There are few more delicate situations than the moment in which a manager must inform an employee that, through no fault of his or her own, the employee must be let go.
Just because this is a delicate situation, however, does not mean that it can’t be handled with grace—nor does it mean that it must result in ill feelings on the part of the employee or discomfort on the part of the manager. If anything, your company can actually use this meeting to create brand advocates out of both your team and your former employees—as long as you first:
Train your managers.
This one step is so often overlooked by companies large and small, yet it is also one of the most crucial.
It is one thing to eliminate a position due to a completely benign business decision; it is quite another to actually deliver the news. Telling someone that their job is going away is a manager’s worst responsibility, and a manager who lacks the training in how to handle the situation with grace may experience a large amount of discomfort.
Remember: managers are people too. People who, when confronted with the difficult job of laying off a valued employee (or even a friend), can feel angry, resentful, or scared. This wasn’t my decision—why do I have to be the one to do this?
A manager who has not been trained in how to approach an employee may bring those feelings of anger, resentment, or fear into the meeting with them—which can end up making the employee who receives the news feel even worse.
The untrained manager may seek to apologize and lift the blame from their own shoulders: I’m sorry—this wasn’t my decision.
The untrained manager may seek to bash the situation or even the company: I can’t believe the company would do this to you. It’s awful.
The untrained manager may seek to commiserate with the employee: You’re right: this is really unfair. I’d be upset too.
In doing so, the untrained manager validates your former employee’s sense of anger, resentment, and fear. And, of course, there is the question of how to end the meeting. That excruciatingly uncomfortable silence or the rushed platitudes do not bode well for leaving the employee with a sense of good will. Do you hand the employee a box and say, Sorry, but I have to run to another meeting….good luck?
There is another way.
By offering your managers training in how to handle a layoff, you do your entire company, including your former employees, a service:
A trained manager knows how to be compassionate: I know this is difficult, but we want you to know that we are here to help you during this transition.
A trained manager knows how to provide reassurance and position transition services: Here is a career transition assistance brochure. Let’s go over some of the steps you can take right now to get started.
A trained manager knows how to end the meeting with grace while preserving the employee’s dignity: Thank you so much for your time and your service with our company. This isn’t the end of our communication, and we’ll do everything we can to support you!
Managers who receive training:
- Enter the meeting feeling more in control and at ease
- Have no reason to bring feelings of anger, discomfort, or dread into the room and can instead project compassion, sympathy, and hope
- Treat the employee with dignity and respect
As a result, when your former employee leaves the room, he or she will know that your company really does have their best interests at heart. That employee will therefore be less likely to speak ill of the company, and often will go on to promote your company, products, services, and even careers to friends and acquaintances. How’s that for a win-win-win?
No one likes being the bearer of bad news; however, when your managers are properly trained, they can turn an uncomfortable situation into an opportunity for an ongoing (positive!) conversation between your company and your former employees. From this one seemingly simple action can come a whole world of good.