Supporting Employees Through A Layoff

Post by
Brian Mooney
May 12, 2020

As the news of layoffs and rising unemployment claims are announced seemingly everyday, I can’t take my mind off how difficult it must be to go through this type of life event. Choosing to work at a company is one of the most important decisions someone can make in their lives. For most, being laid off from that company has a complex emotional component attached to it. Unfortunately, most people are just not equipped to think rationally and logically in difficult moments like this. I wasn’t equipped to handle situations like this until I learned a military framework, “what, so what, now what”. When something isn’t going the way I planned, I pause and think what is happening or what has happened, what does this mean, and how am I going to move forward or resolve this issue? After applying this framework to a few breakups, botched travel plans, and work situations, it starts to kick in automatically. This is a very rational and logical way to handle news like being laid off. But when you’re dealing with feelings you need to act compassionately and approach this process holistically.

While I have been involved in the lay off process, I’ve never made the decision to lay anyone off and I’ve never actually been laid off.  There are great articles that talk about how you should conduct a layoff with compassion and empathy. How to move swiftly and act respectfully, but there is little information about the tactical things you can do to help people through this transition. We are learning from companies who have botched this process like Bird and ones that have and the ones that have softened the blow like AirBnB. We as employers need to go beyond laying people off with compassion and provide support as they transition to unemployment and prepare to re-enter the job market.

For starters, everyone should be explaining the 'why' behind making the decision to furlough or lay anyone off. Every employee regardless of their role should hear this information directly from a human on a one-to-one basis. Once those two things happen, the focus should shift to helping these people through the transition. It’s this last part that I want to focus on because most companies are cutting ties once the employee has exited the building. Every company effectively should have a layoff program.

Keeping in mind that not everyone is going to react the same way, creating a layoff program that is flexible to each employee's needs is crucial. This off-boarding program should be based on setting employees up for success. I’ve broken this down into two major categories: Support and Communication.

Support:

Being laid off is initially shocking, even for people who may have seen it coming but were hoping for the best. It will ultimately disrupt their finances, daily structure, eating patterns and every other aspect of their life. Beyond what is federally required you need to offer resources that will help them through this transition period. Here are a few things you should consider offering:

Resume Review

If there’s one area you can help with immediately it is helping update employee resumes to speak to their experience and show future recruiters and hiring managers what they want to do in their next job.

References

Don’t make employees go around asking for resumes. Line up the best people to give a reference for future employment and ask them to draft a letter. Provide the best contact information so this will be available for when they need it.

Connect People

These people are leaving their work family, people that want to stay connected but often times don’t have personal emails or a way to connect outside of the company slack channel and email. Create a way for these people to stay connected. Open up a slack channel, start a facebook group, whatever makes the most sense for your company and allow them to stay connected.

Layoff Lists

Every company should be creating a layoff list or talent directory. This has been undoubtedly one of the most beneficial ways to help employees find their next job. Don’t take it from me.

Here is an idea from Josh Burke, Talent Acquisition Manager

I like that some startups have released lists shared on LinkedIn with information on folks who have been laid off. If a company made it totally opt in - and ensured that all laid off employees knew about it and chose what information to share about themselves - I think its a really valuable tool.

Schedule Check-ins

Some people just want to know that someone has got their back. Sometimes that means proactive outreach. Whether there are tactical things your team can help with or it’s just moral support, allowing former employees to schedule check-ins to ask questions can go along way emotionally.

Here are some other things you can do that can help your employees through this transition:

  • Provide career coaches
  • Help people set upLinkedIn or optimize their LinkedIn profile
  • Provide a job search stipend
  • Provide list of financial resources
  • Provide list of ways they can skill up
  • Provide list of freelance opportunities
  • Inform them of virtual career fairs and other opportunities
  • Provide them with personal branding opportunities promote through company channels

Communication:

Not everyone will respond to what you say. Some will need to see you follow up on your offers. If you offer to check-in weekly, you might need to take the first step and follow up with them the next week. Regardless, you need to meet them where they are and communicate things in a way that is meaningful to them. Here are a few tips on communicating well through this transition:

Get the manager involved

You need to leverage your relationships here. The manager probably has a better relationship with them than you and will have valuable input.

Over communicate

If you tell them verbally, put it in writing and vice versa. You cannot go wrong with over communicating in a situation like this because they might not hear you the first time.

Know how to follow up

Let them know you’ll be reaching out to them weekly and how they prefer you do that whether it be text, a call, email etc.

Whatever it is you're going to do and however it is you're going to do it, you need to follow through. Consider this a new part of your job. You need to dedicate time to work on this project. You don't need to be Airbnb to make that type of impact on someone as they navigate this process. Don’t let these people fall through the cracks. If you have other ideas that can help people through this transition please share them with me and I will update this article to include links. If you’ve been affected by a lay off or know someone who has been

If you are not laying people off or feel like you have a strong layoff program already, then now is a great time to set up an alumni network. Enter Josh again: “This is probably also a really good time for companies to really start evaluating their alumni systems. Now is the wrong time to implement something, but it is the right time to plan something new for the future so down the road you have your own database of folks you know were strong performers with your organization in the past that you are consistently staying in touch with. Most TA teams probably have the time right now to plot out what that would look like”.

If you have other great ideas to help people through this transition period please let us know in the comments or email me at brian@nextwavehire.com