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How to Communicate to Your Team About Layoffs

April 16, 2020 • Covid-19 Resources • Written by Nextdoor Editorial Team
Business owner communicates to team about layoffs

How to Communicate to Your Team About Layoffs

Informing staff that layoffs are going to take place can be one of the most difficult things a manager will have to do during their career. As businesses across the globe struggle to cope with the effects that COVID-19 is having on their ability to keep workers employed, understanding how to communicate layoffs has never been more important for authority figures across all industries. 

If you’re a manager or business owner in the unfortunate situation of having to discuss layoffs with your staff, we understand the gravity of your situation. Here, we’ll overview the do’s and don’ts of communicating layoffs to employees, and provide a step-by-step process that will prepare you for the discussion on the day-of. 


Communicating Layoffs: The Do’s and Don’ts 

Communicating layoffs is hard. The process is not only tremendously sensitive to those who are losing their job but can also have a lasting impact on the business if not handled correctly.

From alienating your remaining employees to potentially sparking a lawsuit, mismanaged layoffs can cause headaches that could cripple your business. To ensure that your layoff process goes as smoothly as possible, reference the following do’s and don'ts to keep your company safe and operational moving forward. 


DO preempt layoffs by communicating the state of the company to staff 

In business, transparency breeds a culture of trust. So, to ensure that your staff is prepared for potential layoffs, communicate with your staff about the state of your company. 

Layoffs should not come as a complete surprise to staff. If they do, then you’re likely doing something wrong. Your staff should, at the very least, know that layoffs are in the cards before any decision is made at the management level. 

Of course, that does not translate into rumors or gossip. Instead, your company should have a transparent process for communicating the state of the business. Here are some ideas that you should begin implementing well in advance of any layoffs:

  • If the company is in trouble, then your employees should know it. In fact, your employees should be aware of the performance of the business whether you are struggling or succeeding. Status updates should take place quarterly and include all employees – from interns all the way up to the CEO. 
  • Plan layoffs in advance. Proceeding with layoffs should not be a decision that is made suddenly. In fact, sudden layoffs will leave your remaining employees upset and unmotivated. By planning ahead and communicating the issue with HR, your staff will be better prepared if you need to make tough decisions. 
  • Provide a blueprint for getting on track. If you’re considering layoffs, you should also be providing employees with a detailed account of what has gone wrong and how you plan on getting the company back on track. If you don’t explain why layoffs are being considered and what can be done to mitigate further issues, your business will not be in a position to recover. 


DO discuss layoffs in-person, respectfully

Whether you’re simply communicating that the business needs to cut costs or you’re proceeding with laying off employees, sensitive information needs to be communicated in person. 

That means never discussing individual or company-wide layoffs publicly or digitally. To avoid the potential risks associated with layoff discussions, consider the following points:

  • If your business is considering mass layoffs, hold a team meeting in-person to discuss the company’s options.
  • Consider holding optional in-person meetings with members of your team to discuss individual questions or concerns.
  • When laying off a specific employee, always do so in-person and make sure that the information communicated is kept confidential prior to the event.

The key here is transparency. If your employees trust management to handle something as sensitive as layoffs, your company will be positioned to survive this period of transition. 

COVID-19 tip: Since many workplaces have had to close their offices due to social distancing guidelines during this crisis, in-person conversations may not be possible. If that's the case, make every effort to meet virtually, either by video conference or telephone, to relay the news to employees individually. 


DO provide support or advice

Losing your job is a terrible experience for anyone, so it is essential that you provide support and guidance to victims of layoffs, especially when it is of no fault of their own. 

  • If you are providing a severance package, be sure to clearly describe the employee’s benefits and options during your conversation.
  • Prepare and communicate options for references and other job opportunities in advance, so that employees who have been laid off can prepare for the future.
  • If the layoffs are temporary, communicate an action plan moving forward so employees who have been laid off understand their job prospects with the business moving forward.

It’s also extremely important to provide support for the remaining employees who fear the same circumstance. Be sure to hold a meeting once layoffs have been completed to communicate future plans with remaining members of your team. 


DO include HR in every decision 

Your human resources team is there for a reason, so make sure that they are actively participating in all layoff decisions and discussions. HR can help you avoid a potential lawsuit and assist in fostering a sensitive atmosphere, making their participation crucial in mitigating unintended consequences of the layoff process. 

If you don’t have an HR team and no outsourced HR help, you can discuss this matter with legal counsel. They will be able to help you sort through the contractual agreements.

Additionally, if you don’t have an HR team, be sure to carefully consider both what you say and how you say it. Layoffs are challenging for both employer and employee – try to step into their shoes and communicate honestly and empathetically. 


DO hold exit interviews

Exit interviews provide companies with a unique opportunity to measure and improve their organizational environment. While these interviews should be taken with a grain of salt, they can provide a large amount of insight into the inner workings of your company. 

When conducting exit interviews, there are a few important things to keep in mind:

  • Exit interviews should be conducted by a trusted member of staff. 
  • It may be useful to conduct more than one interview (to ensure accuracy).
  • Prepare questions in advance, so that you can measure results across interviews.
  • Keep the interviews confidential and communicate to the employee in question that the results will be used to improve working conditions.


DON’T delegate layoffs to managers or other employees

Every layoff should be communicated by the employee’s direct manager and a member of HR. It might be wise to also include a member of upper management, if only to ensure legitimacy. 

Never delegate layoffs to lower managers or other employees. This is unprofessional and might result in retaliatory action by the laid off employee or foster a lack of trust between management and the remaining team. 


DON’T gossip about potential layoffs

No one wants to hear that they are being let go through the grapevine, so never gossip about potential layoffs! This has the potential to demolish any positive company culture and could have lasting effects on your ability to run an efficient enterprise. 


DON’T forget to offer support and options

While layoffs are difficult, they can also provide an opportunity to emulate your company values in the toughest of situations. When moving forward with layoffs, offer your employees support and accurately communicate their future options. 

A layoff discussion should include all the following elements:

  • Overview of severance packages, if applicable
  • References for future job applications
  • Potential future opportunities at the company 


DON’T ignore concerns brought up during a layoff

Layoffs and exit interviews provide companies with a unique opportunity to monitor their performance from the inside, while also learning about the effectiveness of middle management. 

For this reason, it’s crucial that you take concerns brought up during layoff discussions seriously – they could provide useful information that benefits the company moving forward. 


DON’T forget to reassure remaining employees

While layoffs have the most blatant effect on the victims of the process, they can also have a lasting effect on company culture. That’s why it’s essential that you reassure remaining employees about their future after the layoff process is complete. For instance: 

  • Hold a company meeting to discuss next steps
  • Emphasize the forward trajectory of the company and reassure employees that their jobs are safe
  • Offer individual counseling or meetings to discuss concerns from remaining employees


A Step-by-Step Process for Communicating Layoffs

When communicating to a member of your staff that they are going to be laid off, follow these 5 steps to ensure that the process runs as smoothly as possible. 

1. Have a Plan Going In

Every person involved in the layoff should have a clear understanding of how things will proceed prior to holding the meeting. 

To ensure that everyone is on the same page, host a meeting with your HR and management teams to discuss exactly how the layoff should proceed prior to the event. 

Some topics on the agenda should include:

  • Management approvals for specific layoffs
  • Feedback from direct managers on the employee(s) in question
  • Formulation of action plan
  • Discussion on how this will affect remaining staff moving forward


2. Explain the Situation

When communicating a layoff, it’s essential that you do so intentionally and sensitively. Prepare your explanation in advance and cover the following topics:

1. Explain why you need to lay off the employee

2. Describe how you came to the decision

3. Provide a clear trajectory for how and when the layoff will take place

4. Ask if the employee has any questions at this stage


3. Listen Carefully

At this point, the employee will likely have some comments and concerns to share with you. To respond well, you have to listen carefully. 

Be sure to make mental notes of the following elements:

  • Recognize any potential resistance and prepare your responses
  • Identify positive outcomes that can assist in offering support
  • Listen for direct feedback that could be useful moving forward


4. Respond to Questions

Once you’ve given the member of your team a chance to process and respond to the news, you should touch on any specific points that they have addressed. It’s wise to mention any potential future opportunities or specific guidance you can provide on next steps. 


5. Offer Support

At the end of a layoff meeting, make sure that you offer a complete overview of your company’s offering, including:

  • Severance package
  • Termination of benefits
  • Opportunities with the company in the future
  • Reference requests
  • Any additional guidance you can provide on finding a new role

End the meeting on a high note by offering your support moving forward. Not only will this decrease the likelihood of retaliatory action, but it also preserves the integrity of your reputation moving forward. 


Communicating Layoffs to Your Team

While communicating layoffs can be one of the most difficult processes for any professional, they can be accomplished with limited consequences if conducted with sensitivity and diligence. Reference our list of the most important Do’s and Don’ts and follow our 5-step guide to ensure that your layoff process goes as smoothly as possible during this uncertain time.


If you are a local business, claim your free Business Page to get started on Nextdoor. Resources on how to use Nextdoor to stay connected with your local customers during coronavirus, pertinent news affecting businesses, and more, are available in our Small Business Guide for Coronavirus Relief.

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