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Cut jobs, not people’s dignity

4 min read


Today’s guest post is from Brooke Howell, a business editor at SmartBrief.

In today’s economy layoffs are par for the course, so it didn’t surprise me that career columnist Lily Garcia received a couple of layoff-related questions in her How to Deal Live chat on What did surprise me is the lack of honesty and basic dignity the chatters’ employers were showing in the face of layoffs.

The first chatter reported that her company was making layoffs, but not telling anyone who had been let go. She would try for days to contact people about ongoing projects, only to find out later they had been fired.

A second chatter reported that his company’s HR department and upper-level management were falsely telling everyone that laid-off employees were terminated for “performance reasons.” He knew this because one of the workers involved had been under his management and was “fantastic.”

Garcia encouraged this chatter to speak with someone in the company’s senior leadership team because the behavior would “have a devastating long-term impact on the level of trust and morale among your organization’s employees.”

Her advice is right on target, but easier said than done, particularly when so many people are trying to avoid doing anything that might put their name on the list for the next round of layoffs. Since few of you out there reading have the power to lay me off, I want to stand up for people like this chatter and ask you to please think hard about the way you handle layoffs and try to do it in the gentlest, most transparent way possible.

On my last day at the job I left to come work at SmartBrief, they laid off five people from my division. It was upsetting for everyone, but I think the company’s leadership handled it about as well as anyone could. They gathered our division into a room and told us about the layoffs while the HR department was telling the people who were being let go. Here’s some pointers I took away from their handling of the situation:

  • Tell everyone at once. This eliminates the opportunity for rumors to start. Spare us the elementary school game of telephone.
  • Let all employees know who is being let go. It’s important to the business for people to know if someone vital to a project will no longer be showing up for work. Also, if people know who has been laid off from the start, there will be no need for them to waste time wondering and whispering about where their suddenly-absent colleagues have gone.
  • Let employees know what you are doing to take care of those who have been let go. You don’t need to — and probably shouldn’t — disclose details about severance packages, but it will help maintain your employees’ morale and faith in the company if they know you aren’t just dumping people with no support.
  • Let employees know that it’s okay to stay in touch. When layoffs happen, those who are staying may not know how to interact with those who have been let go. As long as it’s true, let them know that it’s okay to keep in touch with their former coworkers. This is a time when people need the support of friends.
  • Give people a chance to say goodbye. Allow the workers who are leaving time to clear out their desks and say goodbye to their friends and coworkers. This is kinder to everyone involved. It’s also less frightening to everyone who remains than if laid-off workers are whisked away as if by the KGB.

Image credit, iStock