How to Approach Handling Layoffs

November 18, 2015 by Meredith Brandt

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Layoffs are difficult to deal with, regardless of which side of the table you are sitting on. While being the receiver of bad news feels horrible, it may feel just as horrible to be the bearer of the news. A delicate subject to handle, terminations require immense preparation and understanding to be conducted successfully.


Conducting terminations successfully is crucial for many reasons. A poorly conducted layoff can reflect badly on your HR team or even you as an employer. Your company’s reputation may suffer. Internally, it also can alienate the employees who have survived the cuts. A company’s standing can be completely determined by how a layoff, large-scale or small, is handled.

In an anonymous interview with CNET, the CEO of a large web company spoke about having to make cuts, saying, “We wanted to invest enough time in this to make sure we were making the right moves, that it was the right degree, and that we were structuring the company appropriately, and weren’t just thinking of this in a one-dimensional way, which is ‘how do we cut people?’”

The most important piece of advice across sources and experts is this: prepare and take the time to do it right. Establishing criteria and goals for the decision-making process is crucial, but so is how the news is actually delivered. Make sure everyone involved is ready to handle the process and has been prepped as to how to deal with a variety of reactions and outcomes; the largest (and most harmful) mistakes occur when the situation is rushed or not fully prepared for.

Compassion, clarity, and communication are three of the most important factors in dealing with layoffs. You must:

  • be ready to handle the person-by-person reactions of those facing layoffs. Tracy Benson, founder and CEO of business consultancy On the Same Page, said professionals must “recognize the impact that losing a job can have on people—economic, emotional, and psychological.” Empathy plays an important role, from the decision-making process to dealing with the aftermath.
  • lay out the facts. Losing your job is overwhelming and disorienting, so being explicit is crucial to upholding the situation. Clarity may come in different forms but it is always a necessary component to a layoff.
  • understand how to communicate changes in the workforce to all Communication must exist with management, with those who are being terminated, with surviving employees, and even with those who seemingly may not be affected. Everyone should be notified so as to keep the entire company running as unhindered as possible after the change.

The CEO from the CNET interview also talked about following up with his ex-employees, explaining how he did try to make sure the laid-off workers were finding opportunities elsewhere. He said, “There’s only so much we can do, but we do think it’s important.” (Outplacement programs can be incorporated in such situations, guaranteeing the most effective possible transitions of cut employees into their next jobs.)

Meredith Brandt

Meredith Brandt

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