A Compassionate Send Off; How to Handle Layoffs


Letting go of a worker or employee is a stressful and unpleasant experience in any circumstance. The coronavirus pandemic has led to many people losing their jobs due to lack of business and an inactive economy. The International Labour Organisation says the outbreak is expected to wipe out 6.7 percent of working hours across the world, equivalent to 195 million full-time workers losing their jobs.

This is a large number and a crisis of unequivocal proportions. For managers tasked with the job of conveying the unpleasant message, it is doubly tough, especially during these times when one is not sure if their own job will last the full run.

Whatever the circumstances, it is essential that one handles the conveying of unpleasant news with empathy and sympathy. Generally, the human resource department is required to undergo some form of training to handle the transitions with all correctness.

If your organization has decided on layoffs then it is better to be prepared beforehand on how to handle the situation. Prepare before you reach out to the affected employee or employees. Figure out how you are going to convey the message, if it is an individual, or if you are letting go of several people altogether.

Whatever form the message takes, whether individually or in the form of an email, think out what it needs to convey.

As far as possible, try to convey the bad news individually even after an email is sent out.

Severance package

Be prepared with a severance package and all the legalities involved. In times of crisis where you are forced to let go of people, it is prudent to work out the best deal possible, even if the employee is not entitled to it. Cover details of last paycheck,  healthcare coverage and 401k information.

Counselling and Guidance

Be ready to offer counselling and advice. People may reach out to you after some time as they need to process the news. Be open and approachable. Convey in clear terms that you are available any time to answer queries and concerns.

Offer to give letters of recommendation and referrals. Be helpful. Provide information on where your employee should go for government benefits. Offer ideas about job opportunities at other organizations. List out potential outplacement services, and other economic assistance. All this can make layoffs more manageable for employees. But do not sugarcoat the reality and try to overcompensate by offering to take them back once the economy or situation improves. Nobody is sure of the path the recovery will take.

Legal leg work and plan

Work out a layoff plan with your legal advisor. The plan must keep you in the ethical, legal, moral, and professional territory. Please make sure all steps taken are non-discriminatory.

Transparent Communication

Have open and transparent communication. Let all the employees know the current situation and how the company plans to handle it in the future. The survivors are going to worry, and it is the task of the manager to reassure and explain why some extreme measures were deemed necessary.

Layoffs are never easy to handle. It is stressful and agonizing both for the person handing the pink slip and the one receiving it. Companies do have policies and processes in place to handle such a situation, but what is needed most is empathy and compassion.


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Priyansha Mistry
Currently editor at The HR Digest Magazine. She helps HR professionals identify issues with their talent management and employment law. | Priyansha tweets at @PriyanshaMistry

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