how to soften the blow of holiday layoffs

Nobody wants to ruin the festive spirits, but when it comes to layoffs, many organizations become the Grinch. As the holiday season begins, many employees are happy and looking forward to the festivities, office parties, and family gatherings. For companies, the end of the year signals an audit of the organization's performance and bottom line. So, what happens when you are faced with the inevitable? If all other cost-reduction measures have failed?

If your organization is in layoff mode, chances are the morale is low. Combining low morale with harsh layoff policies is a recipe for high employee turnover and poor performance of the remaining workers. You will likely worsen the situation if your company only cares about the bottom line. While laying off workers to lower the overheads is a valid reason, how you conduct reduction in force can have a lasting impact on your business. Ultimately, you need to avoid making a bad situation worse...

what to do before laying off employees

When downsizing your workforce, it is important to balance cutting costs with maintaining trust with your critical workers. You can achieve a delicate balance if you plan on how to handle various eventualities. Before you layoff any employees during the holiday season, follow these vital steps:

consider alternative cost-reduction measures

Refrain from jumping to a reduction in force before exhausting other cost-reduction alternatives. Laying off workers during the holiday season may be the ideal time for the company, but it is the wrong time for employees. Therefore, ensure you have done everything to minimize costs in other areas – and make sure the workforce knows.

Start by communicating with department heads on the significance of trimming expenditures. For instance, you can eliminate unnecessary travel costs by holding virtual meetings. You should also check if your redundancy issue can be resolved by employees leaving the organization voluntarily through early retirement or pursuing other career prospects.

You can also opt for intermediary measures like temporary furloughs or offer unpaid leave. When the economy recovers, you will still count on your talent to meet the increased demand. Alternatively, reduce employee work hours or eliminate overtime to minimize the expenses on salaries without laying off workers. Most companies review wages in December, and you may have employees receiving raises or bonuses. If the company is going through a difficult period, you could hold off on the raises and bonuses to avoid laying off workers.

plan for the post-layoff company

When you have exhausted your options for reducing costs and retaining employees, you should plan for the post-layoff company. Ensure you have a plan before announcing the layoffs. Clearly define a vision of how you hope the company to operate during the layoffs and beyond. For instance, you can educate the managers on how to deal with the remaining employees to boost morale in the workplace. The managers handling the layoffs also require training to prepare them on how to soften the blow for the laid-off workers. When laying out a plan, ensure the rights of the outgoing employees are respected and your company handles the process with dignity.

communicating layoffs to employees

You don't want your company to go viral for the wrong reasons just before the holidays. Hence, it is critical to communicate layoffs before holidays respectfully and responsibly. The laid-off workers will feel valued and cared for if the communication is clear and straightforward. Here are a few ideas to remember when planning a communication strategy for your holiday layoffs:

make sure the layoff doesn’t come as a shock

When your organization is going through a difficult financial period, it is vital to communicate clearly with employees. For instance, you should announce the cost-cutting measures you hope to implement. The gradual process of cutting back expenses without any improvements on the company's finances prepares the employees for the inevitable. When you have gone to great lengths to avoid a reduction in force, the news of an impending layoff will not come as a surprise.

When you start communicating about layoffs before holidays, ensure the company managers are on the same page and reading from the same script. That means you should coordinate your layoff communication with the department heads to avoid miscommunication or contradictions. For instance, it would be contradicting for some managers to announce promotions and bonuses before a looming reduction in force. Without a clear communication plan, you end up looking unprofessional and inhuman. Remember, you cannot take back your missteps during a layoff. All it takes is a disgruntled employee posting a picture with a closed sign or a negative review on employer boards for your reputation to be damaged.

get the timing right

Layoffs before holidays are the worst timing, but if you face the inevitable, you can lessen the blow by choosing your time well. If you are going to lay off your workers, there are some days you should avoid. During the year, the best time to announce a mass layoff is Tuesday since the employee can come back to the office in the next few days if they have questions about the terminations. Wednesday and Thursday are the second-best days for terminations, but you shouldn't lay off workers on a Monday or Friday.

Avoid laying off workers before or after Christmas or during other annual holiday seasons. If you know the layoffs are coming, inform the workers as early as possible and let them work until the end of the year. Giving employees as much notice as possible before the holidays will make them financially cautious. For instance, employees can use the remaining vacation days wisely and avoid budgeting for money they assume they will have.

Announcing layoffs early makes employees aware that they may not receive a bonus and that they should spend money on gifting wisely since they won't have a job at the beginning of the year. The timing of the layoffs also affects the exiting employees. They are likely to forego their bonuses and should also budget for their holidays to avoid overspending in expectation of a bonus.

communicate with compassion

Handle the layoff with compassion and grace. While telling someone they no longer have a job is difficult for both parties, employees feel insulted and betrayed when a layoff is mishandled. It is also important to treat the departing employees with dignity. While giving advance notice to employees in some situations can be challenging, those leaving will appreciate a warning. The remaining employees will also appreciate the due process followed during the layoffs.

Having a face-to-face meeting with the worker is important instead of sending them an email that their work in your company is ending. However, if face to face meeting is impossible, arrange a virtual meeting instead. This is preferable to notifying employees in a way where they can't discuss the situation with their managers – such as via email or letter. When breaking the news of the termination, do not lay blame on the employee's feet; explain the reasons for the reduction in force. You should also be prepared to listen to what the employee says.

Some employees may be overwhelmed by the news of the termination and won't listen to anything. That's why you should prepare a termination letter detailing the outplacement support and severance benefits the employee will receive. When calm, they can read the letter and utilize the job placement support to move on.

allow for goodbyes

Some layoff policies require terminated workers to leave the building immediately, which may not be necessary. Allow the laid-off workers to say goodbye to their co-workers and pack their personal effects instead of sending them through the mail. For remote workers, too, termination policies can be equally as jarring, as the sudden removal of access to comms and tools can have a significant impact on their ability to move on from the event. Since the terminated workers were part of your workforce, there is no harm in them spending some time organizing their things and saying goodbye. Giving them time to bid others farewell also allows them to transfer their work activities in an orderly way and, if necessary, complete training for the person who will take over their responsibilities.

offer outplacement support

Layoffs during holidays are a huge blow to employees, particularly since the colder months are already a tough time for many. With Harvard Business Review reporting that negative employee emotions should be considered an organizational risk, an employer should seek to mitigate the additional stress caused by RIF. The most effective way to do this is by providing outplacement services to the laid-off workers, giving them a practical focus as they exit your organization.

With personalized outplacement support –  including professionally written resumes, guidance with research, and interview prep – you will be softening the termination blow by helping them to be a better-prepared candidate. When laying off senior managers, it is also important to provide executive outplacement options to ensure they get value from the service. Ultimately, providing outplacement improves your company's image and shows the remaining employees that their friends and colleagues are well taken care of.

how to handle a post-layoff workforce

Whether you lay off one or hundreds of employees, don't forget its effect on the remaining workers. While they are likely grateful for not losing their job, they will also harbor concerns and fears due to survivor's guilt. Their major concern is: the layoff was the first round, and they are next in line. If you don't address the issues immediately, they will prepare for an exit before they lose their jobs. Employee turnover usually increases after a reduction in force and can devastate your company's bottom line. When you conduct layoffs during holidays, prepare the remaining staff for the reduction in force and improve employee engagement.

Dealing with the post-layoff workforce starts with open and honest communication. You should hold a meeting and explain the reasons for the reduction in force. You should also be clear about the company's future and the short-term goals that can improve the financial prospects of the company.

skip end-of-year holiday parties and bonuses

After laying off workers, it is best to skip the end-year festivities. Throwing a holiday party for the remaining employees will not motivate them or uplift their spirits. It is also a good idea to skip the end-year bonuses and other incentives meant for the holidays. Handing out bonuses after a major reduction in force raises the question of why the money wasn't used to save a few jobs.

There is never a good time for a layoff, but the winter holidays are a natural opportunity to 'reset' and pave the way for a hopeful new year. So, while end-year parties could be a method of appreciating the remaining employees, it is best to keep it low-key. For instance, you can send gift cards or exchange gifts at the office at a small gathering to mark the occasion. You can plan and host the bigger parties when the company recovers.

cut your remaining employees some slack

It is tough for employees to watch their colleagues leave due to a layoff, especially during the holiday season. When you combine low morale with the typical holiday lull, the employees' performance will be low. If you insist on pushing the surviving employees to work harder, you end up creating a toxic work environment. It is better to cut them some slack to recover from the shock of the recent layoffs.

You can help post-layoff employees transition faster by reducing the work hours leading to the end of the year. When the New Year begins, they will return rejuvenated and be more willing to take on the extra work left by the laid-off workforce. You can also provide training to improve the transitioning process and workforce engagement.

Discover additional resources and information on outplacement and career transition services at Randstad RiseSmart.

14 December 2022

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