Informing employees of their termination is a difficult task for many companies. The process is riddled with legal risks, and delivering the news to your workers will inevitably incur feelings of anxiety and guilt. A manager's main challenge when walking into the notification meeting is not knowing how the employees will react to the news. However, if you can avoid these layoff communication blunders, the outgoing employee will feel they have been treated with dignity. Equally important, they will leave with a positive impression of the company.
how to lay off employees
Many companies have announced the possibility of a layoff in recent months. According to a PwC survey, 50% of companies anticipate a reduction in workforce, while 44% of firms are rescinding job offers to keep up with the economic times. When layoffs are unavoidable, it is crucial to plan carefully and do layoffs right. Ultimately, the hardest part of a reduction in workforce is communicating the layoffs effectively.
Communication about layoffs is no longer an internal affair. The information is often leaked to and scrutinized by the public. That means potential clients, existing staff and job seekers will have a front-row seat. While there isn't an easy way to notify employees of a layoff, there are things you should avoid, like leaked memos to the press, mass firings via Zoom or harsh, public tweets. Other communication blunders you need to avoid include:
1. rambling on and on
Some managers try to soften the blow with filler content before delivering the bad news. However, a notification meeting isn't the time to discuss the company's business strategy and vision. It will be insensitive to talk about plans for a new product line before laying off employees. When you include seemingly good news in your layoff messaging, you make it look like the reduction in force isn't important for the organization. Address the layoff quickly and clearly. Use the meeting to address issues related to the layoff only, like severance packages and outplacement services.
2. using flowery and insensitive words
Many managers use euphemisms as a roundabout way to announce termination. Some use flowery words like “strategic alignment,” “work simplification” or “realignment” to distance themselves from the painful news. A common sentence during a layoff is, “our company is realigning business functions to match our priorities.” Such statements are meant to downplay the impact of the termination. However, they usually have a negative effect. It’s better to be honest and direct when communicating about layoffs. Address the facts surrounding the layoffs and provide the reason for the reduction in force. The outgoing employees will take the news better when you are open, honest and compassionate.
3. contradicting yourself
During layoffs, managers should provide a uniform message to avoid causing miscommunication. News about the reduction in workforce spread like wildfire, and so can the negativity among remaining employees. A common mistake managers make during layoffs is failing to train other supervisors and managers. Untrained managers will stumble through the process, providing unreliable information. Some supervisors may give contradicting reasons for layoffs or the number of outgoing employees. You should have a process in place to train the managers to avoid low morale and challenges with staff retention.
4. using the wrong tone
While you should strive to conduct the layoffs correctly, it's important to be human. A common mistake managers make is following the termination process and script rigidly for fear of saying something wrong. But, by doing so, they often appear robotic and uncaring. Things like mentioning an employee performance and experience during a layoff is insensitive.
Since layoffs are emotional and painful, it's important to show empathy when delivering the news. Maintaining the right tone and empathizing with the outgoing employees give a better impression of the company. Remember to mention the niceties like affirming the contribution of the workers in the company and providing outplacement assistance to help them transition.
5. failing to inform all affected employees
Some companies don't feel the need to explain the reasons for laying off staff to anyone other than the affected workers. It can be a tragedy if other employees find out about the news from external sources. No matter how much you try to hide it, your clients and employees will learn about the termination. Would you rather they learn about it from you or a disgruntled outgoing employee? Since transparency is demanded in business, you cannot afford communication mistakes to the parties involved. You should plan a meeting with all the employees, including virtual workers, to inform them about the layoffs before calling the affected employees individually. After the layoffs, you should also meet with the remaining employees to discuss the way forward.
how to prepare for layoff meetings
A manager’s priority during layoffs is to ensure that transitioning employees are treated with respect and dignity. When you avoid the communication blunders above, you are on track to saving your company's reputation and improving employee retention. Follow the considerations below to implement an effective communication plan:
- Create your messaging: when the company decides on layoffs, the managers should draft a communication plan. This should include a clear and compelling reason for the reduction in force. When providing a rationale for the layoffs, include other strategies the company has undertaken. The communication plan requires key messages on what outgoing employees need to know and the severance package provided.
- Decide on the action steps: aside from determining the communication plan, set up an action plan, from notification meetings to distributing separation paperwork and social media postings. Your communication rollout needs to be methodical to avoid miscommunication. You also need to prepare a layoff notification letter and decide the best time to send it.
- Prepare the managers and senior leadership: while it is important to get the strategy and messaging right, you need to prepare the people who will deliver the messages. The managers tasked with delivering the bad news to the impacted employees should undergo training before the notification meetings.
why you should use an outplacement provider
When communicating layoffs to those affected, many employers provide an outplacement program to speed up the transition process for outgoing employees. Outplacement services provide support to employees impacted by layoffs and help them transition to other jobs. For instance, offering an outplacement program can help outgoing employees discover new skills and use them to secure their next jobs. Outplacement coaching also provides valuable support and helps them with resume writing and personal branding. When you offer an outplacement program to outgoing workers, they will move on to other roles faster and will be more likely to view your company favorably.
When you are planning a reduction in force, but you have difficulty preparing the communication strategy, download our guide to help you do layoffs right.