The recent pandemic and the economic fallout, have put many of us in the position of having to make difficult decisions, including reducing staff. Even some managers who were in the business world during the 2008 financial meltdown, didn’t find themselves in the position of having to reduce staff. However, IF you do find yourself forced to have these challenging conversations, here are five things to do to make it as respectful and supportive as possible to the individual who is being impacted.
#1. Remember at all times, this is NOT about you. Even though I acknowledge it is not an easy conversation for either party, you are the one with a job and an income. The person on the receiving end of this news is the one who is being impacted. No matter how upset you feel, NEVER let these comments or others like it to cross your lips, “This is just as hard for me, (it isn’t)” or “I know how you feel (you don’t),” or “It will all work out for the best.” (it really might not). Even if you have been through a similar experience in your career, this is not the time to discuss your experience.
#2. Listen to connect and understand, not to defend, criticize or self-refer. Being laid off or furloughed can make someone feel unimportant, unseen and unwanted. Presenting them with the gift of listening is a way to make them experience being both seen and heard. Even if, as a manager, it was not your choice to lay off or furlough this particular individual, this is NOT the time to say, “It wasn’t my choice to do this.” It also isn’t the time to self-refer (see #1) and make this about the time you or a friend you know got laid off or furloughed. Listen. Own the decision. Period. Full stop.
#3 Acknowledge that the individual being laid off or furloughed likely stopped hearing or at least understanding what you said the moment the words, “I need to let you know you are being laid off (or furloughed)” passed your lips. So don’t insist on broadcasting all the information they will need. Ask them if they would like to hear that information now or later. Also have everything they will need to know (benefits continuation information, unemployment information, etc) in a hard copy and a digital format. Give them the information and offer to review it with them at a later time of their choice and even several times if they want. It is important to highlight the essentials – how long they are getting paid (or how much) and how long they will have benefits. Leaving them with the essentials will give them time to digest and come back with more specific questions. In addition, don't forget to get the individual's personal email for future correspondence.
#4 Be respectful. When it is a layoff or furlough for economic reasons, I am always astonished and dismayed when I hear of people being removed from all the systems during the conversation. How is it that the same person who only less than 24 hours earlier was trusted with brand information, access to databases and other resources is now at the top of your company’s Most Wanted List? People have egos, feelings and pride. Don’t trample those by the way you speak to them, work with them as they exit or how you talk about them once they’re gone. Ask them if they want to leave right away or stay for awhile to say their so longs, and gather their personal effects – allow them to make the decision.
#5 Don’t lay off or furlough someone unless you really have no choice. By this I am urging you as a business owner or manager to lobby for many of you feeling some pain (pay cuts, reduced work hours, etc) so that a smaller group don’t have to shoulder all the pain. However, I understand that sometimes there is no choice but to layoff or furlough employees. If that is the case, re-read this beginning with #1.