How to handle layoffs with empathy

13 December 2022  |   7 minutes read
An office team that may be subject to layoffs

Unfortunately, the UK falling into a recession increases the possibility that you may need to reduce headcount. This extremely difficult process is affecting a range of businesses, including large firms. Google, Meta and Twitter have let tens of thousands of employees go, for example.

It’s never easy. Not for you and certainly not for the affected workers. The role of deciding who to make redundant, alongside the necessary processes, falls typically on the shoulders of finance teams.

It is a huge responsibility. You are dealing with people’s livelihoods. As well as damaging material wellbeing, being laid off can have a long-standing negative impact on the self-esteem of individuals.

While the compliance process for how to do this can be followed through sequential steps (and will be covered in a companion piece to this post), you’ll also need to deal with soon-to-be departing employees empathetically.

Doing this will minimize the negative mental health impacts. It’s also good business. Former employees may become future customers. Or could even rejoin the company one day.

Establish an alumni network

An alumni network is an easy act of goodwill. A network lets you keep in touch with departed employees and inform them of company developments. Membership is, it goes without saying, optional.

Large consulting companies do this very effectively. The Deloitte Alumni Network is an online portal comprising over 20,000 former employees. The platform provides two-way opportunities for the company to dispense relevant information about recent developments and for alumni to showcase their work and make new connections.

The alumni network also allows Deloitte to showcase their latest vacancies, to tempt back departed staff into new roles or act as a cheap and powerful referral engine that taps into a wider referral network. A semi-regular newsletter is also emailed to members to engage with individuals who are not in the habit of logging in to the platform.

Help employees find new work

Being proactive in helping employees find new work can minimize any potential disruption.

This should include the C-suite being transparent about any company restructuring. Some recent examples include personal messages on social media about their business’s change of direction, endorsing the high quality of departing staff, and earmarking specific functions that have been downsized.

You’ll need to be careful with the messaging and articulate this as a sustainable growth strategy to minimize potential reputational damage. Employees shouldn’t be explicitly named, but an email address should be set up and shared for interested employers to reach out on.

Provide coaching and support

Getting laid off can have long-term effects on people’s mental health. While decisions are made with the needs of the business in mind, individuals will often take this personally. Coaching, counselling and other support can help.

Employees are likely to be more trusting of external consultants due to their independence. So this service should be outsourced wherever possible.

There are now a number of specialist coaches available who provide support services related to dealing with the mental process of dealing with redundancy. These coaches can also put a plan in place to find new work for those lacking motivation.

This can be framed positively as an opportunity for individuals to learn new skills and pivot their careers to something they are more passionate about. Or something that fits in better with their lifestyle.

Go above compliance requirements for redundancy remuneration

While employees who have built up two years of service will be entitled to a redundancy package, those who don’t have employment rights are not legally entitled to anything.

This is obviously hugely frustrating for someone who just recently joined your company. Especially those who were headhunted from a long-standing role they were in previously.

In these circumstances, make a financial gesture beyond your legal requirements. For example, this could be a couple of weeks of their salary or a token amount such as £1000. It’s not much, but it is an actual, material token of support.

Additionally, if you are reducing your headcount, you may have excess IT equipment that the business no longer needs. Things like monitors or office chairs. These things may be valued by those leaving. Giving this away is a negligible cost for your business. Especially if the equipment is already a few years old and has been written off.

Put empathy first

Being laid off in your career is becoming increasingly common, irrespective of how talented employees are.

There’s no joy in layoffs. Particularly for those affected. But there are at least a few things you can do (financially, emotionally and professionally) that can mitigate the worst effects.

Never throw workers to the wolves. It’s wrong to do this, of course, but it’s also bad business practice. The people being laid off can be clients one day, or return to the business one day. Most people, eventually, accept the decision is not personal – but only if you act in a way that confirms this idea.

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