Best Practices for Communicating Layoffs

Layoffs are hard but can be done effectively


Kayla Ambrose , Fri 15 December 2023
Communicating layoffs to employees is a tough situation that requires considerable thought and compassion. Layoffs can have a dramatic effect on the organization and steps must be taken to help preserve workplace culture when relaying such changes. When informing employees about these difficult decisions, creating a strong communication plan can assist in lessening the emotional turmoil resulting from layoffs. 

Here are 4 steps to developing a strong initial communication plan: 

  1. Be Transparent
Employee response to layoffs is largely determined by the perceived fairness and transparency utilized throughout the decision-making and communication processes. Clear messaging regarding why the decision was made, alternative solutions considered, and the future of the organization will help prevent employees from creating their assumptions. Increased transparency works to build trust with employees and reduces damage to company morale. 

2. Include Employees in the Process
During the process of determining layoffs, all possible solutions are often exhausted prior to reaching a decision. However, if appropriate include employees from all levels in identifying solutions. Motivations for layoffs are most often to take cost cutting measures.  Engaging with employees to gather feedback and consider alternative areas to reduce costs can help empower employees and increase collaboration. Inclusion within the problem-solving process also helps to gain a better understanding of the process that was utilized to come to the solution of laying off employees. 

3. Consider Word Choice
An important, but often overlooked, consideration is word choice. Being sensitive to nuances will avoid a negative tone. Phrases that sound voluntary such as “leaving” or euphemisms like “restructuring” detract from the situation at hand and can diminish the hard work contributed by the employees who are laid off. Consider the feelings of the employees who are being let go and develop a tone that is sensitive to these emotions. 

4. Consistent Messaging
Regardless of whether a message is intended solely for employees, information may get leaked to media outlets or other outside sources. When developing internal and external messages, messaging should be consistent. Conflicting information will increase confusion and cause distrust among stakeholders. All messages should be crafted with the idea that any stakeholder may see the information. Additionally, all stakeholders should be addressed when communicating the news of layoffs. Since, likely, all stakeholders will eventually hear about the layoffs, creating specific content for each audience can ensure that no group of stakeholders is left out of the loop

Transparency, inclusion, word choice consideration, and consistency are key elements that can guide the communication process across all stakeholders. Since employees are personally being impacted by layoffs, increased consideration of how to approach communication with this group of stakeholders is vital. Whether the employee is being laid off or one of their peers is being let go, all employees will feel the effects of the organizational change.  

When communicating with laid-off employees and remaining employees, here are some important considerations to best support both groups: 

Support Laid Off Employees: 
  • Individualize the Process
Conducting one-on-one meetings with laid-off individuals is an empathetic approach to communicating the difficult news. Individual meetings communicate respect for the employees who are laid off and serve as an opportunity to support their emotional needs. During this time, laid-off employees can feel heard and ask questions that will help them get a better understanding of reasoning and future steps. 

  • Share Support Resources
When initially receiving the news that they are laid off, employees may not fully process the news and may have questions they fail to ask during the individual meeting. Providing additional support resources for employees following these meetings is a key way to address concerns and continue to demonstrate empathy. Support resources may include a contact within the company that can be used to answer further questions regarding the layoffs or details about benefits and severance packages.  

Address Remaining Employees: 
  • Clarify Effects Going Forward
While layoffs are particularly difficult for employees losing their jobs, the remaining employees also endure emotional hardship. The remaining employees are tasked with the ramifications of the layoffs and will need to navigate the new environment. Providing specific operational changes that will be implemented can help to reduce the uncertainty for remaining employees. 
 
  • Recognize Productivity May Decrease 
Following layoffs, it is common for teams to work at a lower capacity. This lower productivity can result from increased workloads for remaining employees as well as the emotional toll from losing team members. While it may seem effective to continue to motivate employees to work at 100% efficiency, allowing employees time and space to grieve these changes will provide more significant benefits. Allowing time for positive adjustments to change will work to strengthen employee morale and engagement as they will be able to better process these changes. 

  • Assure No More Layoffs
When undergoing layoffs, there will be increased fear of future layoffs for the organization. While assuring there won’t be future layoffs certainly shouldn’t be done if there are plans for continued layoffs, if there aren’t plans for additional layoffs that should be communicated to the remaining employees. It is natural for employees to stress about their jobs when they see peers losing their jobs. Offering support to team members through open communication and availability for questions can help ease the minds of remaining employees. 

Anytime a company has to lay off employees there are a lot of hardships. Ultimately, effective communication with all stakeholders is important to best navigate the changing environment. While layoffs have many negative implications on the employees leaving the company, consistency, honesty, and empathy must be utilized through all phases of communication to prevent the company image from being damaged and best guide the company toward future success.  



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