10 Tips for Conducting an Effective Layoff or Reduction in Force (RIF)

Kim Littlefield Outplacement, HR Strategy

How to do it the “Right” Way so you Treat Those Leaving with Respect and Maintain the Morale of Those Staying

Given the uncertain economic times we are currently facing, more and more companies are bracing for how their business may be impacted. If sales are down, revenue is off, or subscriptions aren’t renewed, reducing headcount, laying off, or having what is referred to as a reduction in force (RIF) may be inevitable. For some organizations, there may be just a few individuals impacted, but for others, this could mean terminating hundreds or even thousands of employees. No matter how many people are involved in the layoff, making the decision to conduct a reduction, selecting those who will be impacted, notifying those individuals, and ensuring the remaining employees continue to be engaged and happy in their job, can be daunting for even the most experienced HR professionals.

10 Tips for Conducting An Effective Layoff

As you prepare for and plan a layoff of any size, there are things that can be done to protect the company’s brand, confirm that those impacted are treated with dignity and respect, and ensure your remaining employees continue to stay motivated and engaged. Here are ten tips that can help you accomplish this.

1. Maintain confidentiality.

Once the decision is made to have a layoff, it is important to limit the number of employees who know about it. This will prevent the “rumor mill” from spinning which can negatively impact morale. Employees will try to guess who is “on the list” and when it will happen. Not only will valuable time be spent doing damage control but productivity and engagement will also be impacted. Don’t be tempted to make an exception and inform a trusted colleague who is not on the planning team. Though you may have good intentions, they may in turn inform someone they trust and the news will travel quickly. It is best that each employee hears the news directly from their manager.

2. Create a timeline, including a plan of who needs to do what and when.

Determine who must be included in the planning and execution of the layoff for it to go smoothly.HR will need to work with managers to determine who should be put on the list based on the needs of the department or team. Legal will need to weigh in and approve the list to ensure there is no discrimination. IT will need to plan to ensure company information is safe and security will need to plan for unusual activity or behavior.

3. Be clear on the business rationale.

Tell the impacted employee(s) the business rationale and explain their position is being eliminated to soften the blow. Be sure to include this in all written and verbal communication. Unless only one person is being laid off, the people on the list are being impacted due to the business needs and the role their position plays in the future of the organization. Explaining their position is being eliminated, which is the truth, it is easier for employees to process. Hearing they are one of a number of people impacted by a reduction in force is something they can say in their public statement, which is their response to why they are no longer at their previous employer.

4. Conduct a Notifier Training for all managers the day before the layoff notifications are scheduled to occur.

Conducting a thorough and complete Notifier Training for all managers who will be conducting the notification meetings will ensure a consistent message is delivered on the day of notification. This also provides an opportunity to review the logistics of the day, address concerns, and answer questions. Managers will naturally be nervous about telling the employee they are part of the layoff. It is never easy news to deliver. If they aren’t nervous, that would be greater cause of concern. The Notifier Training will help calm their nerves. It will also surface tough questions that can be addressed immediately by HR and senior leadership.

5. Ask the President or CEO to kick off the Notifier Training session.

To reinforce the critical nature of the layoff and stress how important proper execution is to both departing and remaining employees, ask the most senior level executive to kick it off and attend the session if possible. Layoffs not only impact those losing their jobs but they also impact those who are remaining. It’s important to treat each departing employee with the utmost dignity and respect and to ensure remaining employees know they were taken care of with financial and outplacement support.

6. Decide how you will get the employee to the meeting ahead of time and have a backup plan if and when things don’t go according to plan.

Instruct managers to determine the most natural way to get their employee to the notification meeting. Using usual modes of communication like email, texting, instant messaging or calling them, are encouraged and will increase the likelihood that the employee will respond. Inform them that you would like to meet with them in your office, in a conference room, or via video. Figure out ahead of time what to do if the employee doesn’t respond in a timely fashion, is out sick, comes in late, or leaves early that day. Be sure to inform HR if you know of any pending PTO time so the schedule can be adjusted. Also, be aware that once the first employee is notified, word will get out and it will be more difficult to get a hold of them remotely or find them in person.

7. Rehearse out loud what you are going to say to the employee, so you are not saying it the first time you meet with them.

As with most conversations, there is the conversation you have and the conversation you wish you had. The notification meeting with the impacted employee will form their lasting impression of you, their manager, and the company. Run through the script so that you feel comfortable with the language and be sure you hit all the key points. Say it out loud while looking in the mirror or leave yourself a voicemail so you can see and hear how you are coming across. Be sure to be empathetic when you deliver the news. Job loss is one of the top three losses people experience in their lives, up there with death and divorce. It is not to be taken lightly and if not handled with the utmost care can negatively impact your reputation and the company’s.

8. Be prepared for impacted employees to go off camera if delivering the news remotely.

Telling someone that your position is being eliminated is hard enough when you are sitting in person across from each other, but most people do their best to maintain their composure until the meeting is over to remain professional and respectful. Delivering the news on video adds another dimension. Though they know they should probably stay on camera, it’s easy to turn your video off when they hear difficult news. If they still have their audio on you can speak as if you are talking to them on the phone, however, if they turn off both, it will be uncomfortable. They may need to regain their composure by getting a tissue or glass of water. Waiting several minutes until they come back will be helpful versus leaving the meeting and trying to catch them at a later time.

9. Be ready to answer: “Why me?”

Explain it was a position elimination and they were one of a number of employees impacted by the layoff. Let them know that every function and position was examined from the point of view of current and future needs, and ultimately the decisions made were difficult and not taken lightly. Reinforce that all decisions have been reviewed at all levels of management up through and including the CEO.

10. Include outplacement in their severance package to provide career transition support and get them moving ahead more quickly.

Providing employees impacted by a layoff with outplacement services in addition to financial support provides benefits to both the individual as well as the organization. Outplacement will protect the company’s brand and foster goodwill among those leaving the organization. If exiting employees feel they were taken care of, they will communicate that to your remaining employees. Also, if your remaining employees know that those leaving have support, they will feel better about the company. They will also know if they are ever impacted in the future, they too will be taken care of. This goes a long way in maintaining morale and engagement.

Navigating a Layoff is Stressful. Keystone Partners can Help.

Notifying employees that they no longer have a job at the company can be very uncomfortable for the HR leaders and managers delivering the message. Though it can be quite taxing on all involved, if it’s done the right way, departing employees will be grateful they heard the news from their manager, appreciative of the financial and career support they were given, and begin looking forward to the future more quickly.

Navigating all aspects of planning and executing a layoff successfully can be stressful. Having a partner who has been through it before can help ease the pain that is traditionally associated with the process. For more than 40 years, Keystone Partners has been helping companies of all sizes across all industries conduct effective layoffs and RIFs.  Interested in learning more? Contact us today to learn how we can help you conduct effective, successful, and compassionate layoffs while keeping your employer brand in-tact.

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