict” or I can’t do confrontation. But while it’s true you may not like it, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it. However, when the rubber finally meets the road most people will either rush through, avoid details, lack sympathy, or not prepare for these hard conversations due to their uncomfortability. Here at Clarity, we acknowledge how awkward these talks can be while also bringing to light how necessary it is to have a plan in place.
You might have seen our previous blog post, ‘How To Fire Someone Nicely’, which was a very similar but yet different topic. Firing an individual based on their performance or lack of performance, skills, or behavior, is very different from massive layoffs. Firing someone for a set of specific reasons pegs a different conversation than if it is strictly due to budget cuts and rising inflation. Some would say it makes it even more difficult because there is no other genuine reason for it other than money. With this, we want to provide you with the tangible skills and steps to master these conversations.
This first step may not come as a surprise but PLAN, PLAN, PLAN. One of the biggest mistakes employers make is not having a communication plan. This may be a way to avoid the situation altogether or to not feel that they had a part in the decision. While you may not have had a part, it’s important to take ownership of the decision and to be confident in what you are communicating. Depending on what you choose to say and how you phrase it, will come across a certain way to your employees. Think about tone and body language, as well.. We want to be sure that employees feel as supported as they can throughout this difficult process.
Timing is everything. While you may think getting it over with as soon as possible is the best thing, actually finding the right timing can be of better service to your employees. Why? SHRM explains how this conversation doesn’t just affect the individual employee but rather it affects various teams, managers, IT staff, and department heads. Strategically timing these conversations leaves your employee more time and space to process and get their bearings. What it will also do is leave you with more time to activate a company wide communication plan. This helps the process to be more professional and digestible for everyone involved.
Depending on the size and how your company functions, whether that be working cross functionally with other departments, employees’ working on multiple projects at once, supply of electronic devices, and logins, planning a layoff conversation and transition is a very long process. It’s probably safe to say that conducting a talk on a Friday at 4pm would not be in anyone’s best interest. Try to plan these for earlier in the week so that all parties impacted have time to plan accordingly and the affected individual has time to turn in company property,, say their goodbyes, and initiate unemployment benefits.
Now it’s time to get down to business – the actual conversation. Now that we have planned and we found the most ideal time to talk with our employee, what do we actually say to them? A blunt “you’re fired” doesn’t exactly go over well but neither does dancing around the subject. HRDirect provides 4 practical ways of how to have the big convo:
While this is the end of a relationship, it’s important to leave the conversation on the best of terms. So when that employee walks in your office, get straight to the point and avoid all small talk. Address their name, give a couple sentences on what’s going on (effort to reduce costs, budget cuts, reconstructing our business, etc.), and inform them they are in fact being laid off due to the appropriate reason. It’s also important to communicate that this is a final decision and that there are no other positions within the company for them, if that’s the case. While it may seem harsh, it can eliminate any false hope and save all of those “what-if” questions.
Now that you have just delivered the hard news, take a moment before you go any further and ask how they are doing with all this information and if they are OK. Obviously they’re not going to be doing great, but at least check-in to see if they have digested everything and if they have any immediate questions. This demonstrates that you really care about their well-being and this isn’t just a conversation you wanted to check off your list.
Last on the big to-do list is to consider remaining staff. According to Forbes, there is such a thing as “layoff survivor guilt,” meaning employees can experience remorse that they ended up surviving the layoff when their colleagues didn’t. Aside from this, employees can also feel uneasy or anxious that maybe their job could be next. Forbes suggests that in order to offset these concerns, be honest about the company’s future and plans for future layoffs. It also might be helpful to set up a Q&A between managers and their team members to go over what the next few days and weeks will look like without their previous colleagues.
Remember, it’s not what happens but how you handle it. Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Make people feel like they are human beings.
For assistance on how to conduct successful layoffs for your company, you can contact Clarity HR by clicking ‘Book a Call’ in the top right hand corner of this page. We work with companies to equip executives, managers, and supervisors with the tools they need to be successful in navigating the complex world of work. Contact Clarity to learn more about how we partner with organizations to create and sustain great workplaces through culture, collaboration and communication.
Written by: Gabrielle Williams
April 3, 2023
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