China Gorman is one of the foremost thought leaders in the field of human resources today.

An accomplished executive with significant experience in career transition services, she also is a member of RiseSmart’s Strategic Advisory Council. Here she answers a question in the first of a series of articles for RiseSmart called “Ask An Expert.”

(Got a question for China Gorman? Ask it in the comments.)

Question:  When employees are notified that they are being laid off, what are the questions most likely to be on their minds?

Answer:  If your organization is like most, the grapevine – or your communication plan – has forewarned the population that a layoff is coming.  Nonetheless, reactions vary. While some employees accept the news of their termination pragmatically, others react with shock and disbelief.

The pragmatic employee paid attention to the grapevine and had some inkling that they might get caught.  And so their questions fall into three categories:

  1. “What do I get?”  Be prepared to explain their severance calculation, vacation accrual, sales commissions due, COBRA benefits, etc.  Matter of fact, they want to move forward and get going.
  2. “Why me?”  Everyone wants to know why they were selected.  Check with your legal counsel and develop one answer that will work across the board:  “These were really difficult decisions to make but they were made based on our financial situation/new organizational structure/new strategic plan, etc.”
  3. “What do I do now?”  Have your outplacement solution provider ready to meet with employees to discuss how to access immediate job search help, such as through RiseSmart’s Transition Concierge service.  Having concrete next steps is critical to help your employees move forward into a positive future rather than looking backward with recrimination and anger.

Shocked employees need great sensitivity.  They may have blocked the grapevine information alerting them to the layoff because of stressors outside of work.  Or they may have rationalized that they would never be selected.  It’s important to have a your outplacement provider close by to engage these employees quickly after receiving their termination information. 

Their responses also tend to fall in three categories:

  1. “I don’t understand.”  You may need to repeat the message until you’re sure they do understand.  Be patient.
  2. “There must be a mistake.  I can’t lose my job now.”  Keep them focused on the benefits you’re offering:  severance, outplacement, etc.
  3. Introduce the outplacement provider as soon as possible.  While the employee may begin to weep, get angry or sit in shock, the consultant will be able to engage them in a productive conversation to help them begin to accept what has happened and to deal with accessing a personal support system.

Generally, most employees are realistic and quick to move through the exit process you create.  It’s important, though, to be prepared for the few that will be shocked and require more time.

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