A Guide To Doing Layoffs The Proper Way

Though getting layed off is worse for the person actually losing their job, the people on the other side of it have a lot to think about too. In many ways there is really no way to make layoffs better. If the movie Up In The Air proved anything it is that even having George Clooney be on the other side of the table doesn’t even help. But what can help is having a strategy and trying to be as professional as possible. “No one likes to tell someone they are being layed off, and as a HR professional it is probably one of the most stressful things that you will ever have to do; however if it is done with these things in mind, then at least some heart will be involved in the process,” said Karen Downing, a former Human Resources manager and personal career coach.

Marv Russell, Consultant & Managing Partner for Marv Russell and Partners and author of Linebacker in the Boardroom: Lessons in Life and Leadership, said, “Unfortunately we are in the age where laying off employees is an everyday occurence. You can call it RIF (reduction in force), Reengineering or Restructuring, it is still the same. We are laying people off, taking away their job and their livelihood. The way be are laid off varies across industries and it varies from a hierarchical level as well. Never the less there are a few key rules.”

The size of the layoff: According to Downing, the most important factor is the size of the layoff. If it is a mass layoff like Bank of America recently did then it is best to try to categorize the employees by job title, time with the company and salary. This will dictate the type of severance packages (if any) that the employer would offer (most of this would be contractual). Once it has been determined what each person will receive as a part of the layoff and you have all the right information, then a plan has to be put into place company-wide to time the layoff (which usually happen on Fridays).

Picking the right day to do it: Downing says, “One of the lines of thinking behind doing layoffs on a Friday is that the rest of the staff is usually in good spirits on a Friday, so there is less anger. Although in my experience, I do not feel that way about Fridays, I feel that it is better to be honest with everyone about what is going on and to announce the layoff with one-on–one meetings on a mid-day morning and then have a group meeting with the rest of the staff at the end of that same day (this works especially well if you are planning the layoff department by department).” Russell said layoffs should occur no later than mid week, preferably tuesdays or Wednesdays. “This allows the employee an opportunity to reengage immediately with potential opportunities. Friday is the worst day. I have to go home, face my spouse and family and then wait until Monday to reengage.”

Informing the rest of the staff: Addressing the rest of the staff about layoffs is also very important. Downing says it helps to get any questions or concerns right out in the open mid-week. If you do it on a Friday this can lead to a build up of tensions over the weekend.

According to an MIT paper based on A Manager’s Guide to Conducting Layoff Meetings, once layoff notifications are complete, it’s a good idea for you to meet with the retained employees to tell them of the layoffs as soon as possible, while keeping in mind the wishes of the laid off employee(s). To meet with employees pick a location that is private and allow for at least half an hour for discussion. Based on your conversations with the laid off employees, you may share the names of the laid off employees, you may say that the employees prefer to tell co-workers individually, or you may do a combination of both. In any case, do let the remaining employees know that layoff notices have been given. Be prepared for any of the following statements or questions. If the staff doesn’t ask these questions, you might want to offer the information:
• How was it decided that layoffs are necessary?
• Can you tell us a little bit about the layoff package?
• How are [the laid off people] doing?
• When will their last day be?
• What will happen to [person’s] work?

Deciding who will lay off the person is also a big issue: Downing says “During this time with fears about the economy and finances so prevalent, executing a layoff is even more delicate than before. The HR managers, department supervisors, governing board and executives should always know what their rapport with the employees is, because this greatly helps in matching the person who has to give out the bad news to the employee and this can be a very helpful strategy for avoiding some of the conflict that can occur. For example, in my work history I was the one to give the news to a female employee, this was done this way because this particular individual had anger toward men (not from the workplace), but that anger could have been easily directed toward a male supervisor had the decision been made to have a male supervise tell this woman the bad news.”

Be compassionate: Show the terminated employee some compassion and understanding. If your firm has the capability, provide outplacement services or job counseling to help cushion the blow. Keep the employee’s ego in mind - it may need a hefty boost at this time, and you can provide it by praising previous accomplishments.

Unless you need to, don’t use security guards: Avoid the use of security guards escorting the employee to their desk and then out the door, unless it is an extreme case. “Remember, that leaves a message for everyone that we don’t trust and that we think you will do something wrong in retaliation,” said Russell.

As the person doing the layoff you have to be clear and concise in telling them why this is happening:  Russell says, “I always expect that line management accepts responsibility to the layoff action. They must be able to look the person in the eye and in a short statement tell the employee why and accept responsibility.”

It is your responsibility to make sure the employee has everything they need: The employee must leave the office with all the proper documentation. “I would also insure that there is a simple to read “Next Steps Checklist” and a one sheet Q&A,” said Russell.

Russell said, “Nothing makes laying someone easy. In reality its not suppose to be easy. It should make us think and care and be responsible and accountable for handling the situation with integrity and professionalism.”


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