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LAYOFFS

How do we tell our employees we are laying off some of them?

By Lynne Curry

As the economy takes a new twist, the talk in many work sectors is turning from staffing shortages to coming layoffs. If this is the case for your law office, here are some things to think about:

Consider alternatives

Have you considered all the alternatives your company has to layoffs? Could you reduce hours or salaries for a larger number of employees? If you transition from a five-day workweek to a four-day workweek, you can cut payroll by 20 percent. If you offer employees five weeks of vacation annually, of which two are paid, many of your employees may see this as a perk and that can thin your ranks. Have you asked your employees for cost-cutting ideas? Or, it is too late, and layoffs are your only solution? If so, review how you chose who to lay off. Was it last-in, first out? Merit-based? You’ll need to explain your selection criteria if your decisions get challenged.

The layoff meeting

To the extent possible, conduct layoff meetings in a private office, in person and individually. Treat each employee with respect and empathy. For your remote employees, have your HR officer or the manager closest to the employee videoconference the employee individually. You’ll say something such as, “I’m sorry to tell you we’ve made the difficult decision to eliminate your position. Because we don’t have another position to offer you, we need to lay you off.”

Don’t wing these meetings but prepare for each one with a list of talking points so you don’t forget to provide crucial information your employee needs. Direct, employee-centered communication works best. Let each employee know the amount of severance you plan to provide and give them details about their insurance—whether it’s to the end of the month or available to them via Cobra. Because your employee is the one losing their job, don’t talk about how difficult the meeting is for you, and don’t discuss the employee’s negative performance if the reason for the layoff is downsizing.

Prepare for any questions your employee might have and hand them an individualized letter of reference, along with information on any outplacement assistance you’ll offer. For example, some organizations allow employees resume writing and job-hunting coaching. Give your employee a written notice of layoff, along with enough time to read it during the meeting. Thank each employee for their service. Each laid off employee will remember how you treat them, and many will tell their former coworkers their views of you.

Prepare as well for your employee’s emotions. Some employees cry, others get angry. Allow your employee to express their emotions. Listen and be compassionate, rather than reactive.

Retained employees

From what you’ve said, these layoffs will shock your workforce and make them wonder what might happen to them or your company. Let your employees know why you made the layoff decisions during an all-hands meeting, but don’t discuss why you laid off one employee and not another.

Allow your employees to ask questions, so you can give them as much reassurance as possible. If you straight-forwardly communicate your company’s financial position, you’ll squelch rumors.

In the next four weeks, communicate individually with each retained employee. Layoff survivors have emotions. Listen. You’ll likely be relying on them to take on more work and not immediately search for new jobs. Recognize their efforts and thank them. Let your employees know the future you envision, your company’s progress toward it, and invite them to ask questions and offer suggestions. In other words, invite your employees to be part of the solution. You need them.

Lynne Curry, PhD, SPHR, SHRM-SCP and author of Managing for Accountability, Business Experts Press, 2021; Beating the Workplace Bully, AMACOM 2016, and Solutions, is President of Communication Works, Inc. and founder of www.workplacecoachblog.com, which offers more than 500 articles on topics such as leadership, COVID, management, HR, and personal and professional development.  Curry has qualified in Court as an expert witness in Management Best Practices, HR and Workplace issues. You can reach her at https://workplacecoachblog.com/ask-a-coach/ or follow her @lynnecurry10 on twitter.


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