How to Help Your Laid-Off Employees

Many companies will likely go through a period of layoffs. Here’s how to communicate this change to your workforce and what you should be prepared with.

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How to Help Your Laid-Off Employees

Here's what you need to know:

  • Handle the communication of layoffs professionally and with care
  • Come prepared with information about severance and employment benefits
  • Maintain contact with your laid-off staff (when appropriate, and only if they want)
  • Offer transitional support in the form of coaching, partnering with recruiters, and sharing your network
  • Don’t forget about your existing workforce and the impact layoffs might have on them

Many news outlets have been reporting about job vacancy surpluses, with more openings than unemployed people (or people looking for work). The Great Resignation is still in full swing, and companies seem to be having trouble filling open positions.

But it’s not all roses in the job market for employees, especially those working in the technology sector. Many firms are experiencing mass layoffs. In July, Shopify announced they’d be laying off 10% of their staff. This year alone, Netflix laid off hundreds of employees.

Many companies will likely go through a period of having to lay people off from their workforce. If you’re an HR professional in one of these companies, there are many things you can do to help ease your people’s transition after layoffs.

As a people-first company, you can help your employees with this change, especially since they’ve dedicated their time, energy, and effort. All of these factors contributed to your organization’s success.

Below we outline how to communicate this change to your workforce. We also outline what you should be prepared with. This includes severance, career resources, and transitional support.

Handle the communication of layoffs professionally and with care

Being laid off can be life-changing. Aside from the obvious financial losses, it can cause anxiety and depression. When laying off part of your workforce, it should be done with empathy and dignity. This looks like:

  • Maintaining communication with your people: You can keep in touch on LinkedIn, and provide references in the future. More on this below.
  • Being mindful of your timing: Some people believe it’s best to avoid Friday afternoon layoffs in case the person needs a few business days to speak to HR or get in touch with their health professional.
  • Be very well-prepared for the conversation: This means being ready for questions, and setting aside adequate time for the discussion.
  • Remain professional: This looks like having the conversation face-to-face (when possible), being direct, and being thorough when explaining how the company came to this decision.

It’s also key to show high levels of empathy throughout the layoff process. As an HR professional, you were likely the person to welcome them on their first day. Showing that you care about their transition out of the company is equally important.

Come prepared with information about severance and employment benefits

After being laid off, the first thing most people fear is financial insecurity. You should come to the meeting prepared with severance information, and be prepared to answer any compensation questions. If possible, your company should offer generous severance.

Of course, companies conducting layoffs due to financial losses usually cannot accommodate more than the typical “2 weeks per year worked” severance. That being said, severance should be a balance between what your company can afford, and giving your people what they deserve.

Moreover, providing generous severance will help you down the line if you’re able to bring these people back in the future!

You should also be ready to answer any questions around what employment benefits are applicable to them. For example, laid-off employees qualify for different benefits than employees who are fired with cause.

Maintain contact with your laid-off staff when appropriate

Related to the above is ensuring you remain in contact with the people you laid off. You can connect with them on LinkedIn, or check in via email after a few weeks. For strong performers, you could also write them an endorsement on LinkedIn. Some employees may not wish to stay in touch, so you’ll need to be sensitive to that.

In many cases, layoffs are a financially-driven decision, rather than being due to poor employee performance. So another way to stay in touch could be to send them other internal opportunities they might be a good fit for, even if it wasn’t their former job.

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Offer transitional support to laid-off workers

Perhaps the most useful thing you can do for your laid-off workers is offer them professional support. Below are some ways you can help your employees:

  • Provide resources and coaching: Resources might include training on cover letter writing, helping them update their CV, or hosting training sessions that could help them navigate the job market.
  • Extend your professional network: Put your workers in touch with people and companies in your network that are currently hiring. As an HR professional, you likely know other people working in people ops, HR, or recruiters. You can introduce them to recruiters, even if they’re not directly in your field.

This transitional support can also be part of your severance plan, as an employer-funded benefit. It demonstrates that you care about their well-being during this stressful time, and not just while they’re producing work for you.

Their well-being should be prioritized, even after you’ve decided to part ways with them.

Their well-being should be prioritized, even after you’ve decided to part ways with them. This also leaves a positive impact on them, especially if you plan on rehiring some of them in the future.

Don’t forget about the impact on your existing workforce

After company-wide layoffs, your existing staff will need support. Even though they’re still employed, a lot of complicated feelings come with seeing colleagues being laid off.

For starters, there’s a good chance you have fewer people now responsible for more work. They may feel overwhelmed.

On the flip side, maybe there’s not much work to go around (perhaps the reason for the layoffs). Your existing people are feeling anxious about their own job security.

Moreover, there’s a good chance they’ll feel both grief, and “survivor’s guilt” if they weren’t part of the layoff cohort.

Some ways to help your remaining employees through this include:

  • Acknowledging their grief: It’s important to recognize how your people are feeling after some of their closest colleagues (and friends) were laid off.
  • Be visible: Employees were 72% less likely to report a productivity decrease in companies where leaders are seen as visible, approachable, and candid.
  • Open communication: This might look like a meeting to explain what the new organizational structure will look like. It could also look like having one-on-one meetings with employees.
  • Cancel any unnecessary meetings: During stressful times, the last thing people want to do is be sitting in a meeting that could have been an email, especially if employees are picking up more work post-layoffs.

Focus on your people, all the way through until the end

Being laid off is sure to create stress and anxiety for your workforce. That includes remaining staff who didn’t lose their jobs. It also doesn’t mean you leave your laid-off employees high and dry. There are steps you can take as an HR manager to ease the transition for everyone.

For those who were part of the layoffs you can provide support in many ways. Those range from financial severance to career training and access to your professional network.

For your remaining workforce, you can help them through their survivors’ guilt. You can accomplish this by being open, transparent, and available to them.

It’s also key to show sensitivity to your former employees in your online presence. This means that you should probably hold off on posting about lavish company parties, retreats, or record profits.

Of course, companies with a board and stakeholders might want to appease them by showing profitability. However, be mindful of how and when that message is communicated.

At the end of the day, these are people who dedicated their time and effort to your company. They contributed to your company’s success. As a people-first operation, their well-being should remain a priority all the way from hiring until you’ve made the difficult decision to part ways with them.

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