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Lay Offs and Why You’re Not Doing Them Right

Updated: Sep 4, 2019

I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some amazing companies throughout my career. I’ve been on the receiving end of a severance package and unfortunately have done a lot of layoffs as an HR professional; and because I’ve been fortunate to work in companies that do layoffs well and in the right way, nothing makes me angrier for employees than hearing about organizations who conduct layoffs in ways that can only be seen and described as lazy, disrespectful, and selfish towards employees.  (I’m staring intently at you today Sam’s Club).

Whether an organization has to lay off employees because they are moving their headquarters across states lines, simply filed bankruptcy (insert any mall retailer in the last 10 years here), merged with another company or “have to save money” over here, to pay for something else over there, there are definitely, absolutely, unequivocally better ways to manage the employee transition and how you communicate with your employees.

As a long-term HR pro here’s what I know:

  • Communicate with your employees. Nothing is worse than not knowing or finding out from external sources in a callous way.

  • Don’t just send an email notification and lock the doors. Have your senior-most leadership up, out, and front and center to own the message, own the decision, and communicate to the employees, what’s happening, how and when.

  • If you can take time to write a press announcement, you can take time to design and implement an announcement day-of logistics that are respectful of employees.

  • Have severance packages ready to go or a specific date of when they will be ready, who will have that information, and when they will receive it.

  • Have talking points and FAQs and have ALL leaders, managers, communications and Human Resources leaders stick to them.

  • HR should offer one on one meetings if possible. Hundreds of employees in the population? Then train up the benefits reps, HRIS analysts, recruiters and anyone else in Human Resources who can serve as a representative to talk through their severance packages and answer questions about benefits. 

  • Have an email inbox, Workplace group, SharePoint site, Slack channel, etc. where employees can ask questions and GET ANSWERS.

  • If your organization is not offering severance packages or transition services, that’s all the more reason to give as much notice as possible. But I’d also ask if you’re not offering those services, why not?

  • You should know ahead of time the employees who are on leave of absence, FMLA, parental leave, etc. Whose contacting them and when? They are still employees and deserve to find out at the same time that all employees do in a respectful manner.

  • For the employees remaining: pizza, cookies, coffee breaks, roundtable discussions, open doors, and early releases go a long way by management showing empathy and appreciation for the people who remain. 

When I hear of these organizations who completely and totally botch their layoffs, I always ask, WHO IS THE HR LEADER AND WHY DID IT HAPPEN THIS WAY? Have you been laid off? How was the process? What are the horror stories you’ve heard? Sound off in the comments below. 

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