Is There a “Good” Way to Let Someone Go?

Letting an employee go can be a challenging situation for all parties involved, in terms of the emotional reaction and the logistics of the layoff. Many well-meaning employers make some common mistakes in the process that create undue stress on the individual impacted and the organization, which can ultimately hurt the company’s brand. It doesn’t have to be that way. Taking a few key steps in preparation for the notification and following a plan will provide a seamless transition.

Many employers think giving employees as much advanced notice of a layoff will be helpful. However, providing this information before there are proper support services in place can lead to confusion and frustration. When the employer doesn’t have information about the separated employee’s severance, benefits continuation, or outplacement support, there are more questions left unanswered than answered—and having complete information during notification is crucial. Having a complete transition plan in place minimizes stress for the employee rather than leaving fears lingering as he or she waits for more information to be provided. Employees not impacted don’t understand why the organization can’t support all employees more effectively.

These same well-meaning employers may also make promises they can’t keep. They offer help in the job search, or leads and connections, and when it is time to provide that support, their commitments are elsewhere—with remaining employees and running the company. Company representatives mean well; providing outplacement support services engages others to provide those valuable components of job search support.

When a layoff notification occurs without proper preparation or support, employees will feel let down twice. Being separated is difficult. Being separated and also feeling lost and unsupported or counting on uncertain future support leaves employees feeling betrayed by the organization and by management. So, what can organizations do to correct these common missteps? Extending an organizational commitment of professional support will show a past and potentially future valued relationship and allow the employee to appreciate the manager and the company.

It’s also wise to provide support services to your managers so they don’t feel solely responsible for the well-being of the employee before, during, and after separation. Ensure that managers understand their responsibilities and the importance of confidentiality, that they have a prepared message and can handle a range of responses, and that they commit to the timetable to notify employees only after the full support package is complete and in writing. Following the notification, managers need to hand off the employee to a professional to get support and plan for next steps.

Leaders with long-term relationships most often want to meet the employees face to face during separation notification. This can be a very positive practice, as long as the message is well controlled and focused on the impact on the employees, not the impact on the leader.

With any layoff, human resources needs to be at it’s very best. Compassionate professionalism is a must. Layoffs can certainly cause emotions to run high, but emotional outbursts in HR, such as crying in front of impacted employees, is unacceptable.

Whether laying off one employee or many, every action and plan impacting the employee needs to be taken into account. This will mean having outplacement professionals on site to support the employees, managers, and HR during this stressful time. Taking intentional, conscious steps to improve the notification process will not only benefit the separated employee but the organization as a whole.


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