10 Tips on How Best to Conduct a Reduction in Force (RIF) or Layoff

There have been many seismic shifts in how businesses operate and make money in recent years. If sales are down, revenue is off, or subscriptions aren’t renewed, reducing headcount, laying off, or conducting 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.

In this guide, we will share with you ten reduction in force best practices to help business leaders, managers, and HR employees navigate this challenging process. We’re also sharing what NOT to do during layoffs, as well as a sample reduction in force script to help managers find the right words to say.


Understanding Reduction in Force vs. Layoffs

The terms “Reduction in Force” (RIF) and “layoffs” are often used interchangeably, but they have differences in scope and purpose. RIF is a broader term that includes various methods for organizations to adjust and decrease their workforce, whereas layoffs specifically involve terminating the employment of a group of employees due to reasons such as cost-cutting, downsizing, or changing business conditions. RIF is typically a strategic decision aligned with the organization’s changing needs, while layoffs are reactive measures in response to challenges. Despite the distinctions, the execution of both RIF and layoffs is crucial.

10 Helpful Tips on How to Conduct a Reduction in Force 

As you prepare for and plan a reduction in force or 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 best practices and tips that can help you accomplish this.

1. Maintain confidentiality.

Once the decision is made to have an RIF or 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.

Explaining their position is being eliminated, which is the truth, 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 holding 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 employees they are part of the layoff. It is never easy news to deliver. If they aren’t nervous, that would be a greater cause of concern. The Notifier Training will help calm their nerves and 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 to conduct the notification meeting and have a backup if things don’t go according to plan.

Instruct managers to determine the most natural way to get their employees to the notification meeting. Using usual modes of communication like email, texting, instant messaging, or calling them, is 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 what you’re going to say to the employee 

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. Here are three helpful tips for rehearsing a reduction in force script:

  1. Run through the RIF layoff script so that you feel comfortable with the language and be sure you hit all the key points. 
  2. 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. 
  3. Be sure to be empathetic when you deliver the news. 

Following death and divorce, career loss is one of the top three major events people experience in their lives. 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 their position is being eliminated is hard enough when you are sitting in person across from each other. Still, 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 the 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. Create an outplacement process system in employees’ severance packages to provide transition support

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. Investing in outplacement goes a long way in maintaining morale and engagement.

What NOT To Do During a Layoff or Reduction in Force

Conducting a layoff or RIF is a sensitive and challenging process that requires careful consideration and empathy from business leaders and the HR team. Now that you have best practices to guide you in how to conduct a reduction in force, let’s go over the things you do not want to do during these processes:

  • Avoid being vague or withholding information about the reasons behind the layoff. This can lead to confusion, rumors, and decreased morale among remaining employees.
  • Ignoring legal considerations can lead to legal consequences and damage the organization’s reputation. Ensure that the layoff process complies with relevant employment laws, such as proper notice periods, severance pay, and adherence to anti-discrimination laws.
  • Decisions regarding RIF layoffs must not be biased and leaders should avoid making decisions based on personal preferences, or discriminatory factors. A fair and transparent layoff process also helps maintain the trust of the remaining workforce.
  • Make sure not to neglect the emotional aspect of the process. Dismissing the human side of the RIF can lead to decreased trust, increased stress, and a negative impact on company culture.
  • After a layoff, leaders should conduct a thorough analysis of the situation and adapt their strategies accordingly. Failing to reflect on the process may result in repeated mistakes in the future.

Reduction in Force Script Template

While it’s crucial to approach such conversations with empathy and sensitivity, crafting a layoff or reduction in force script requires careful consideration of legal and ethical aspects. Here’s a simple script that serves as a basic framework for a conversation between a manager and an employee being laid off:

Manager: Hello [Employee’s Name], thank you for meeting with me today. I appreciate your time.

Employee: Hi [Manager’s Name], of course. What’s this meeting about?

Manager: I want to be transparent with you. Unfortunately, due to [explain the reason briefly, such as financial constraints, restructuring, or a change in business priorities], we have to make some difficult decisions, and it has impacted our workforce.

Employee: Oh, I see. What does this mean for me?

Manager: I’m truly sorry to inform you that your position is being eliminated, and your employment with [Company Name] will be terminated. This decision was not made lightly, and it’s in no way a reflection of your performance. It’s a broader organizational change.

Employee: I didn’t expect this. What happens next?

Manager: I understand this is a lot to take in. We will provide you with all the necessary information regarding severance packages, benefits continuation, and outplacement services. HR will guide you through the next steps, including returning company property and the timeline for your departure.

Employee: This is overwhelming. How did this decision come about?

Manager: The decision was made after careful consideration of various factors, and unfortunately, it’s not something that reflects on your individual contributions. We value the work you’ve done, and I want to acknowledge your dedication to the team.

Employee: What about my colleagues?

Manager: We’ll be communicating with the rest of the team shortly. I encourage you to discuss your concerns and emotions with HR, who will be available to provide support and answer any questions you may have. We want to make this transition as smooth as possible for you.

Employee: I appreciate your honesty. What do I need to do now?

Manager: HR will schedule a meeting with you to go over the details, answer any questions, and provide support during this process. I encourage you to take advantage of the resources available to help you transition to your next opportunity.

Employee: Okay, thank you for letting me know.

Manager: I understand this is a challenging situation, and we are here to support you through this process. Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions or concerns as we move forward.

Navigating a RIF 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 or RIF 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 and provide outplacement services.  Interested in learning more? Contact us today to see how we can help you conduct effective, successful, and compassionate layoffs while keeping your employer brand intact.

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