It’s the worst part of a Human Resources manager’s job: laying off employees. But remember there is an opportunity to impact – positively – how someone feels about his or her job tenure, themselves, and the company at a pivotal moment.
Here are some tips to make the most of that opportunity:
1. Get to the point. When delivering bad news, be quick, clear and concise. This is not a fun meeting for anyone, so keep it short and be direct. Start with an introductory statement that conveys the gravity of the situation, then deliver the news rather than leading up to it with the explanation. Treat the employee the same way you would want to be treated, but don’t try to cushion the blow with euphemisms, reassuring language or attempts at humor.
Cover what has to be covered, but if it can be avoided, don’t use a script. A manager seen to be relying too heavily on a script could be judged uncaring, as if they were running down a checklist.
It’s counterproductive to discuss the reasons behind the action for too long, as someone might say something they regret. In fact, the reason for the layoff does not have to be explained during the meeting, though it should be on file should there be a legal challenge. Legitimate reasons include poor performance, cost cutting and a management restructuring.
2. Be empathic. We know that layoffs aren’t personal, but they can feel like they are, even to those who are staying. Remember, it’s not about you, it’s about the employee. This is a huge moment in a person’s life, so give them time to take it all in.
As a manager, you may have to be able to sit through an awkward silence and empathize without misleading. It’s rather like doctors delivering bad news; they feel compassion, even if they don’t express it.
If there’s anger, or even rage, you have to be able to deal with it calmly. That’s part of a manager’s job, to hold his or her own emotions in check.
3. Deliver the message face-to-face. Email is being used more and more to notify employees of a layoff. Although it may seem the easier route, it’s a disrespectful way to handle the situation and one that will likely make office relations difficult for you in the long term with those staying on.
Give the employee at least a few minutes’ notice of the meeting, so they can prepare themselves. Deliver the news in person, preferably with another manager in the room. The two of you should have decided which of you will cover which aspects of the discussion. Cover all the details, even including where each person will sit. If the employee’s manager delivers the news, he or she might wish the employee good luck, then leave the room and have the HR manager explain the details of pay, severance and benefits.
If there are a large number of layoffs, it may be smart to build in some time between meetings to re-group. That will help the manager focus completely on each employee.
4. Go the extra mile with a small gesture that makes a big difference. Acts of kindness like having a car service available for someone who came to work by public transportation or allowing someone to clean out their desk while their co-workers aren’t around are small tokens of respect that laid-off employees will carry with them as a positive memory of a traumatic day.
Some managers go as far as to talk to the employee about their strengths and weaknesses, and to strong performers about how they can seek recommendations and other help.
Benefits of leading-edge outplacement
The choices HR managers make during layoff conversations can in a small way help former employees start their transitions to new jobs sooner and more smoothly, reaping real benefits for downsizing companies.
Employers, meanwhile, benefit when they invest in employee outplacement solutions that are focused on prompt results and make the most of the latest technologies as well as trends in social media.
The use of an effective outplacement solution helps reduce expenses in a variety of ways. Companies are less likely to face lawsuits or attacks in social media and online forums from former employees who are feeling abandoned. And when former employees find jobs faster, companies can avoid significant increases in unemployment insurance costs.
With the average duration of unemployment running at record levels, effective outplacement solutions have never been more useful — for transitioning workers and their employers.