The pandemic forced many C-suite officer and HR leader to make tough decisions about the size and structure of their workforces. Following a year rife with layoffs and furloughs,
Even now, uncertainty looms and more interruptions to how many organizations do business seems inevitable. With vaccine rollout struggling and a lack of public enthusiasm for the spending habits that typically fuel the economy, it seems like more shifts and upheaval in the labor market could be on the way.
Most leaders would rather deal with tight budgets and talent development challenges than the elimination of jobs and having to lay off staff. Most go to great lengths to cut costs first to minimize the number of people affected by a reduction in force (RIF). But when a RIF is necessary, the process is made smoother and less painful for employees who remain, leaders, HR and even those being let go when it’s handled with skill and care.
Telling someone their time with the company has come to a close is never an easy thing. In the midst of a public health crisis that may limit opportunity in some professions even further, it can be even more difficult. To help HR professionals communicate clearly and effectively and set their people up for success in the future, here are 10 strategies for dealing with layoffs.
1. Recognize It Will Be Painful
RIFs are upsetting and difficult to deal with for everyone. Leaders and HR managers should not be expected to smile through it or attempt to make the situation more palpable than it is. Doing so might make light of the layoff’s impact and belittle people’s feelings. Acknowledge that it is painful for all employees—those being let go, those who are staying, and for the HR managers who have to implement the reduction. This is also a good time to be transparent about what is happening within the organization. Answering questions about why the reduction is necessary can help those left behind cope and move forward.
2. Remain Objective
It can be easy to personalize a layoff, but it’s not productive. Managers should remain objective when selecting positions to eliminate. They need to be mindful of their words when speaking about the reduction. People are not being cut—positions are cut, and people are affected. They also need to be mindful of their choices. The slightest hint of favoritism or bias will come back to haunt the company on Glassdoor and other sites that rate employers.
3. Plan Carefully
The lay-off must be well planned and executed, with no details left unsettled. HR needs to help leaders ask probing questions to determine how positions will be selected. If the downturn only affects one area, will that department be the only one to face cuts, or will the entire company face restructuring? What will the criteria be for position elimination? Will it be results based? Last hired, first fired? How will document the reasons for the decision making?
Leaders should consult with legal counsel to know the risks and implications of every activity involved in the RIF. Consider what talent, skills, and experience will be needed in the future and how the people who remain plug into succession plans.
4. Consensus Building
Whatever the reasons for the layoff, the management team needs to come to an agreement on who it will effect and how it will be done and then move forward as a team. Managers should avoid casting blame or making sideline deals. The leadership team needs to develop a clear message and present a united front. This will show that the decision wasn’t done in a rash manner
5. Treat Employees with Respect
We’ve all heard lay-off horror stories—people who arrive at work to find boxes on their desk and security standing nearby or people who try to get into their office and realize the locks have been changed, or people who were terminated via a form email. Managers should treat every individual with respect and protect each person’s dignity. Even if the RIF affects many people, managers should treat each person as if he or she is the only person being affected. Each employee deserves a private meeting with a manager, a chance to ask questions, and be informed of any transition support, verbally and in writing. Deliver the news with kindness and compassion, remembering that the layoff has a compounding effect on their family and future.
6. Offer as Much Support as Possible
Providing people with transition support helps boost morale and can change the energy around the decision. Some examples of transition support include:
- Redeployment: Is there another area of the company or another location that can absorb some of those affected? Can training be offered to fill a need in another area?
- Separation package: Even if the cutbacks are fiscally based, provide a separation package that includes financial benefits to give the employees being let go something to fall back on.
- Reach out to other employers: Contact other employers to make them aware of the staff affected. Do they have open positions some of the employees could fill?
- Engage a career transition firm with a proven record of delivering value to affected individuals. They try to get those affected by the RIF into the right roles in the best timeframe.
- Employment Assistance Programs can help people deal with the separation and move on. The organization benefits from having logistical support when many people are being asked to coordinate events. The individuals notified benefit from having a person to speak to who can address the impact of RIF.
7. Communicate Candidly
Rumors are often more damaging than reality. There is some information that is confidential, and it changes daily until the day of the reduction. And yet the status of the company, its finances, and its future are pieces of information each employee should have. If managers don’t control the message, fear and rumor can rule the day and negatively influence people’s behavior. Be transparent and tell employees what the company is doing to avoid eliminating positions. Remind people of assistance for those in transition and support for those remaining.
8. Build resilience
Following a RIF, consider a realignment of structure, people, and process. Create plans for moving the business forward. Retention and engagement of key talent becomes a priority, and managing change becomes the focus. HR ensures resilience by helping people through difficult times and implementing development initiatives that help people learn skills that will benefit both the individual and the organization in the future.
9. Assess Plans for the Future
Knowing what will happen next in 2021 is anybody’s guess. For those who are having to lay people off, it’s important to examine the long term outlook of the business. HR leaders have to assess the company’s future and ensure that strategies, goals, and roles are aligned. What will the new incarnation of the company look like? Is there a communication strategy to re-engage people? Does the culture need to be reinforced? How can leaders support employees in managing change? The sooner you speak to the future, the sooner you can recover.
10. Re-recruit Remaining Staff
Be highly visible and engaged with employee communication. This is the time to re-recruit remaining employees by reinforcing the support provided to those employees affected, and reaffirming the organization’s commitment to current staff. Enlist the help of employees so they can play a role in shaping the future. What are their hopes and concerns? What do they need to do their jobs well? Reassure them of their place with—and their value to—the organization to avoid losing them.
HR professionals need to be experts in conducting RIFs to ensure that the people affected are treated with respect and supported in making a smooth transition. When leaders handle the process well, they can also reinforce their commitment to remaining staff, and communicate the mission so that the organization continues to thrive.
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