How to Handle Layoffs

March 9, 2018 Todd Davis

There is no easy way to lay off employees, nor should there be. Layoffs are a very emotional and sensitive subject. I don’t know any organization that hasn’t, or at some point, won’t go through them. All organizations hopefully experience growth. And over time, we all also experience downturns or restructures and reasons why we have to layoff.

Layoffs are different from terminations or firings based on performance issues. In a layoff, a good person is being let go because of restructure or a situation which they had nothing to do with.

I was once laid off very early in my career. To this day, it was one of the most frightening situations I’ve ever been through. I was a young father, I had people relying on me. Looking back, it’s interesting how one of the most stressful situations in my life has become a valuable professional asset.

It has become valuable because I always remember that experience, and the way it affected me, whenever I sit down with someone who is going to be losing their position. Before I say anything to them, I go right back to how I felt and I remember the fear and concern. It helps me to deliver the message in a compassionate and empathic way.

That’s the mindset I try to have, to make sure I am seeing this person as a person. They’ve got worries and concerns. Whether they have a family or not, they have financial obligations and they have their pride and their ego. By understanding those things before the conversation even begins, I can truly empathize with the person, not just sympathize.

I always avoid the phrase, ‘I know how you feel’. Even though I was once laid off , we all experience things differently, and I really don’t know how you feel. No one does. But I do like to share that I was laid off once and I remember it being one of the scariest times in my life. I also let them know that while it doesn’t mean much now, good things happen and that a layoff can often become the catalyst for good things ahead.  

However you go about having a layoff conversation, it’s critically important that it be sincere. Having to lay people off can be one of the most emotionally taxing aspects of being in Human Resources. It’s also important to remember that no matter how emotionally challenging it is for you to hold the conversation, it pales in comparison to what the person being laid off is feeling. By remembering that, you can better empathize sincerely and truly help them through the experience.

Each organization handles layoffs differently. I’ve always worked for organizations that are very mindful of people being laid off. Some of the things we do include:

  • Offering a severance package
  • Checking in with them week-to-week after they’ve left
  • Helping them network
  • Helping them get interviews

There are many considerate and compassionate ways companies can help people who are being laid off. Every company has their own rules and practices, but the best are those who don’t lose sight of the person the day after they’ve been laid off. In most cases, people who feel supported land on their feet sooner than they ever thought they would. 

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About the Author

Todd Davis

Todd Davis has over 30 years of experience in human resources, training and training development, executive recruiting, sales, and marketing. Todd is currently a member of the FranklinCovey Executive Team where he serves as the Chief People Officer. He is also a bestselling author with two books to his credit, Get Better: 15 Proven Practices to Build Effective Relationships at Work and Talent Unleashed: 3 Leadership Conversations for Tapping the Unlimited Potential of People.

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