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3 Strategies for Communicating Layoffs to Employees during Reduction in Force

3 Strategies for Communicating Layoffs to Employees during Reduction in Force

During a reduction in force, communicating layoffs to employees and other audiences is essential. This plan should include the rationale and the business reasons for the layoffs. Your audiences will vary, but these groups should come to mind: exiting employees, remaining employees, clients, and the public. The more accurately and clearly you deliver the news, the easier it will be for people to see you company’s future vision in the wake of business disruptions.

Your internal and external communication plan should be at the top of your to-do list. As Roni Chambers, Vice President of Coaching Excellence at IMPACT Group, shares, “Take care of your employees first, then focus on your customers.” Roni held a long-standing career in HR at a Fortune 500 company and managed large downsizings in the process. Here are her best tips on communicating layoffs to employees and other audiences:

1. Communicating Layoffs to Employees Who Are Exiting

A reduction in force can be a traumatic experience for everyone involved. When emotions are high and stress is at a max, remember to equip your notifying managers with the language, tools, and support they need to deliver the separation message with compassion and sensitivity.

There are five key areas to cover in the notification meeting. Additional information can be provided based on the affected employee’s response and questions, but be sure the manager discusses:

  • The business rationale for the downsizing
  • A clear notification message, including effective date
  • Benefits/severance package details
  • Outplacement services being offered
  • Structure for next steps, such as turning in company equipment and saying goodbye to co-workers

Try to keep the meeting to 10–20 minutes. Longer than 20 minutes opens up the possibility of derailing the conversation and encouraging debate. Briefer than 10 minutes might be received as callous. The actual act of notification should occur in the first five minutes, leaving time for the individual to express his or her feelings afterward.

2. Communicating Layoffs to Employees Who Are Remaining

As soon as possible, inform remaining employees that a reduction in force has happened. “The location of your offices and size of your organization will drive this,” Roni points out, “but ideally there is face-to-face time in a group meeting.” You may choose to hold a company meeting to tell everyone at once. Remember to accommodate for remote employees. Following the company meeting, Roni recommends preparing leadership for what to do next.

“Everyone in a leadership role should pull their teams together shortly after the company announcement or cutoff time for separated employees to leave the building,” comments Roni. Be sure managers address questions, fears, and uncertainty. “You have to accommodate the feelings of those remaining.”

Survivor syndrome is common in remaining employees. This phrase describes the emotional, psychological, and physical effects employees experience after a reduction in force. Your managers are responsible for helping remaining employees find a new normal. This starts with determining each employee’s readiness for change. High-level tips for how they should maintain communication with their team include:

  • Over-communicate the new processes and team focus so employees know what is coming.
  • Listen and respond to their concerns and fears.
  • Be a coach to your employees and praises their efforts, remembering to be mindful of how you correct something that is done wrong.
  • Create a future vision for employees and their roles.

3. Sharing the News with Clients & the Public

It may be tempting to avoid the elephant in the room with your clients, but Roni believes hiding the news will hurt your brand even more than being open about the reduction in force. “Don’t be afraid to bring it into the light.” A press release is one way. And another very important way is by picking up the phone and calling clients. In Roni’s experience, “If you don’t step in front of the message, people will make their own assumptions about the reduction in force.”

Provide your sales team, account managers, and others with a script so they stay on track. “Coaching sessions on how to share the script are beneficial,” Roni says. “Guide leaders on how to communicate about the RIF in public. This is critical to your company brand yet often overlooked.”

There are long-term benefits to developing a communication plan for your reduction in force. Owning the reason for the RIF – whether good or bad – is really important. “It allows you to regain trust both internally and externally,” shares Roni. “That level of transparency creates stronger bonds, and there’s no downside to that.”

Communicating layoffs to employees during a reduction in force is one piece of a strategic plan for managing the disruption. Educate yourself on what else you need to do to prepare. Get your Strategic Planning Checklist now!

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