No employer plans to let go of staff. Yet, as businesses look to shore up their finances ahead of difficult times, cutting personnel has become an unfortunate last resort for many. From tech giants like Meta and Google to neighborhood mom-and-pop stores, thousands of businesses across the US have already been forced to reduce headcounts this year, and experts don't expect this trend to buck anytime soon.
Dismissing an employee is never going to be easy, especially if they're high performers that have been with your company for years. However, there are several steps employers can take to ensure impacted workers feel considered, dignified, and prepared for their future steps.
With the help of CEOs and HR experts, this article distills the best way to break bad news, in five, easy-to-follow steps. We also note what not to do when laying off staff, to keep potential fallout to a minimum.
After you've already decided which staffers you need to let go, keep the transition smooth with these five steps.
Stage 1: Collect relevant paperwork
Laying off staff tends to be laced with bureaucracy, so getting your ducks in a row by having all paperwork and resources readily available should help you to feel prepared before heading into the meeting.
Depending on your circumstances and the state you operate within, this paperwork could include an official termination notice, a final paycheck, a Health Insurance Premium Payment (HIPP) notice, and Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) paperwork. You should also gather any resources that can assist with this transition, including any outplacement assistance your company may offer, from job search support to career coaching and counseling.
Stage 2: Establish a time and a place
Employers may want to notify staff about their termination as soon as possible to get it out of the way. However, selecting when and where to lay off your employee is almost as important as how you choose to execute it.
If you're able to arrange a meeting with the worker in person, get them by themselves and find a private place to talk. According to the CEO of Mattress Next Day, Martin Seely, it's best to seek out a meeting room on neutral grounds, too. This is because by hosting the meeting outside of your office and their workplace, it's easy for the impacted employee to leave the office discreetly if they choose to.
“Choose a neutral location such as a conference room or office that isn't associated with the employee's current team or job function, if possible.” – Martin Seeley CEO of Mattress Next Day
There's no ideal time to terminate members of your team, but a day in the middle of the week (Tuesday to Thursday), that doesn't interfere with major deadlines, is the best time to deliver the news. Monday and Friday tend to be controversial options, as finding out you've lost your job on these days can set an employee's work week or weekend off to a bad start.
Finally, to avoid ruining their time off, you shouldn't inform the affected parties when they're on vacation. However, expectations can be made “in urgent situations or short vacations” and company needs can also be considered, according to employment expert and CEO of Voddler, Robbie Baskins.
Have you just been made redundant yourself? We offer some emotional and practical guidance for those who have been laid off too.
Stage 3: Prepare yourself mentally
After you've collected relevant paperwork and nailed the logistics, give yourself some time to familiarize yourself with the situation.
Conducting lay offs is hard for both parties involved, but by trying to put yourself in their shoes, it'll be easier to approach the conversation empathetically and sensitively address any queries or concerns they may have.
“Employers should prepare themselves emotionally for the termination discussion. Practice delivering bad news with empathy and sensitivity, anticipating the employee's possible inquiries and reactions.” – Andy Flynn, Director of HR and employment at SpryLyfe
It's best to not deliver the news off the cuff, either. If you're working from a script, then practice reading it through by yourself or with someone else you're managing the process with. By becoming acquainted with the script, preparing for unexpected emotional responses, and anticipating potential questions ahead of time, you maximize your chances of the meeting going smoothly.
Stage 4: Communicate clearly and compassionately
When the day finally comes, be as direct as you can. Making small talk and dancing around the topic will only put off the inevitable. We'd recommend ripping the band-aid off straight away by telling them they're being let go at the start of the meeting. Then, explain why you've come to the decision, that it's happened through reasons outside of their control, and give them a clear overview of their next steps.
“By treating employees with dignity and respect, and acknowledging their contributions, you can help soften the blow and show that their well-being is a priority.” – Jessica Bane, Director of Business Operations at GoPromotional
Being laid off can be a huge blow to someone's self-esteem, so to keep the process dignified, you should be as honest and transparent as possible, point them in the direction of emotional support, acknowledge their hard work, and give them space to voice their feedback. Remember to point out useful resources and offer a positive reference too, to help them feel as prepared as possible for the future.
Stage 5: Follow up
The lay off process doesn't end after you've delivered the news. Being laid off can trigger a range of emotional reactions for impacted staffers, so instead of cutting and running, employers should make a continued effort to check in with their well-being.
According to HR expert Raimonds Lauzums, management should also provide them with a support system where affected employees can “connect, share experiences, and support each other can create a sense of community and foster resilience”. This could take multiple forms, including in-person group counseling sessions, or online networks.
“Losing a job can be emotionally overwhelming, and providing a support system can help employees cope with the impact and navigate their next steps.” – Raimonds Lauzums HR expert and CEO of Poggers
Employers shouldn't forget about the lasting impact lay offs have on surviving teams either. In the wake of redundancies, it's common for workers left behind to experience guilt, anger, and uncertainty. Studies reveal that almost three-quarters of surviving workers become less productive as well, so conducting regular check-ins, asking for feedback, and prioritizing worker well-being can benefit the company as a whole.
What Not To Do When Laying Off Workers
Now we've told you what steps you should be taking when letting go of staff, here are some tropes to avoid.
This experience will be hard for all parties involved, so there's no point in dragging it out. Making small talk or waffling won't soften the blow, it'll only prolong feelings of anxiety and confusion.
Therefore, keep the meeting as short as possible and breach the topic as early as you can.
Don't outsource the task
As an employer, it's your responsibility to do the dirty work yourself. While it's recommended to have another member of management or HR in the room or video call with you, odds are you're the best person to answer any tricky questions that may arise.
Moreover, offloading the task will only show a lack of respect towards your college and the impacted worker.
Avoid video calls if possible
In 2021 the CEO of Better.com fired 900 workers in a one-way Zoom call. While some hybrid and remote companies will have no choice but to let go of workers via video call, this is a stand-out example of how not to carry out redundancies.
If you absolutely have to deliver the news remotely we'd recommend scheduling a separate call for each employee and following up the meeting with an official termination letter.
Definitely avoid emails and instant messenger
This really should go without saying, but if you're considering firing members of your team via email or workplace communication platforms like Slack or Asana — don't.
While it doesn't currently violate any federal laws, sacking a worker over a message is the equivalent of dumping someone over text. It's cold, disrespectful, and will guarantee the departure will be on bad terms.
However, there are a number of actions you can take to make the process as dignified as possible, including being mindful of where and when you break the news, keeping your style of communication direct yet compassionate, and following up the conversation with useful resources and avenues for support.
It's important to not be too hard on yourself, either. While those making cuts are often made to feel like villains, lay offs emotionally impact all involved. Therefore, practicing self-care and looking after your own mental well-being will help you to handle the process as efficiently and sensitively as possible.