How To Handle Layoffs With Compassion

Rachel McLoughlin

No matter how great the workplace, layoffs can be hard to avoid at organisations large and small. However, having to let an employee go is no easy task for any leader in any organisation. It can be an unpleasant and upsetting experience for both the employee being laid off and for those who have to be the ones to deliver the bad news. It’s critical then that this news is delivered in the most tactful and compassionate way possible and dealt with appropriately in the aftermath.

So what steps can you take to make sure you are handling employee layoffs with the utmost compassion?

Maintain open and honest communication

For any organisation, transparency is vital during times of uncertainty. Some employees may take the news better than others, but a guarantee is that they will have questions. If you are an organisation who has worked hard to maintain a high level of trust among its employees, you probably know your employees well, and will be able to anticipate these questions and what their needs will be for the future. Being able to communicate as best you can what the next steps are as well as being honest with them (as much as possible) as to the reasons for the layoff will be appreciated.

The key to this is delivering the news on a human level - put yourself in their shoes. Using business jargon and evading getting to the point will only serve to make the experience worse for the employee as it can cause confusion and prolong the already unpleasant process. Treat them with the respect they deserve after putting in the work for your organisation for the last number of months or years.


Treat laid-off employees with dignity

This is, of course, the bare minimum. But due to the nature of layoffs and how uncomfortable they can be, it’s not uncommon for managers to want to cut corners and have the process entirely dealt with by HR. It goes without saying that in doing this, you are showing your employees - both those who are being laid off and those who will remain - that you don't respect them enough to deliver the news yourself. In terms of delivering the news, if your organisation operates in a hybrid working space, unless absolutely impossible to do so, make sure this conversation is had in person – nothing shows a lack of respect for an employee more than contract termination via Zoom or phone call.

This is someone’s livelihood, somewhere they have potentially spent months or years of their life – they are naturally going to be thrown and upset by the news and it may be difficult to absorb the information straight away. The employee will likely not want to stick around the office after and need the time to process their emotions and react to the news. In the case of any redundancy packages or follow-up information needed on your side, it’s important to let them know they can take the time to review their options and follow up with you once they have. 

More resources on this topic:

Support your management team

It's important to remember that layoffs can be a stressful time for managers too - so don’t just instruct your managers to layoff X amount of people and leave them to it. They will appreciate feeling supported on what is naturally going to be an unpleasant process for everyone involved. Make sure you take the time to prepare those who will be delivering the news, providing training on how to answer certain questions and how to deal with responses and pushback in the aftermath.  Think of it like a ripple effect – if your leaders feel fully equipped to deliver the news, the better they will be at being able to be there for the employees they are letting go.

This can be the case for the aftermath of layoffs too. Your managers may have had to let go employees they have worked with and got to know for years – that’s not something you get over the second the employee walks out of the room. Meet regularly with senior managers to acknowledge the tough decisions made and talk through how best to move forward. For further support, you could call in experts in grief or resiliency training, or even create a forum for leaders and HR to talk about employee reactions and how to answer difficult questions. 

Offer extended support

Everyone knows this will be a difficult time for those laid off going forward, and as a company, the best thing you can do is offer some guidance. After all, these are people who have worked for you for many months or years – you should want them to succeed in whatever path they take next. Career transition counselling, assistance with programs such as unemployment benefits and new job retraining, introductions to other local employers hiring and written and verbal references are all great ways to support your employees in their next endeavour.


New call-to-action

Engage with current employees

Layoffs can be a time of confusion and upset even for employees remaining at your company. After all, the employees who left were their colleagues and friends. Morale may be low and a lack of trust and feeling of overall uncertainty is not uncommon following layoffs, especially ones on a companywide scale. This is why how you handle these layoffs are crucial to maintaining trust with your remaining employees.

Since remaining employees may now be picking up extra work, consider increasing support to ensure employees have the resources they need. Remaining employees may also feel uncertainty regarding their own future at your company. They may harbour concerns and fears that in turn could affect their productivity levels. This is why maintaining open and honest communication is vital - be sure to be candid about the company's future and detail how the layoff will affect remaining employees.


If you have experienced being laid off recently, feel free to subscribe to our monthly newsletter and receive the latest HR and Culture job vacancies from Great Place to Work.


About Great Place to Work®

Great Place to Work® is the global authority on workplace culture. We help organisations quantify their culture and produce better business results by creating a high-trust work experience for all employees. We recognise Great Place to Work-Certified™ companies and the Best Workplaces™ in more than 60 countries. To join the thousands of companies that have committed to building high-trust company cultures that help them attract, retain and take care of their people, contact us about getting Certified today.