Communicating layoffs

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

The loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs is one of the terrible effects of this pandemic, and communicating company layoffs is now a necessary and devastating reality for many communications staff. Making it even more difficult is the speed with which the layoffs are happening and the ever-changing information regarding government protocols and supports.

Rather than provide a comprehensive HR strategy, the following is a list of Do’s and Don’ts for communicating your strategy. If you aren’t already working with an HR department or consultant, that should be your first step.

DO

  • Be informed:
  • Be included. Communications is a vital component in your organization’s HR strategy for implementing layoffs. Make sure you’re at the table.
  • Be ready. Task someone with an internal/staff communications role, if you don’t have someone already. This person is going to be a critical organizational link and support for staff (working and not) in coming months. If you can afford to hire a consultant for this role, that’s a good option, too.
  • Give as much notice as possible. Staff are well aware that layoffs are a likely scenario for many businesses right now. Any group communication to staff should include an update about layoffs, even if it’s to say, “We are looking at all possible options for our staff.” You can even include the options that you are looking at, e.g., half-time positions, buy-outs, etc.
  • Be compassionate. The impact of being laid off is going to be devastating for some. This is the time to be empathetic and talk about staff–how valuable they are, how concerned you are, how committed you are to helping them, however you can. And how much you hope to have them return! See Don’t be obtuse, below.
  • Be personal. Individual layoff messages should be delivered in-person either by online conferencing (Skype, Zoom) or phone. Aside from personal regrets, these messages should include:
    • factual information about departure and return dates
    • available financial, career, and mental wellness supports
    • the name of the person who will be an ongoing contact
    • a commitment to ongoing communication.
  • Provide as much information and as many answers as possible for affected staff. Write an FAQ’s document.
  • Be kind. In your messaging, to your colleagues, and to yourself. This is tough stuff. The worst. There will be grief. Keep internal communications caring, regular, and supportive.

DON’T

  • Assume your staff will be okay waiting through a temporary layoff. Making statements about a temporary layoff only being “a short break” may offend concerned employees worried about their income loss during the lay-off period.
  • Use a general email. Sending information or updates on lay-offs from a general email/inbox is too impersonal. People want to know who they’re connecting with when dealing with something this critical.
  • Be obtuse. This is not the time to remind staff of how hard it is on the company. This is not the time to talk about you (the company). See Be compassionate, above.
  • Forget about remaining staff. Remaining staff will be shocked with the loss of valued work relationships and stressed with additional workloads. The economic shifts will continue as will the need to communicate how staff will be impacted.