10 Strategies for Dealing With Layoffs

Elaine Varelas
Posted: 09/08/2010
Many leaders would rather have a root canal than eliminate jobs and lay off staff. Most go to great lengths to cut costs first to minimize the number of people affected by a reduction in force (RIF). Everyone—employees being laid off, those staying, HR managers, and leaders—fares better when a RIF is handled skillfully. Here are 10 strategies:

1. Recognize it will be painful. RIFs are upsetting for everyone. Leaders and HR managers should not be expected to smile through it or "put lipstick on a pig." Doing so might make light of the layoff’s impact and belittle people’s feelings. Acknowledge that it is painful for all employees—those being let go, those who are staying, and for the HR managers who have to implement the reduction. It is also stressful on the organization, as people go through this difficult transition.

2. Remain objective. It can be easy to personalize a layoff, but it’s not productive. Managers should remain objective when selecting positions to eliminate. They need to be mindful of their words when speaking about the reduction. People are not being cut—positions are cut, and people are affected.

3. Have a well-thought-out plan. The lay-off must be well planned and executed. Address every detail. HR needs to help leaders ask probing questions to determine how positions will be selected. If the downturn only affects one area, will that department be the only one to face cuts, or will the entire company face restructuring? What will the criteria be for position elimination? Will it be last in, first out? Will it be performance-based? Has information been documented? Consult with legal counsel to know legal risks and implications of every activity involved in the RIF. Consider what talent, skills, and experience will be needed in the future. What teams need development to expand or refine needed skill sets?

4. Come to a consensus. Whatever the reasons for the layoff, the management team needs to come to agreement and move forward as a team. Managers should avoid casting blame or making sideline deals. The leadership team needs to develop a clear message and present a united front.

5. Treat employees with respect. We’ve all heard lay-off horror stories—people who arrive at work to find boxes on their desk and security standing nearby; people who try to get into their office and realize the locks have been changed; or people who were terminated via a form email. Managers should treat every individual with respect and protect each person’s dignity. Even if the RIF affects many people, managers should treat each person as if he or she is the only person being affected. Each employee deserves a private meeting with a manager, a chance to ask questions, and be informed of any transition support, verbally and in writing. Deliver the news with kindness and compassion, remembering that the layoff has a compounding effect on family.
6. Offer as much support as possible. Provide people with transition support. Here are five examples: 1) Redeployment: Is there another area of the company or another location that can absorb some of those affected? Can training be offered to fill a need in another area? 2) Separation package: Even if the cutbacks are fiscally based, provide a separation package that includes financial benefits, and career transition support. 3) Reaching out to other employers: Contact other employers to make them aware of the staff affected. Do they have open positions some of the employees could fill? 4) Engage a career transition firm with a proven record of delivering value to affected individuals. They try to get those affected by the RIF into the right roles in the best timeframe. 5) Employment Assistance Program can help people deal with the separation and move on. The organization benefits from having logistical support when many people are being asked to coordinate events. The individuals notified benefit from having a person to speak to who can address the impact of RIF.

7. Communicate clearly and honestly. Rumors are often more damaging than reality. There is some information that is confidential, and it changes daily until the day of the reduction. And yet the status of the company, its finances, and its future are pieces of information each employee should have. If managers don’t control the message, fear and rumor can rule the day, and negatively influence people’s behavior. Tell what the company is doing to avoid eliminating positions, and remind people of assistance for those in transition and support for those remaining.
8. Ensure resilience. Following a RIF, consider an alignment of structure, people, and process. Create plans for moving the business forward. Retention and engagement of key talent becomes a priority, and managing change becomes the focus. HR ensures resilience.

9. Look to the future. Focus on what will happen next. Are strategies, goals, and roles aligned? What will the new incarnation of the company look like? Is there a communication strategy to re-engage people? Does the culture need to be reinforced? How can leaders support employees in managing change? The sooner you speak to the future, the sooner you can recover.

10. Re-recruit remaining staff. Be highly visible and engaged with employee communication. This is the time to rerecruit remaining employees by reinforcing the support provided to those employees affected, and reaffirming the organization’s commitment to current staff. Enlist the help of employees so they can play a role in shaping the future. What are their hopes and concerns? What do they need to do their jobs well? Reassure them of their place with—and their value to—the organization to avoid losing them.
HR professionals need to be experts in conducting RIFs to ensure that the people affected are treated with respect and supported in making a smooth transition. When leaders handle the process well, they can also reinforce their commitment to remaining staff, and communicate the mission so that the organization continues to thrive.

First Published in Leadership Excellence www.leaderexcel.com

Elaine Varelas
Posted: 09/08/2010

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