Bring a Box of Tissues, and Other Real-World Tips on Conducting Layoffs

Having a box of tissues on hand is one of many tips for conducting layoffs.

For many managers, there is perhaps no task more difficult than informing an employee that his or her job has been eliminated.

Of course there are best practices we cover in our complete Layoff Notification Guide that help ensure a separation event can help all parties, and protect your brand. These range from the benefits you offer employees at the time of separation–like providing career coaching assistance through outplacement services–to ensuring they have all the proper paperwork to easily apply for unemployment insurance, enroll in COBRA to extend health coverage, etc.

But there are other tips which are harder to teach and skills developed through experience, which rely on the emotional intelligence of the HR manager, supervisor, and others, who will have a hand in molding the experience of an employee’s exit.

The title of this post begins with, “Bring a Box of Tissues,” not only because a tissue box is actually an often forgotten, but necessary item to have in a notification meeting, but also because it represents the importance of remaining calm, open, and authentic in the entire layoff and notification process. As employers, empathy remains our strongest tool, and we must appreciate and prepare for the emotional health of our employees.

Here are other real-world tips on conducting layoffs:  

  • Employee notifications should be conducted in person. Typically, the employee’s immediate supervisor or the department manager conducts the notification meeting. Do not have someone who the employee does not know or has never spoken with conduct the meeting.
  • Don’t engage in small talk, get to the point. Deliver the message directly but compassionately and allow the employee time to read the written notice of layoff you will give them during this meeting.
  • Stay with your script and remain calm. Straightforward, clear explanations are important.
  • Give the employee some background that helps explain why this decision is necessary.
  • Do not make comments or over-explain the decision. Despite good intentions, diverting from the message could unintentionally compromise the decision. Stay away from discussions that could confuse the primary message.
  • Be sensitive to the employee’s situation, but also be direct and firm. Make sure that the employee knows the decision is final and is non-negotiable.
  • Don’t blame others for the actions being taken.
  • Don’t become defensive, argumentative or confrontational. Do not try to critique the decision that has been made.
  • Be sensitive to the employee’s response. Hearing the employee does not mean you agree with them.
  • Tell the employee how much you appreciate the work they have done and recognize their contributions.
  • Allow the employee to ask questions and let them know they can come back to you with questions later if needed; it sometimes takes time for the employee to process what they’ve been told.
  • Listen carefully and, after the meeting, document anything that could lead to a potential problem. Consult with Human Resources, if appropriate.
  • Offer support and encouragement and treat separating employees with respect.
    • Encourage the employee to contact all resources available to assist in transitioning.
    • Be available in the following days to meet with the employee if they have questions.
    • Be understanding of the employee’s position and emotions.
    • Focus the employee on the next steps in his or her career.

Keep the Meeting Professional

  • Listen to the employee and exhibit empathy; pay attention to their cues. Some employees may want to ask questions, while others may just want to get the information and leave.
  • Avoid negative body language: Gestures such as repeatedly looking away, folding your arms in a closed posture, or checking your watch could be misconstrued as being uncaring or unconcerned for the employee’s well‐being.
  • Keep the meeting focused on imparting the information needed, emphasizing the various benefits and services available to the employee. Do not engage in arguments with the employee or seek to provide unnecessary justification for this action.
  • If necessary, allow the employee a reasonable amount of time to compose themselves before having to face colleagues.

Problems that May Occur in the Meeting

The employee may:

  • Become resistant, defensive and/or threatening, want to plead their case, or bargain for another opportunity
  • Want to speak with a decision-maker
  • Ask “Why me?” questions
  • Threaten a lawsuit or other formal action such as a retaliation complaint
  • Get personally upset with the manager
  • Try to make the issue personal or about performance
  • Argue about a person being retained whom they believe is less capable, has less seniority, etc.
  • List the repercussions cascading from the job loss
  • Break down emotionally
  • Go into a state of shock and denial over what is happening

Learn how to address these reactions in our post, How to Handle Employees’ Emotional Reactions During Layoffs: Anger, Silence, Denial, Threats

Don’t miss an important step in your Reduction in Force process. Download our Reduction In Force (RIF) Checklist

One important step in the RIF process is offering outplacement. Intoo helps employers protect employer brand and do right by their workforce by transitioning employees to land their next job 2.5 times faster than the national average time it takes to find employment. Designed for employees of all levels, industries, and backgrounds, Intoo’s coaching-first, award-winning online platform accelerates career transition by connecting candidates with career coaches faster and by providing personalized guidance for each individual. Learn more by scheduling a demo.

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