Laying off employees is never easy, whether you must cut five team members or 50. However, layoffs may be unavoidable if you’ve reduced other business expenses and your budget is stretched tight.
We’ll examine best practices for communicating layoffs compassionately and empathetically and share tips for supporting your entire team during this challenging time.
More than 160,000 employees in the tech industry alone lost their jobs from January through August 2023. Alongside tech giants Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Zoom, other companies across the United States have announced considerable layoffs. For example, in March 2023, Tyson Foods announced a mass layoff of about 1,700 employees. In April 2023, Lyft announced plans to cut more than 1,000 employees.
However, many companies have been avoiding the word “layoffs” and, instead, opting for euphemisms, such as “workforce reductions,” “rightsizing” and “restructuring.” While these alternate terms get the point across, they dilute businesses’ responsibility in stripping employees of their livelihoods.
When communicating layoffs in your company, approach the situation with sensitivity and thoughtfulness. There are many wrong ways to approach and communicate layoffs. Unfortunately, companies often handle this delicate matter in ways that damage their business reputation and cause unnecessary distress to employees. Below are some approaches to avoid when communicating layoffs to your employees.
In March 2023, to kick off roughly 10,000 layoffs, many Meta employees received an email informing them they were being laid off. This correspondence followed a letter notifying employees of the company’s “restructuring plans.”
Layoffs are already emotionally challenging for the employees facing them. Receiving such news via a generic email can compound feelings of distress, frustration and anxiety.
“Over the years, I’ve seen companies handle this delicate situation poorly, turning to impersonal methods,” noted Emma Williams, a career coach and the chief research officer at High5 Test. “Sending a mass email or communicating the news through a mere public announcement is quite a notable pitfall. This leaves individuals feeling disposable and dehumanized.”
One of the worst things you can do when handling layoffs is give vague or misleading explanations to your team. This ambiguity can leave employees feeling confused, betrayed and undervalued. It erodes trust and creates a sense of uncertainty among the remaining staff.
“I once worked for a company that laid off a large number of employees,” said Sumit Jain, founder of Scoopbyte.com. “The company just abruptly announced the layoffs and provided minimal details about why people would lose their jobs. This approach caused widespread panic and demoralization among employees.”
Without a clear communication plan, the layoff process can quickly become disorganized and chaotic. Instead of leading your team through a rough patch, you’ll create misunderstandings and rumors, making a difficult situation much worse.
“One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen employers make is lacking clarity in their communications during the layoff process,” explained Melissa Khan-Blackmore, a career strategist who’s helped companies navigate layoffs. “I’ve also seen situations where members of leadership weren’t even circulating consistent messaging. This caused fear and a decrease in morale from the remaining staff. It also really threatened the stability of the company.”
Employers sometimes make the mistake of waiting to announce layoffs to employees. However, a delayed announcement can cause unnecessary stress and anxiety for employees who may sense something is amiss but are left in the dark.
“I’ve spent a lot of time managing teams and dealing with layoffs, so I’ve seen companies delay announcing layoffs for as long as possible,” said Matt Little, an Australian entrepreneur and the co-owner of Damien McEvoy Plumbing. “Delaying the layoff without providing a clear timeline can increase stress and uncertainty for workers.”
Empathy is one of the most essential traits to demonstrate when navigating layoffs and budget cuts. It can be easy to focus on the bottom line but remembering that your decisions impact real people and their families is crucial. If you must conduct layoffs, below are some tips on communicating them to your employees.
While sending a mass email may seem quick and efficient, it fails to address employees’ emotional needs. In contrast, holding one-on-one meetings is one of the best approaches to announcing layoffs.
“Whenever possible, communicate the news in person to demonstrate empathy and respect for the employees,” Little advised. “This allows them to ask questions and voice their concerns.”
Face-to-face meetings may not be feasible due to remote work or a large number of employees receiving layoff notices. In that case, a video conference or personalized phone call can be effective. The key is prioritizing individual communication and ensuring employees feel heard and supported during this challenging time.
Choose your words carefully and use thoughtful leadership language to deliver layoff news to your employees. Avoid jargon, such as “rightsizing” and “restructuring” that detracts from the situation. These euphemisms imply that employees losing their jobs were a burden or merely surplus team members.
Instead, explain the layoffs concisely while adopting a sensitive, compassionate tone. Consider the perspectives of the employees who are losing their jobs and opt for language that caters to their feelings.
Employees deserve clear and transparent communication during challenging times like layoffs. Think through employees’ potential questions and prepare thoughtful answers.
“Emphasize the larger context of the layoffs and how it relates to your company’s objectives,” Little advised. “This allows employees to understand that the decision does not reflect their individual performance.
You should also discuss the number of employees impacted, the departments or positions affected and whether there’s a possibility of rehiring laid-off employees in the future. Sharing this information helps employees understand the layoffs’ scope and how it may personally impact them or their colleagues.
While layoffs are challenging for everyone ― especially the laid-off employees ― a well-thought-out communication plan can make the process flow more smoothly.
“Meet with everyone that manages direct reports and train them on how to deliver the news to each of their employees,” Blackmore advised. “Ensure all of your leadership has a consistent message and is on the same page about the why and the details.”
When preparing to meet with employees, choose a suitable private location where they can process the news comfortably and without distractions. Consider having a human resources (HR) person present to offer support and answer any questions that may arise.
Announcing that employees are leaving can be challenging and even upsetting. While layoffs primarily affect the employees losing their jobs, remaining team members must deal with the ramifications. You should plan to meet with your remaining employees to share the news.
If you run a very small business, you might host one large meeting. You may prefer scheduling a few small meetings so everyone has a chance to share their concerns and ask questions.
“Clarifying how the layoffs will affect your company’s daily operations and reassuring the remaining team members can help reduce uncertainty and maintain your team’s productivity,” Little said.
During this transition in your now-former employees’ professional lives, they’ll likely look to you for assistance and support. Good leaders often find ways to support affected employees practically and emotionally. Consider the following tips.
A severance package can send laid-off employees off on a good note. Offering a severance package can be an especially compassionate move since, technically, the federal Fair Labor Standards Act doesn’t require severance packages.
Typically, you discuss the details of your company’s severance package when your employee is first hired. However, walking them through the package in detail with an HR representative during layoffs can show you’re committed to helping them land on their feet.
Businesses with 20 or more full-time employees must give laid-off workers the option to obtain COBRA coverage. Smaller businesses may have to comply with similar state and local laws about continuing health insurance coverage.
Offering outplacement services, such as career guidance and resume writing assistance, can help employees transition into their next roles. Avail yourself to write reference letters or speak with hiring managers to show your former employees you’re dedicated to helping them move forward.
“It might also be a good idea to give laid-off employees access to employee assistance programs or counseling services to help them cope with the emotional fallout of losing their job,” Little advised.
Laid-off employees might need assistance finding their next positions and you can help. Consider referring them to companies in your industry and area that are hiring. You can also connect them with professional contacts who can point to open roles or offer career advice.
If any of your former employees share that they’re looking for a new job on a public forum, such as LinkedIn, share their post. This way, you’re putting their announcement in front of other business owners or hiring managers who might know of job openings.