The most challenging part of running a business is having to make tough decisions. That’s being put to the test like never before during the pandemic era. Among those difficult decisions is having to let people go from the organization. Whatever the reason–performance, conduct, budget–it’s going to hurt. The surge in unemployment and the financial burden of COVID may mean that you’ll need to consider layoffs. If you want to sleep better at night, here are guidelines on how to conduct layoffs with dignity.
Employees can smell BS from a mile away, which is why it’s important to be as truthful as possible about the reason(s) they’re being let go. Crafting key messages prior to the layoff will help prepare you, and providing the right amount of information will allow the employee to better process the bad news. You can’t get around the hurt, but laying off someone with dignity can make them feel like they are being treated with the same respect during their departure as they did upon their arrival.
We’ve written about the need to be empathetic during Coronavirus, and that applies to all stages of one’s employment at your company. In addition to being transparent, also show empathy; otherwise the split will feel very cold for the individual. In an interview with Fast Company, Amber Cabral, founder of the leadership consultancy Cabral Co., says that leaders often use emotionally tone-deaf explanations like, it’s a business decision or other language that puts a distance between themselves and the discomfort of the layoff.
“While it might make it emotionally easier on leaders,” Cabral cautions, “it can isolate, create distrust, and even demean impacted employees…Find the empathy to communicate how much employees are valued and that the job impacts due to COVID-19 are not an indicator of their personal performance, but instead a sign of the times.”
Allow the Employee to Feel Heard
You need to be prepared to listen to the employee’s reaction. The act of listening can work wonders and actually make the situation easier for you. Too often, we rush to solutions when all a person wants in the moment is for someone to listen. Allow for long pauses, and if necessary, say one or more of the following responses:
- I know this difficult to hear
- I see that you’re frustrated
- We’ll try to make the next steps as easy as possible
Offer to Help
To the extent that your organization can, offer to help the departing employee. This can look like many things, including a respectable severance package, helping with their job search, or even being a positive reference. As Forbes writes, “Helping can be awkward: managers and former colleagues may feel guilty and find it hard to engage. It’s the right thing to do, and facing the awkwardness is part of working through feelings about the layoff.”
Be Mindful of the Feelings of Those Who Remain
Layoffs can damage morale, so simply moving on without checking in on other employees sends an unhealthy message. Employees may have formed relationships with the laid-off individual or worry about their own future with the company. Here again, it’s important to listen to them and provide genuine feedback and rationale.
The cost of doing business includes the difficult act of layoffs. In the midst of the most uncertain period of our lifetime, business decisions cannot be made lightly. Approaching layoffs with dignity will give the process the respect it deserves and will feel more like a business necessity to both parties involved.