Sometimes in life, we have to do things that we don’t want to do - such as, conducting a layoff and letting go off longtime employees. It’s a pretty gut-wrenching decision that no company owner ever wants to take, and an awkward, distasteful duty that HR managers never want to be consigned with.
The year 2008, when the Bear Stearns collapsed, was shadowed by a dark period of corporate layoffs where you could see men coming out of buildings with tears in their eyes, head in their hands. It was a mourning period for everyone – friendships were severed, everybody’s morale had hit rock-bottom, and there was a tinge of uncertainty about the future.
Mass layoffs are often a result of an unforeseen financial pickle. Unfortunately, in this day and age, layoffs have become an everyday occurrence. Call it organizational reengineering, restructuring or reduction in force, it is all still the same. A lot of companies use silken terms such as restructuring or transformation when terminating employees. Being terminated is not the same as being fired. People get terminated as a result of a certain reconstruction in the company. While being fired, implies that the employee has failed the company, or was sliding down the slope of unethical conduct.
When we lay off people, we’re taking away their job and their livelihood. Sadly, human resources department is the first one to see them coming and the only ones who see them on their way out.
Removing layers of workforce is a process that requires a highly orchestrated implementation. It should be swiftly executed and tightly managed that aligns with the urgency of change as well as the vision and focus of the company. Managers should be prepared with the key message and important questions that should be addressed.
There is no easy way to drop the axe, whether it is one single employee or the whole department, however, there can certainly be a highly-orchestrated way to do it than via mass emails or conference calls. Below are a few key rules that will help you conduct layoffs with dignity and compassion.
LAY OFF SIZE
When conducting mass layoffs, like the one that Microsoft recently lead (fourth biggest layoff in tech’s modern history), it is best that employees are categorized by job titles, salary, and time spent with the company. This will dictate the type of severance package the company would offer, as well as help determinate what each employee will receive as a part of the layoff.
THE BIG BANG MOMENT!
Timing is essential in mass layoffs. A lot of companies carry out layoffs on a Friday, late in the day or before a holiday, believing that the staff will be in good spirits, and hence, less angry. But by doing so, the company is only feeding the perception that its leaders are cowardly, and it unquestionably does not care about its people.
It is better that everyone knows what is going on. Delivering the pink slip should rather be done with one-on-one meetings on a mid-day morning, followed by a group meeting with the staff at the end of the same day. Affected employees should not find through an email, press release, or a social media post that they have lost their job. Tell your employees first, about the changes the organization is undergoing, and then you can start with a more general announcement on social media channels where your customers can learn about the changes.
Secondly, carrying layoffs no later than mid-week will help employees look for potential opportunities, rather than going home, miserably waiting for the weekend to get over and re-engage. By making the announcement on a Friday evening, you’re only going to leave all your remaining employees hanging all weekend.
A well-drafted letter should state why their position has been eliminated and outline important information. This could include the date of their last day, details of the severance package, what kind of job-transition assistance will be provided, and information on unused vacation that will be compensated as well as health insurance.
OFF LIKE A BAND-AID?
It is critical to address the rest of the staff about the layoff. Doing it on a Friday is only going to create a doomsday scenario over the weekend for the retained employees. It’s a good idea to offer the following information to the remaining employees:
When will their (laid off people) last day be? What will happen to their work? How are the terminated employees doing? On what grounds, was it decided that layoffs are absolutely necessary? Lastly, share a little bit of information on the layoff package.
The HR managers, supervisors and executives should always know what their rapport with the employees is, since this will significantly help in matching the person who will have to give out the bad news to the employee.
SHOW COMPASSION AND DIGNITY
Your company must shower departing employees with the same respect and dignity that they received upon getting hired. Layoffs are when the human resources department get to demonstrate whether the company truly cared for its people. Complimenting on the good work they did on the job, can help terminated employees go through the ordeal a little more smoothly and with respect.
Similarly, calling unsolicited outplacement consultant reps as a therapeutic measure is something that can be best avoided, especially if your firm doesn’t have that kind of money to blow. Your employees need friends and family to make sure that they’re alright, and not some consultant they’ve just met a few seconds ago.
Another way of softening the blow of a layoff is by helping everyone you can to find them a new job. It could mean providing a prodigious job recommendation or even calling around within the network to see if anyone’s hiring. Additionally, career counseling to terminated employees is one of the most humane and sincere ways of conducting a layoff.
Make arrangements for the terminated person to clear out their desk while their co-workers are away. Give the person the opportunity to say good-bye to co-workers at some other time when they would like to. Duck the possibility of using security guards for escorting employees to their desk, and then out to the door unless you have to (under extreme cases). The people who remain are going to judge how you handled the whole process.
Be clear and concise in telling terminated people why this is happening. The line management must accept full responsibility of the layoff.
Lastly, employees must leave the office with all the necessary documentation.
In reality, nothing can make layoffs an easy process. It’s not something that was ever meant to be easy. Although, it is something that makes us care and ponder over our responsibility, accountability in handling the situation with integrity and professionalism.