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Layoffs – Eight Tips to Navigate Job Cuts with Empathy and Proactive Communications

Corporate downsizing: How to effectively manage layoffs with empathy and proactive change communications.

We’ve likely all witnessed how an employer brand can take a serious hit when this isn’t handled in the right way. While we spend an enormous amount of time ensuring a new hire has a very positive onboarding experience, it is just as important to ensure they feel respected during the offboarding process.  A few years ago, a friend of mine shared her unique layoff experience: One day half the company was asked to go to the nearby bar with no clarifying direction. Once there, no one knew what to do: How long should they stay there? Should they order a drink?…  There was zero communication, zero clarity. They started to wonder why certain individuals were not at the bar, and it dawned on them that anyone not at the bar was likely being let go. After about an hour of worry and confusion, they received a call to let them know it was “safe” to return to the office – where their layoff suspicions were confirmed. Now, I don’t recommend sending people to the bar as an effective change communications tactic, but ensuring people leave with their dignity is critical. 

Clarity is kind, especially during change. To minimize negative impact, prioritize these actions: 

Have a plan that’s proactive and empathetic in managing change impact

Engage and collaborate with #HR and Communications (before, during and after downsizing)

Show empathy and reassure those that have lost jobs that this is not their fault 

Let employees know the exact date layoff begins and how severance pay and benefits will be handled. The Stripe CEO was recently praised for doing this well. 

Offer and take action to promote outplacement support (via personal networking, recruiter assistance, recommendations, etc.)

Provide written clarification directly after the face-to-face announcement (personalized to each individual, if possible)

Anticipate employee concerns and answer all questions with transparency, detail and respect (ideally, with proactively created FAQ deliverable) 

Communicate the “why” and actively support remaining employees and people leaders (see note to lean on Internal Communications and HR expertise)

Culture is everything: handle with care

Just as important are the employees who are left behind. Unfortunately, in most cases, the employee may have been let go, but their work remains. Those who are left behind may experience guilt for keeping their jobs and are also expected to pick up the slack – increasing the risk for morale and retention fallout. In a Nov. 10 New York Times article, “Economic Picture Ahead is Dire, Elon Musk Tells Twitter Employees,” Elon Musk said remaining workers needed to be more “hard core” (😬) and that he planned to end the company’s remote worker policy. This same article mentioned that Musk had eliminated Twitter’s entire communications department. Reading the article was like reading a case study in what not to do: I can’t imagine there would be too many employees who would want to stay after this downsizing strategy.

We’re here to help

For all those who have recently been let go, we want to help. If you’re in the field of change management or communications, please connect. Our team would be happy to make recommendations and connections.
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Pivot Strategies is an award-winning, fast-growing change communications agency filled with an entire team who were Bred Corporate, Gone AgencyTM: We live our values and are always on the lookout for fun and talented professionals to join our team

And if you are one of the employees left behind post-downsizing and find yourself overwhelmed with change management and communications needs, please reach out for support. There is light at the end of the tunnel and we are here to help!

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