Layoffs are Coming- Are You Prepared to Manage Through Them?

Posted on August 30, 2011.

The economy is still in the tank, the unemployment rate isn’t improving, companies from Borders to Bank of America are laying off by the thousands. And this is the good news.

The bad news is that if you’re one of the managers that survive, you may have the job of telling someone they are no longer needed.  And since your company most likely chose not to outsource this task ala “Up in the Air”, what do you do?

Your HR folks will provide you with a handy “package” that includes talking points, severance details, etc.  Seems like they’ve thought of everything except how to actually deal with the person at the other end of the table.  I’ve delivered too many of these packages and here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Take your time. The effected person is often in shock. The talking points are useless as they haven’t heard a word you said after “your position has been eliminated”.   Leave the room for a few minutes until he or she has been able to process the information.
  • Do your homework.  You knew this job was eliminated. Have you looked around the company to see if they have opening elsewhere that might work? Are you willing to use your network to help them? It’s never a bad idea to try to give the person some hope.
  • Don’t make it about you. I’m shocked at how many managers tell you that it was “just as hard on me”. It’s not!  The worse thing you can do it to make it about you and the challenges the company is facing. They don’t care! The only thing they care about how they are going to tell their family and where they will find the next job.
  • Don’t answer the question- “Why me?’   This might be the one area where talking points come in handy.  You need to reiterate that it’s the position that’s been eliminated, not them.  Don’t make it personal.
  • Let them go home.  It surprises me when I find out how many people are forced to stay in the office the day they receive the news. Make them go home. This is not only good for them, but also better for the office. 
  • Prepare the people who are left. There is often a sense if survivor guilt with folks that remain. Not to mention that they were friends with the departing employee. Take them out of the office and let them vent. Explain why the decisions were made and help them focus on moving forward.

These times are difficult for everyone, but being at either end of the table during a layoff discussion is extremely stressful.  Make sure you communicate with respect and compassion.

Tell us if you’ve had to handle layoffs and what you found that works.