Management: Managing layoffs the right way

It is never easy to let someone go. It’s difficult enough when the person is under-performing or creating problems at work. But in today’s economic climate, you may be forced to lay off people who are good employees with solid skills. People you like who are losing their jobs through no fault of their own. 

If you work in a large company, there may be large-scale layoffs planned. In this case, you may be relegating the task to managers in locations across the country or across the world. Whether delivering the message yourself or through managers in multiple locations, there are steps you can take to ensure that the process is handled as effectively and respectfully as possible.

Prepare a script

I kid you not. Preparing a script will focus your message. In your script, cover all the information that needs to be conveyed. This is especially important if the message is going to be delivered by multiple people. You need to control the message so that it is delivered consistently across locations. 

If one or more managers are involved, develop the message together. Collaboration is important because the people delivering the message need to “own,” or believe, what they say. If they don’t, the employees certainly won’t either.   

Be sure to address the issues that employees will focus on including:

  • What is the reason for the layoff?
  • Who is being let go?
  • Why are these particular employees being laid off?

It’s important to stay on topic. It’s appropriate to express regret that this decision had to be made and show empathy for the people affected. However, this type of situation can spiral out of control if the manager doesn’t stay on message.


Anticipate employee questions

Be prepared for questions that employees naturally have when a layoff occurs such as:

  • Why is my job being eliminated?
  • Is there a chance I will get my job back when things improve?
  • Are more layoffs coming?
  • What do I do about health insurance and unemployment compensation?

Elicit the help of your human resources department regarding benefits issues. Obtain whatever information you can and have it ready to disseminate. If no print materials are available, have contact information for employees. The more information you can provide, the less helpless employees will feel.

Remember to inform the remaining staff about what’s going on too. These employees will have questions as well. Specifically, they’ll want to know if more layoffs are planned. Be careful in how you answer. If employees fear layoffs, they will be distracted, rumors will circulate and productivity will suffer. On the other hand, if everyone believes job security is assured, you may have given them a false sense of security. The honest response is that you can’t predict the future and much will depend upon employee performance and the economy going forward. 

There is no easy way to handle a layoff. But you can make it less painful for everyone if you come to the process prepared, address concerns with factual information and respect the dignity of all involved.

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