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Preparing for the Unexpected: Protecting Employees When Layoffs Are Unavoidable

Published: August 16, 2016

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The economy has been limping through its recovery, with the number of unemployed down, but the number of underemployed holding steady. We’re facing potential economic turmoil in light of the recent events in Britain and the EU, as well as massive cuts in the technology, and oil and gas sectors.

An unfortunate (and continuing) by-product of the economic instability we’ve been facing is layoffs. And while no company wants to be faced with a layoff, it is prudent to be prepared for one, especially if you want to preserve relations with departing employees, protect your employer brand for future employees, or encourage retained employees to remain at the organization. Even if your company isn’t currently planning for reductions, it’s a best practice to put a plan in place so you are ready should it become necessary.

Here are four key things to consider when planning a layoff:

  • Logistics

A critical foundational aspect of any reduction event is logistics and, unfortunately, many organizations under-plan in this area. 

Aside from the basics of which locations will be affected and when the notifications will take place, planning on where exactly these meetings will happen is an important step that can set the tone for how well (or how poorly) the entire event goes.

Take your office environment into consideration. Is it an open concept space? Is everyone in individual offices? Is it a manufacturing floor? Are there cubicles? If delivering notifications one-on-one, think carefully about where these meetings will take place.

It is best to deliver notifications in a completely private area where the affected employee will be shielded from his or her colleagues and spared the embarrassment of a public delivery. A private space allows the employee the dignity to react to the news without their colleagues looking on. It also prevents other employees from overhearing the conversation which will keep speculation and rumors to a minimum.

Of course, you will need to address the situation with remaining staff at a more appropriate time. However, the way you communicate the news and show respect for the privacy of affected employees will go a long way in helping your remaining employees come to terms with the event. 

You will also want to work out the logistics of what will happen during the transition well in advance of notifying employees. Will impacted employees continue working? Will they need to be escorted off the premises? Do you need to have security or representatives from your employee assistance program present? Can your outplacement provider be present should your departing employees wish to register with them right away?

How you handle this aspect of the event will make a big difference in how both your remaining and departing employees view your organization going forward, which will contribute to how people talk about your brand to future candidates and customers.  

  • Messaging

Once you have the ‘where’ figured out, you will need to determine how you will deliver the message. This is a very important step as the phrasing of your message can determine whether your departing employee leaves the organization with an overall positive impression of the company or is upset enough to share their displeasure with friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances through social media channels. If they post their negative sentiments on a company review site, they may also influence those who might consider becoming a job candidate or customer.

How your employees view the company once they leave will affect your employer brand, your consumer, and the productivity and engagement of your remaining employees.

You must also be sure your message is ready for public consumption. Always assume that whatever you – or the managers who deliver the notifications – say will be posted publicly and plan accordingly. Your departing employees deserve clarity and honesty so be as transparent as possible about the reasons behind the decision – don’t rely on ambiguous language, jargon, or circular reasoning. 

Simply saying ‘it was a necessary business decision’ without further explanation will leave your employees wanting. Explain the business environment that led to the decision – why this particular role or group was affected. The more specific details you are able to share, the better. It will help your departing employees understand and accept what has happened much more easily.

  • Transition Assistance

It goes without saying that losing one’s job is extremely difficult, especially when their next career step is uncertain. However, companies can provide a safety net in the form of outplacement.

Outplacement, or career transition services, is usually provided by a third-party firm with whom your organization partners to ensure your impacted employees are set up for success in the days following notification. Outplacement services can include everything from resume support and job search training to job lead assistance and emotional support.

Regardless of which provider you choose, be sure to select one that will partner your former employees with a coach, resume support, and job leads – the three key pillars of a successful transition. This level of support will ensure that your transitioning employees have the tools and guidance they need to find their next career opportunities as quickly as possible.

  • Prepare Your People

The final step, after you have worked out logistics, decided upon messaging, and set up outplacement services for your departing employees, is to prepare your managers.

Employers often assume that all HR professionals and managers know how to deliver notifications and don’t require much time and effort to plan them. This is very often far from the truth, even if the process is organized and straightforward.

Many of these professionals have never had to deliver a notification and even those who have don’t necessarily have any formal training. This is not a time to stick with the status quo. It is absolutely necessary to provide formal notification training to your HR teams and managers who will be involved in delivering the message.

There is nothing easy about telling a colleague that their job has been eliminated and that they will no longer have a steady paycheck or a way to support their family. As such, the manager delivering the notification has to be sensitive to the recipient’s emotions while also knowing how to navigate their own. Good managers are compassionate without commiserating and can expertly handle any reaction – from anger to sadness to disbelief.

Formal manager training will give your people the tools and strategies to notify employees in a compassionate and straightforward manner, which will benefit your organization in the long run.

  • Next Steps

Whether you’re in the process of planning an imminent layoff or are not yet considering reductions in workforce or restructuring, the long-term success of your organization will depend on proactive planning for such an event.

Knowing who will handle delivering what message and how you plan to support your displaced employees will give you the ability to react to economic changes and necessary workforce restructuring with ease, while also preparing you to preserve your employer brand as well as employee relations and retention.

No one likes considering layoffs, but those who do are the ones who are able to stay afloat through economically tough times and those whose brands stay top of mind when it’s time to hire again.

Lindsay Witcher is director, practice strategy, at RiseSmart

 

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