The HR Guide to Layoffs


Human Resources leaders would rather focus on talent acquisition and employee engagement, but layoffs can be a big part of their job, especially in an economic downturn. Letting people go is hard. Ultimately, the company is rejecting someone they had once encouraged to join the team. HR professionals must live with the fact that they are upending families, interrupting livelihoods, and derailing dreams. 

Certainly, there is a right way and a wrong way to conduct layoffs. Cruelly laying off more than 900 people in a Zoom call was one recent no-no. In the modern workplace, HR leads with heart and treats people with dignity even and especially during these harder conversations and actions. Here is some help as Human Resources prepares for layoffs: 

Examine Every Angle

Letting people go is a huge decision that should be handled with great care. The first step is to make sure the layoffs are indeed necessary to keep the business intact. To ensure this is the right decision, HR leaders should level with executives and ask them serious questions about how they are coming to this conclusion. In other words, the math should add up, and layoffs should be the last resort. Consider all the other options for saving money and making changes before reducing the workforce.  

READ: 7 Alternatives to Layoffs

Plan Ahead

Layoffs should never be a rash decision. All the consideration offers HR leaders the gift of time to plan for conducing the layoffs. In the meantime, HR can consider the departments and individuals who will be affected, the justification for these choices, and the explanation they will offer. In addition, HR professionals should consider how they will break the news and what kinds of severance packages and resources will be provided. 

READ: 10 Strategies for Dealing with Layoffs

Be Prepared to Answer Questions

In the wake of layoffs, both those who are affected and those who are staying with the company will have many questions. HR professionals should think about how they will answer the most expected ones. 

  • When is my last day? 
  • What are the terms of my departure? Severance pay? Medical and dental insurance? 
  • Will what is left of my vacation days be paid out? 
  • Are there any resources avaialble to those who are going to be looking for new jobs now? If so, what are they? 
  • What does this mean for those who are staying? 
  • Are other changes coming? If so, what? 
  • Will this be the last round of layoffs? How worried should the rest of us be about our future? 

Open the Lines of Communication

One of the keys to laying off people in the right way is providing a certain level of transparency. Leaders should explain why this is happening and how it is going to help the business survive. They should express that this is in no way reflective of the people or their work. They are not getting fired, after all. They are getting laid off, which is a decision based on finances and not because of lack of effort. Finally, leaders must allow people to ask them questions both publicly and privately. Of course, they should continue to engage employees who are remaining with the organization. 

Provide Resources

In the last few years, HR leaders have been transforming the workplace. The new rules require that companies care more for their people. This includes when they are terminating the relationship. So, more and more employers are offering resume critiques, coaching, job leads, or at the very least help on LinkedIn to begin the job search. Most importantly, they are comforting people and being more empathetic in the way they conduct layoffs and sever ties with laid off employees. 

Photo by Anna Shvets for Pexels

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