Conducting Layoffs with Empathy and Compassion

Layoffs – a word dreaded by employers and employees alike, but an inevitability for many, as nearly 194,000 workers have been laid off in this year alone. Regardless of the rationale, If you’re faced with the need to reduce your workforce, there are communications strategies you can use to help handle the matter with respect, compassion, empathy, and transparency. Even those employees who keep their positions are affected by a layoff, and minimizing their uncertainty, and maintaining their focus, is key.  

Prioritize Empathy, Understanding, and Clear Communication  

There is no easy way to terminate employees, but, as an employer, you do have the power to ensure the process is respectful and minimizes disruption. Having a well-thought-out plan that includes clear communication before conducting your layoffs helps demonstrate this. Your plan should outline when and how the news will be shared, how the decision supports the organization’s long-term goals, and intentional follow-up communications in the weeks following the announcement so that no one is left in the dark and employees are not hearing information about layoffs secondhand.  

 Additionally, make sure your C-suite communications are buttoned up, as company leadership will be asked by both external and internal audiences about what layoffs mean for the company’s future and financial stability. Leaders should be prepared to address the situation during an upcoming town hall or all-company call and have talking points on hand for communicating with board members or the press. You may even want to take it a step further and have your CEO post a thoughtful and carefully considered message on their professional profile page or your organization’s social media platforms to get ahead of questions. Messages should be authentic and avoid boilerplate language that comes across as cold and uncaring 

When it comes time to implementing layoffs, managers should be given the necessary tools to have candid conversations with employees being laid off. That includes having key messages, answers to frequently asked questions about the reasoning behind the layoff, and any HR-related issues, such as benefits coverage, ready to go. Consider developing a manager toolkit to make the experience more consistent across departments and ensure open communication. Such preparedness shows care for employees, even in difficult conversations. Otherwise, a poorly managed layoff meeting could lead to a disgruntled employee taking their grievances to social media and sharing reactionary, emotional, or even hostile comments about your organization and management 

 Communications teams should also prepare messages for external audiences, such as the press, external stakeholders, and elected officials. After notifying employees, these stakeholders should be made aware of the details and briefed on any potential impact the layoffs could have on the community. It is important to coordinate closely with internal partners, such as the government affairs team, to ensure messaging is accurate and consistent.   

Boost Morale for Remaining Employees 

While it’s important to communicate with departing employees with empathy and respect, it’s just as important to focus on your remaining employees. They, too, will likely feel uncertain, anxious, and unsure, so you want to do everything in your power to reinforce the importance of their role in the future of your organization. This is not a singular touch point, but an ongoing engagement effort to share information and retain your critical employees. 

In addition to ensuring your HR team provides a safe space for discussions, encourage managers to let their team members come to them with questions or concerns related to the layoffs. And don’t just wait for employees to come to you, reach out to them and take immediate action to boost employee morale. Now would be a good time to launch an internal campaign that outlines the company’s path moving forward, shows how crucial each employee is to the organization’s future success, and reinforces why—despite some difficult change—your company is a great organization to work for.  

At IRI, we help organizations navigate change management, including workforce reductions. We believe every business is different, and each requires its own holistic and customized approach to communications. Whether you need an internal communications assessment, guidance in developing your internal communications strategy or social media strategy, digital media intelligence, crisis communications services, media relations, or media training, we have expert communications consultants who can quickly provide a specialized solution. Contact us using the chat on the right to discuss the next steps, or give us a call at (313) 965-0350.  

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