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Layoffs: 11 Tips for how to deliver the news with compassion

by Brad Johnson on August 11, 2020
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The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (U.S. BLS) reported a decline in unemployment rate by 2.2% via their “The Employment Situation - June 2020" press release. However, because COVID-19 and the coronavirus continue to be an area of concern, it’s important to be prepared for possible layoffs. 94% of states in the BLS recorded historically high unemployment rates in 2020. View up to date unemployment numbers per state here.

Delivering news of a layoff is a difficult task for anyone to complete. Doing so with compassion is the key to a seamless transition. We’ve prepared a helpful checklist and 11 tips below to help you through the process.

Pre-Layoff Checklist

  • Finalize the layoff decision with upper-level management. Review the reasons for termination so you can communicate them clearly to the employee. Let management know you plan to proceed with the layoff after this meeting.
  • Refresh yourself on your state’s laws to ensure legal compliance. Some states (like Ohio) choose to follow the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act. Other states choose to follow a different set of guidelines, so make sure to conduct the proper due diligence as it pertains to your organization.
  • Review your company’s layoff policy to ensure legal compliance. This is usually in the employee handbook. Note which items contributed to their termination.
  • Consider a severance package. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require severance pay, but it’s considered a compassionate gesture. The Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) may be able to assist an employee who did not receive severance benefits under their employer-sponsored plan.
  • Prepare the layoff letter. This should include your organization’s layoff policy, reasons for termination, severance package details, healthcare and dental coverage expiration dates, retirement contributions, profit sharing dividends they’ll receive, etc..
  • Set a reminder or an alert in your payroll system to mail the employee’s last check.

11 Tips for compassionate layoffs

  1. Take a few minutes to put yourself in the right mind frame. Jim Valvolano’s ESPY speech is one of the most viewed speeches on YouTube. Why? Because his outlook on life after terminal cancer diagnosis is infinitely inspiring. According to Jimmy V, if you learn to love, laugh, and cry each day you’re living a fulfilling life. Practicing those three things help you convey the compassion you’ll need for this task.
  2. Put yourself in their shoes. The employee might’ve experienced personal issues that impacted their job performance. You certainly would prefer to be treated with compassion rather than indifference if your roles were reversed.
  3. Ask to speak to the employee in private. Make sure their manager is aware of the meeting so they can attend. If the manager isn’t available, it’s a good idea to ask a third party to join you. This helps the employee feel at ease and helps you avoid allegations of misconduct. More importantly, this shows you are considerate of their feelings.
  4. Acknowledge their contributions to the organization. Vocalizing their talents and positive aspects of them is a great way to start the meeting. It shows you’re being supportive and positive.
  5. Gently and professionally go over the reasons for the layoff. The employee might become defensive during this step. Instead of offering your own rebuttal, quietly acknowledge their feelings and move on to the next item.
  6. Listen. Listening is an important element of compassion. When you listen, you hear their perspective and allow the employee to voice their thoughts.
  7. Offer reassurance with a personal story. It’s important to remember that this is an odd time in history with uncharacteristically high layoff and unemployment numbers. A story of your own or about someone you know makes they feel comforted and at ease knowing they aren’t alone.
  8. Provide helpful tools and resources. Highlight their skills and contributions again and encourage them to pursue careers where those are in demand. Give them employment resources like your state’s unemployment website, recommend your favorite job searching tools, or connect them with a recruiter. Encourage them to search for opportunities and let them know you are confident they will be successful.
  9. Offer to be a professional reference for future employment opportunities (if the layoff has nothing to do with their performance). Many employees fear that the mark of layoff on their resume will negatively impact future employment opportunities. If the layoff is for reasons unrelated to their performance, offer your support. Give the employee your contact information and let them know you’d be happy to speak about their positive contributions with prospective employers. If the layoff is due to reasons related to their performance, it's best to omit this step.
  10. Be available to address any of their concerns post-layoff. Now that you’ve compassionately delivered the news, chances are you’ve built some type of rapport with that employee. Your willingness to help ends this meeting on a positive note for both parties.
  11. Meet with the rest of the organization. Research indicates that surviving employees suffer the negative effects of downsizing just as profoundly as those who are laid off. Meeting with the remaining workforce to transmit a sense of trust and compassion for a healthy company culture. Read the rest of the study here.

Post meeting, you’ll both need to sign and date the layoff letter. Make a copy for the employee’s records, scan an electronic copy of the original into the organization's virtual file system, and add the hard copy to the organization's physical file system.

As you start planning for the future, restructuring and rehiring are likely on the horizon. Consider Planning for the Future: What You’ll Need to Know to Rehire and Recall and Rehiring in the time of COVID-19: Best Practices for Employers to guide you through the transition.

We’re here to help during these difficult times. Contact us with questions or consider connecting with our experts on HR on Demand for around the clock support.

Topics: Hiring, Human Resources