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January 16, 2023

Managing Through Layoffs

Managing through layoffs

Reductions and restructures happen commonly from time to time and often for the right reasons, but they can create a lot of disruption and uncertainty for teams carrying out the changes. If you’re a manager that feels queasy at the thought of having to cut your team, you’re not alone. Leaders report it’s the most troubling part of management. A good leader will feel down about laying people off because they’ve got empathy. Although cuts can help a company stay viable, the way they’re carried out can improve. If managers have support and training around the layoff process, they could better navigate this part of their job with less impact on their emotional and psychological health. Prepared managers can help their team, those leaving and not, to salvage value from the process as well as position the team for future success. 

Here are a few tips that can help leaders in the throes of layoffs.

When Managing Through Layoffs: Communicate Now

The more communication you can give to your team the better. You don’t have to shield your team from the truth to preserve productivity and morale. You’re better off stating the reality you all face and positioning it as a growth opportunity. Accelerated learning happens during an extreme challenge. And your clear communication will earn the trust they need to effectively press on through a difficult time. 

  • Tell your people what the strategy is and why it’s happening. 
    Taking the time to explain the reason and strategy beyond the changes shows your team respect and includes them in the process. It addresses the elephant in the room and clears the air of any speculation.
  • Show them that you’ve tried other options first. 
    Describe the efforts the company and you have made to improve the company’s position prior to arriving at the layoff solution to clearly illustrate their commitment to employees.
  • Give time frames and estimated time frames.
    Time frames up front can help employees plan for their future and avoid the stress of uncertainty in as many variables as possible. They can begin to reduce spending, put feelers out for other work opportunities, and address any needs that changing jobs could present. Things like making a home purchase or changing cell phone plans can be problematic for a person with unemployed status, even if they’ve got a healthy savings account or net worth.
  • Give them incentives to stay.
    Often there’s still much work to be done over the course of a systematic staff reduction. Keep your people on during the change process by offering them alternate career plans and explaining the valuable experience this phase presents. Promise them your thorough endorsement when they leave, or offer your introductions if you’re able to make them.
  • Ask for their feedback. 
    When you allow your people to share their thoughts about what’s happening, you’re helping them and yourself. The fact is, you don’t know how people are feeling. Don’t assume the worst. Some on your team may be looking forward to a change and appreciate the severance package that pads their pockets in the transition. Some team members are scared and let down. Letting them vent brings them closer to a state of acceptance and refocuses their attention on things within their control.  

The Layoff Meeting 

As much as you, the manager, loathes the act of letting a person go, the termination meeting will go a lot smoother when you prepare adequately. A few recommendations to smooth out the way a layoff meeting plays out are included below. 

  • Do it yourself.
    The news needs to come from the employee’s manager, not the manager’s assistant. And it needs to come in person. Sure, it’s easier to end a phone call, but being a true leader requires you to be present for your people when you deliver life-changing news, and to be present with them as they react. Your presence communicates your care as well as your respect for their circumstance.  
  • Have an HR person with you.
    People usually don’t listen well to anything after the words, “You’re being let go.” They can misremember the discussion. Also, when emotions are running high, communication may break down, or go off track completely. An HR representative insures accountability and keeps the meeting moving. After you deliver and discuss the news, the HR rep can draw attention back to the present transition process and keep the meeting focused on the person’s future.
  • Provide the best exit possible for your people leaving.
    Rehearse what you’re going to say, and be ready to answer questions. Be ready to help exiting employees through their emotions and provide support. Give them clarity about options and next steps. When explaining severance pay, it helps to equate dollars to months of work. In this way exiting employees can see their support and keep their perspective. 
  • Assure them it has nothing to do with performance.
    Even if an exiting employee cognitively understands what led to their layoff, their self-esteem takes a hit. Show them it’s about the role, not them personally. Know your selection criteria and be able to explain. It might be the skillsets needed for the new strategy at the firm or overlapping capabilities that influenced their value to the organization. Redundancy happens often in the technology age of business don’t reflect personally on a person being let go.
  • Take care of yourself.
    If you’re a strong leader with compassion and empathy, the layoff process is likely to take a toll on you, no matter how capably you handle it or how much you accept it intellectually. A leadership coach could provide the emotional and psychological support you need to carry out one tough conversation after another. Take time to decompress through a workout, meditation, music, or another therapeutic activity.  

TaskHuman supports companies when they need to address redundancies, downsize personnel, and restructure. The business and executive coaches available on the TaskHuman mobile platform offer sound leadership advice around the tough and complicated layoff phase. Lifestyle coaches help managers stay physically and emotionally fit in the face of stress.

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