What are Compassionate Layoffs? 

 In recent years, the job market has shifted significantly, causing layoffs to become part of the business landscape for the foreseeable future. Right or wrong, businesses seem to look at layoffs as a standard, cost-cutting practice. They have been laying off and rehiring on a constant loop. We have seen through recent examples, however, that there is definitely a right and wrong way to lay off employees. 

 Earlier this year, CBS news reported that tech giant Google laid off roughly 12,000 employees. One employee said, “they received notice of their dismissal via an email sent to their personal address, which struck them as insensitive. Receiving no advance warning of what would be their last day at the company added further insult to injury, they said.”

 In contrast, the CEO of Airbnb, Brian Chesky, released a detailed message to their employees explaining the “why” behind the layoffs. Employees felt they understood the decision and felt that the decision had not been made lightly. The company also provided many resources for terminated employees to help them find their next adventure.  

Although Airbnb laid off a much higher percentage of its workforce, it received much less backlash for doing so. This is all due to open, honest, and compassionate communication from the head of the company. Read on for our tips on how to lay off your employees with compassion. 

Best Approach for Compassionate Layoffs  

Be Open and Honest 

The first step in being transparent with layoffs is being prepared with messaging before it even happens. Work with your human resources department to lay out the context and reasons why these layoffs are happening. Help your employees know that this decision was not made lightly. Many times, businesses think it is best to just “rip off the bandaid”, but this is not the case. Do not fall into the trap of feeling you do not owe your terminated employees an explanation. The excuse of this is a “business decision” is not compassionate and not helpful. Your employees have dedicated their days to helping your business thrive. It is important to have an honest conversation about the layoffs so they feel they are respected and appreciated.  

Hold Individual Meetings

A mass Zoom meeting to tell a group of people they have been laid off is not a great idea. They seem to have gained popularity since Covid, but that does not make it right. Losing your job is already very stressful, losing it in a group setting will only add to that stress. Show respect to employees by scheduling one-on-one conversations to let people know they have been laid off. Structure it as a conversation so they do not feel belittled. Provide them with all of the information they will need to move forward from this point and allow them to ask follow-up questions so they can feel heard. It is also considerate to follow up with exiting employees. Send them a thank you ecard for their time and dedication to the company. Let them know they are appreciated even through the layoff. 

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Offer Generous Support 

Before the decision is made to have layoffs, great care should be taken to make sure you can afford a generous severance package. It is nice to offer severance for a few months, as well as extended health benefits. You are taking away someone’s livelihood, and great compassion should be taken into consideration. It is also great to offer a reference letter on the spot. Do not make an employee feel they have to come to you to ask, hand it to them directly. Offering outplacement services and career transition services such as resume workshops, access to professional development programs, and job listings for similar positions at other companies is a great idea and will show respect for the outgoing employees. 

Be Prepared to Respond Appropriately and Compassionately 

The conversation where you are letting someone know they are being laid off will never be an easy one. Emotions will run high during the layoff process, and some employees will be quite upset. It is important to let the employees express themselves and their emotions without showing judgment. At the same time, you must let them know the decision is final and you must not agree with their statements as this could open the company up for litigation. Career Contessa offers some statements that you can encourage your managers to use in stressful situations. 

  • I know this is difficult news to hear.
  • I hear your frustration.
  • The decision is final.
  • We need to review the next steps and the support you will be provided during this transition. Can I give you these details now?

Support Remaining Employees

Once you have completed the difficult task of laying off employees, it is important to remember that you must support your remaining employees. They will also be stressed and worried about their job security. They may have “survivor’s guilt” or even have a bigger workload since their peers were laid off. Consider allocating human resources time to checking in with each employee individually to see how they are doing and what support the company can provide. 

Compassionate Layoffs Send the Right Signal

Although it can seem more efficient and emotionally easier for management to send a mass email to lay off your employees, acting with compassion during these trying times will send the right signal about your company. When the time comes to recruit again, you will have an easier time recruiting top talent if your company is known to respect its employees. Compassionate layoffs will pay dividends for you in the future.

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