We know you feel guilty. Layoffs are one of the most unpleasant parts of a leadership role. It doesn’t matter if it’s one person or an entire department, telling someone that their employment with you has come to an end is always a challenge. Your approach matters. If you have an in-house HR team, they’ll help you navigate the process—if you don’t, you’ll want to prepare ahead of time for the different situations you may encounter. Here is our guide to handing a layoff with dignity:
1. Use discretion. Pick a location that offers your employee the chance to leave without having to encounter anyone. Conducting a layoff in your office often requires the terminated employee to walk back to his or her desk in full display of the rest of the team. The same goes for conference rooms and meeting rooms—be mindful of the location, especially if you anticipate an employee will react angrily. You want to pick an area that doesn’t have a lot of foot traffic to avoid awkward moments with other employees. It’s also true that it’s best to lay people off on a Friday. This gives them a little bit of time to let the news sink in and it minimizes prolonged gossip and drama among the rest of your team.
2. Get to the point quickly. Don’t make small talk and don’t skirt the issue. Know what you’ll say ahead of time (practice if you need to) and aim to deliver the news within the first 30 seconds of your meeting.
3. Show empathy. Think about how you’d like someone to react if you were the one being laid off. It’s not the place to talk about how difficult the decision has been for you, or to say that you know this is really hard—it’s no longer about you because you still have a job, and this will come across as callous. Be considerate and supportive of the way your employee reacts.
4. Prepare for a variety of responses. Is your layoff expected or will it come as a shock? Do your best to anticipate the way an employee will react and prepare accordingly. If you expect anger, have a plan in place to minimize the exposure your employee will have, and though it’s unlikely the situation will escalate—think about your own safety and the safety of the rest of your team. If you expect tears, give your employee space to regain composure. Think about what you’ll say ahead of time in different situations that will alleviate stress and encourage parting on good terms.
5. If appropriate, offer to be a reference. One of the most stressful parts of a layoff is being faced with the prospect of finding another job quickly. A nice step you can take in advance is to prepare a letter of recommendation for your former employee that he or she can take home. This gesture often helps employees gain closure and it also reinforces the fact that the layoff is not personal.
6. Offer Outplacement Assistance. Helping your former employee bounce back from a layoff is one of the best things you can do to ease job loss stress. Outplacement firms frequently offer services like resume writing, interview practice, and general job search best practices. If you’re laying off someone who has worked for you for years, they will most likely be overwhelmed and ill-equipped to handle a process that has changed a lot since their last job search.